Wednesday, February 29, 2012

RECIPE - Fish in a Banana Leaf (Peixe na Folha de Bananeira)

In Brazil, where banana plants grow like weeds almost everywhere and where lots of people have a banana plant in their backyard or, if not, in their neighbor's, the large flat leaves of the plant are a perfect material for wrapping food that's going to be steamed or roasted.

The technique, and the culinary advantages, of using a banana leaf this way are basically the same as using a sheet of parchment paper as classic French cuisine does in their "en papilotte" dishes. By wrapping a banana leaf around a piece of fish or meat, or around a seasoned mixture of seafood or vegetables, none of the natural flavor of the food is lost during the cooking process. There's no evaporation and lost of consequent loss of flavor.

There are thousands of Brazilian recipes that call for the use of banana leaf as a wrapping. Many of the most traditional are for fish - the combination of fish and banana leaves is an old and traditional one in many parts of Brazil. But there are recipes for other proteins in banan leaves, as well as sweets, such as coconut puddings, and savory carbohydrates (click here to read about pamonha, Brazil's tamale).

Banana leaves are less easily obtained in non-tropical climates although they can sometimes be found frozen in Asian or Latin American markets in North America and Europe. You can substitute aluminum foil for the leaf in any recipe that calls for it and the result will be practically identical. However, you'll lose the visual appeal of a banana leaf. A plate with a small "present" enclosed in a banana leaf has a natural beauty that aluminum foil lacks. So if you can find banana leaves, frozen or not, for this recipe for fish or for any other recipe calling for them, go with nature's wrapping.
RECIPE - Fish in a Banana Leaf (Peixe na Folha de Bananeira)
Serves 2

1 whole fish, scaled and cleaned, about 2 lbs (1 kg)
1 bunch cilantro
1 small hot chili pepper, dedo de moca, jalapeno, serrano or similar
salt and pepper to taste
juice of one lime.
2 banana leaves
Cut the chili pepper in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and veins (unless you prefer a spicy dish). Put the cilantro, the chili pepper and the lime juice in a blender or food processor and blend until you have a chunky puree. Do not overblend.

Wash the fish well inside and out. Dry with paper towels. Make two or three parallel cuts in the skin on each side of the fish, cutting into the flesh. Rub the cilantro puree into the fish, inside and out. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spread out one banana leaf. Place the seasoned fish on the leaf, then cover with the second leaf. Using toothpicks to seal, fold over the edges of the two leaves and close the seams with toothpicks.

Place the package in a large roasting pan or lasagne pan. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the leaves are dry and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let stand for five minutes before unwrapping the fish.

Serve immediately accompanied by white rice.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's With Google and Jackfruit?

Flavors of Brazil isn't written to make money (that's for sure) nor is it an attempt to garner huge numbers of hits in an attempt to be the biggest this or the biggest that in the blogosphere. However, we're human, and since Google/Blogspot does provide bloggers with a mountain of statistics about how one's blog is progressing - how many people access the blog, which specific posts they read, where they come from, what operating system they use etc., we confess that we do check out the statistics from time to time. It's human nature after all.

Recently we've noticed that one post, from January 20th of this year, has been accessed many more times than almost any other, and we're not sure why. This article, about the Brazilian jackfruit, seems to be Google's search engine's current favorite post on Flavors of Brazil, by a long shot.

Of all the almost 800 posts on this blog, the champion in terms of hits has always been this one from September, 2010 which is a recipe for making the dough for a Brazilian snack called a pastel. In the 17 months since it was published, it's been viewed about 5500 times. It's a practical post, with a recipe, so it seems logical that it would be frequently accessed.

The jackfruit post, which is only about 40 days old, is rapidly catching up on the reigning champion. It's been viewed 4500 times up to today. That's a daily rate of more than 100 hits. What's going on?

Here at Flavors of Brazil, we do like jackfruit as well as the next brasileiro, but we're a bit stumped when we try to figure out why so many people are interested in jackfruit. What's it about this giant tropical and fruit and its relation to Google? We don't claim to be botanists or any other sort of expert on the jackfruit, but it does seem that when someone asks Google about jackfruit, Flavors of Brazil is Google's go-to site.

Anybody have any suggestions why this might be? We'd love to hear.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Samuel Adams Not-Entirely-Bostonian Utopias Beer

Since 2002 American craft brewer Samuel Adams has been making very limited quantities of possibly the world's strongest and most expensive beer. It's even referred to in company literature and advertising as a brand of "extreme beer" and extreme it is in all sorts of ways. Each year's tiny batch (around 8000 bottles) is slightly different from the last in ABV (alcohol by volume) percentage, varying a percentage point or two from the average 25%. Most lager beer, by contrast, is a mere 4%, making Utopias about five times stronger than garden variety beer. The beer itself is also very unusual - uncarbonated, and aged for years in a variety of different wood barrels, each of which adds to its complex taste and aroma.

A bottle of Utopias beer is a serious investment. The suggested retail price for the 2011 release is USD $150.00 (It's also slightly stronger than normal at 27% ABV). Each 700 ml bottle in which Utopias is sold is numbered and is made from lustre-glazed ceramic. The shape of the bottle resembles that of a brewing kettle.
Rio Negrinho's German-style railway station

And it's this unique bottle, with its unusual shape and it's beautiful lustre glaze containing 3% pure gold that gives this very-American beer its Brazilian connection. To house their expensive nectar Boston Brewing Co. (the parent company of Samuel Adams) chose a bottle made by a very small artisan ceramic mug and bottle factory located in southern Brazil. The Utopia bottle is manufactured by a company called Ceramarte, in the tiny town of Rio Negrinho in Santa Catarina state. The interior of Santa Catarina, where Rio Negrinho is located, was settled in the 19th and early 20th centuries by immigrants from Germany, and Ceramarte has been making German-style beer steins and mugs for close to a hundred years. They still make beautiful traditional style steins, and their older steins are highly collectible items on Mercado Livre, Brazil's equivalent to eBay. But the beautiful bottle they've produced for Samuel Adams, completely contemporary in flavor, shows that they can do more than just produce old-fashioned, heavy beer steins. And apparently someone at Samuel Adams knew that, and trusted Ceramarte with the container of their most precious product. How the brewery from Boston even came to know of Ceramarte's existence we don't know, but it's probably a fascinating story.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

RECIPE - Broccoli Rice (Arroz de Brócolis)

Rice is the universal side dish on a Brazilian dinner plate. Often accompanied by cooked dried beans, but not always so, rice is served daily to an overwhelming percentage of the almost 200 million Brazilians. A meal without rice is almost unthinkable for many Brazilians, and when Brazilians travel overseas, it's commonly the scoop of rice that they miss most on non-Brazilian plates.

Even when there are other carbohydrates served at the same meal, rice doesn't relinquish its obligatory status. It's common to see rice and potatoes served on the same plate, or rice and pasta. Sometimes, in fact, all three appear on the same plate - apparently Brazilians haven't heard of the one-starch-per-meal concept.

Often Brazilian rice, though, isn't the plain unadorned, unseasoned white rice that is associated with most Asian cuisines. Many times rice in Brazil is closer in concept to what Asians and Middle Easterners call a pilau or pilaf - rice cooked in a seasoned broth, often with small quantities of meats, vegetables, nuts or dried fruits.

One of the most popular such dishes in Brazil is rice with broccoli (Portuguese: arroz de brócolis). Broccoli served on its own as a side dish is not common in Brazil, perhaps due to its relative priciness, but rice with broccoli is a common sight on buffet tables or lunch or dinner plates. A small quantity of broccoli, chopped up and mixed in with white long-grain rice, adds color and flavor to the rice, adding both to its visual appeal and its flavor.

Broccoli rice is very quick and easy to make and doesn't take much longer to make than plain boiled rice. Try it as a side dish with grilled fish or chicken, or with beef or lamb stews. It's also a particularly good way to get kids who are fussy eater to eat their greens too.
RECIPE - Broccoli Rice (Arroz de Brócolis)
Serves 4

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 small onion, finely minced
1 medium bunch broccoli, crown only (reserve the stem for another use), finely chopped
salt to taste
3 cups cooked white long-grain rice, hot


In a nmedium saucepan, heat the oil, then add the onion and garlic. Saute the vegetables until soft but not browned. Add the chopped broccoli, cover the pan, and sweat the vegetables for about 3 minutes, or until the chopped broccoli is tender. Add the rice and stir vigorously to combine all the ingredients and heat the rice thoroughly. Taste and season for salt, then serve immediately.

Friday, February 24, 2012

RECIPE - Gratineed Deviled Eggs (Ovos Recheados Gratinados)

Deviled eggs are one of those foods that for many people evoke memories of earlier times in their lives, not always pleasant times - church-basement suppers, pseudo-sophisticated cocktail parties, ant-ridden picnics in the summer heat. Perhaps it's because of memories like those that deviled eggs have gotten a bit of a bum rap, and seem to have disappeared. But a truly well-made deviled egg, served at the right occasion and at the right temperature, is nothing to be scorned. It is marvelously, if unexpectedly, delicious and worthy of being returned to its proud place on the buffet table or hors d'oeuvres tray.

In Brazil, deviled eggs are known as ovos recheados. The term recheado simly means filled. (Which makes us wonder, why does the English language consider deviled eggs to be devilish?) Although they do pop up oat buffets, and are often seen as one of the offering of the pay-by-weight self-service restaurants that are found everywhere in Brazil, they often tend to be underseasoned and bland - just a mixture of mashed egg yolk and mayonnaise for the stuffing with perhaps a bit of chopped green onion to give it at least a breath of life.

This Brazilian recipe, however, is neither underseasoned nor bland, and it puts deviled eggs front and center - as the main dish for a lunch or light supper. Served piping hot straight from the broiler, three or four of these eggs makes a substantial offering without being over-filling. Employing the classic combination of ham and eggs, and sassing it up with best-quality grated Parmesan, this dish is a winner. And - here's a secret - it's embarrassingly easy and quick to make.
RECIPE - Gratineed Deviled Eggs (Ovos Recheados Gratinados)
Serves 4

8 eggs, free-range if possible
4 oz (100 gr) good-quality, lean, deli-style ham, thinly sliced
4 oz (100 gr) fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
salt to taste
ground white pepper to taste
Stack the ham slices, then cut them into matchstick-size julienne strips. Reserve.

Hard boil the eggs, according to your own favorite method. (if you don't have a favorite method, see below). Let them cool completely, then peel and cut them in half carefully, along the vertical (longer) axis.

Remove the yolks from the halved eggs, place in a medium mixing bowl. Using a fork, mash them, being careful not to overmash them. You want them to still have some texture. Add the julienned ham, then taste for seasoning and add salt only if necessary. Add white pepper to taste.

Fill the halved eggs with the yolk/ham mixture, mounding the mixture. Do not overpack the eggs.

Preheat your broiler. Put the eggs on a wire rack set in the bottom half of a broiler pan. Sprinkle the eggs with the grated cheese. Broil for about 3-4 minutes, or until the eggs are hot and the cheese topping is melted, bubbling and nicely browned. Serve immediately.

The Cook's Illustrated Test Kitchen's Foolproof Hard boiled eggs

(Note: Eggs are easier to peel when they are not fresh. Let farm-fresh eggs age for at least two weeks before hard boiling. Supermarket eggs have normally aged already and can be used as soon as you wish after purchase.)

Put the eggs in a large pot with cold water to cover by 1 to 2 inches. Put the pot on the stove, turn the heat to high and bring quickly to a boil. As soon as the water comes to a full boil, remove the pot from the stove, cover tightly and let stand for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath in a large mixing bowl, combining cold water at a lot of ice cubes, at least one full tray's worth. When the eggs have stood for 10 minutes, remove from the hot water with a slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice water. Let them stand at least 5 minutes in the ice water.

When fully cool, peel and use as needed in the recipe.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Vocabulary of Eggs - Brazilian-style

When they talk about eggs, or at least chicken eggs, the English speakers of the world generally divide them into two colors - white and brown. Some have a distinct preference for white eggs, while others somehow feel that brown eggs are healthier, perhaps by analogy with brown rice. In any case, there is absolutely no nutritional difference between white and brown eggs. Since the shell, whose color determines if the egg is white or brown, isn't eaten, the difference really can only be one of esthetics - which color of eggs looks prettier or more appetizing.

In Brazil, however, eggs don't come in white or brown. They come in branco and vermelho, meaning white and red. Brazilians considered the colored egg to be red not brown. We at Flavors of Brazil, as  native English speakers, tend to see colored eggs as brown, but language influences perception, and so if the same egg were called red maybe we'd see it differently. Whatever color one wants to call them, in Brazilian markets and supermarkets you can find both colors equally available. Eggs are not generally found in refrigerated sections of supermarkets in Brazil - they are displayed and sold at room temperature, to no noticeable detrimental effect.

When speaking of eggs in Brazil, the correct word to use is ovo, which means egg. You do have to be careful about making sure the context is culinary when speaking of them in Portuguese, however, particularly in the plural. The word ovos does mean eggs, but it also means balls, in the testicular sense (as does the Spanish equivalent huevos). Ovos in that sense is considered a vulgar word, but not super-vulgar. It's approximately equivalent, in terms of vulgarity, to balls in English.

There is a considerable vocabulary of cooking terms for eggs in Portuguese, just as there is in English. Most eggs in Brazil are eaten either fried sunny-side-up or hard boiled, but other cooking techniques are known and used. Here's a list of English cooking terms for eggs, and their Brazilian Portuguese equivalents:

fried (frito)
hard boiled (cozido)
soft boiled (cozido mole)
scrambled (mexido)
omelette (omelete)
poached (escalfado)
deviled (recheado)

From admittedly limited research, we've not been able to find out how to translate the English expressions "over easy" and "over hard." If someone with a good knowledge of American culture and the Portuguese language can help Flavors of Brazil out with these phrases, it would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Brazil's Ash Wednesday Diet

Officially, in Brazil as in other Christian countries around the world, the Wednesday that follows Carnaval marks the beginning of a40-day period of renunciation leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent (Quaresma in Portuguese) is considered a time of mourning, repentence and abstinence, and there are traditional dietary restrictions associated with the Lenten period.

According to the Roman Catholic calendar, the 40 days of Lent are divided into days of abstinence and days of fasting. Fasting, in the Christian sense, means reducing one's daily food intake to one full meal and two small meals. Fasting is appropriate to the whole Lenten period. Sundays during Lent are not considered part of Lent itself, so fasting is not required on Sundays. In addition to the daily fasting requirement, there are two days during Lent, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, in which abstinence is required. Abstinence in this sense means the elimination of meat from the diet (fish are not considered meat).

In fact, in contemporary Brazilian Catholicism, those two days, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, are the only two days in the entire year when abstinence is obligatory.

During Lent, the majority of Brazilians eat their daily meals on their normal pattern, and the idea of only one full meal a day is mostly restricted to religious communities. Abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday is a common practice among Brazilian Catholics, however, and many Brazilians choose to remember the religious significance of those two days by not consuming meat.

Traditionally, during periods of abstinence, fish or eggs are substituted for the forbidden meat and become the central focus of the meal. In earlier times, before the introduction of electric refrigeration, fresh fish was unobtainable in many places, particularly those far from water. People in these locations largely depended on salt cod (bacalhau) to nourish them on days of abstinence. Today, even though modern transportation and refrigeration allow the sale of fresh fish far from the waters they lived in, Brazilians associate salt cod with abstinence and often prefer it to fresh fish.
salt cod (bacalhau)

Consequently, if you ask a Brazilian what he or she plans on eating today, there's a very good chance that it will be salt cod. Shelves in supermarkets have been laden with bacalhau for the past couple of weeks, and as families get together to recover from the madness of Carnaval, it's most often around a dinner table set for a meal of bacalhau.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Carnaval 2012! - Feliz Carnaval 2012!!

Today, the 21st of February, 2012, is the culmination of Brazil's annual celebration of the carnal - food, drink, music, dance and sex. It's no linguistic accident that the words carnal and carnaval are only separated  by two little letters because both derive from the Latin word for meat - carnis.

Today, in the traditional Roman Catholic calendar is the very last day before the austerities of Lent are prescribed, and so it's only natural to make hay while the sun shines. To satiate all of one's sensual appetites one last final times before the long 40-day drought from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

Throughout the country there will be the sound of music, the rhythms of the drums, the aroma of grilled meats, the taste of heavy, greasy food, and the satisfaction that only comes from a gulp of ice-cold beer when the temperature is reaching 35C (95F) and you're surrounded by anywhere between a hundred and two million party-goers.

If you're in Brazil, have a happy and safe Carnaval. If you're not, come join the party in 2013, or 2014, or whenever you can. There's nothing else like it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Street Food of Carnaval

Sambódromo, Rio de Janeiro
All over Brazil  this week, from small villages and outposts to the mega-metropolises of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazilians are celebrating the national explosion of alegria e folia (joy and craziness) that is Brazilian Carnaval. In 2012 they will be doing so for the 371st time, as Carnaval was first celebrated in Brazil in the year 1641, in Rio de Janeiro, in imitation of the Carnavals of Europe.

These days, Brazilian Carnaval goes well beyond anything seen in Europe or almost anywhere else - in terms of cultural importance, Brazilian Carnaval is only equalled by New Orleans' Mardi Gras, held at the same time as Carnaval in Brazil. The largest of the Carnaval celebrations are the largest peaceful street gatherings in the world, with up to two million celebrants thronging the streets.
Trio elétrico, Salvador

Frevo, Recife
Carnaval  is not celebrated in the same way everywhere in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval   , with its all-night-long samba-school parades in the Sambódromo is very different from the frenzied scene surrounding the huge sound-truck/moving stages called trio elétrico in Salvador, Bahia. Although music and dancing is an essential part of Carnaval everywhere in the country, even the rhythms and dance styles vary from city to city. Rio has its various forms of samba, Salvador dances to the rhythms of axé, and Recife's carnaval is inseparable from the fast beat and flying feet of frevo.

Although every city has its own Carnaval atmosphere and events, Carnaval food is, by and large, more standardized. When there are over a million dancing, drinking revelers in the street, as there are at Recife's Galo de Madrugada or Rio de Janeiro's Cordão da Bola Preta parade, there's no time nor space to feed that multitude anything more than street food that quickly fills the stomach and renews the energy. When revelers want to eat they want something quick, something filling and something cheap - and something nearby. Their needs are meet by thousands of pushcart vendors who seem to have the unerring ability to find a spot along the curb at any street gathering in the country, ready to sell french fries, hot dogs and other similar treats from their carts. Prices vary depending on the law of supply and demand but they are never very expensive, as street parties are not the carnaval venue of choice for the rich and chic (they have their own private balls). Street parties are for the rest of Brazilian society, from upper-middle-class university students, to blue collar workers, to domestic servants, the unemployed and even the homeless.

Beside the universal street food dishes like hot dogs, hamburgers and french fries, there is one carnaval treat that's particularly Brazilian. Grilled meat-on-a-skewer, known as espetinho in Portuguese, is available everywhere, and millions are consumed daily. Very similar to Turkish kebabs, Asian night-market skewers and other snacks of their ilk, Brazilian espetinhos are given their own Brazilian twist when they are rolled in crunchy, gritty farinha (toasted manioc flour) and topped with a spritz or two of hot sauce.

To wash down those hot dogs, espetinhos and burgers, Brazilians overwhelmingly rely on beer - generally canned lager (many cities entirely prohibit the sale of beer in glass containers in the build-up to carnaval). Just as push-cart food vendors are ubiquituous during Brazilian street parties, there's almost always someone with a styrofoam cooler filled with icy beer within short distance during a street party. The supply never seems to run out. Soft drinks, mineral water and alco-pop coolers are also available, but most revelers quench their thirst with plain old cerveja (beer).

Brazilian carnaval food is a nutritionist's nightmare - generally meat-heavy, often greasy and stodgy. But it's so clasely associated with the festival that carnaval food is unlikely to change drastically any time soon. Just as for many Americans the only time they ever eat hot dogs is at the ball part - it's an essential part of the ritual - for many Brazilians carnaval without a hot dog, or espetinho, is equally unthinkable.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

RECIPE - Aunt Surica's Feijoada (Feijoada da Tia Surica)

Tia Surica making feijoada
In yesterday's discussion of the role feijoada plays in Rio de Janeiro's world-famous Carnaval, Flavors of Brazil talked about the huge feijoada buffets that the city's many samba schools serve to their members and supporters during the build-up to Carnaval. On Saturdays in January and February, each samba school holds a rehearsal for its parade during Carnaval in Rio's Sambadrome. Rehearsals tend to to be long, hot work and they leave those who participate perilously close to exhaustion.

To refuel the body and rebuild energy for the party/dance that follows the rehearsal it's traditional to serve an feijoada buffet to the attendees. These buffets also serve as an important fund-raiser for the school.

Portela's 2012 poster
One of the most famous feijoadas among Rio's various samba schools is the one served at Portela. Portela is one of the city's oldest (founded in 1923) and most well-loved schools. Based in the lower-class neighborhood of Madureira, Portela, during its long history, has won the samba school championship 21 times, although admittedly the last time was in 1984.

Portela's feijoada is under the supervision of a long-time member of the school, known to all as Tia Surica (Aunt Surica). Now 71 years old, Tia Surica's career with Portela goes back to the first time she paraded with the school - when she was 4 years old, leashed to her mother's belt for safety. One of the members of the school's board of director, Tia Surica is in charge of the school's buffet and it is her recipe which the batallion of cooks use when preparing the feijoada.

Obviously, Tia Surica's recipe feeds a crowd - a large, hungry crowd. But should any of our readers wish to make feijoada for a large party, we're publishing her recipe courtesy of the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, where it appeared this week. At Portela's feijoada buffets, this recipe is increased by several hundred percent, but with these quantities, it should feed up to 40 people.
RECIPE - Aunt Surica's Feijoada (Feijoada da Tia Surica)

4.5 lb (2 kg) dried black beans
1/2 cup olive oil
2 fresh pork hocks, split
4.5 lb (2 kg) carne de sol - dried and salted beef
4.5 lb (2 kg) pork baby back ribs
6 large garlic sausages, kielbasa or similar
4.5 lb (2 kg) pork loin, salted if available, if not fresh will do
2.2 lb (1 kg) linguica or chorizo hot sausage
4.5 kg (2 kg) tripe
1 kg fresh beef brisket
8 bay leaves
6 onions, chopped
4 heads of garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
8 bunches kale, de-stemmed and cut into thin strips
1/2 lb bacon, cut into small cubes and fried until crisp
bacon fat from the cooked bacon
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch green onion
10 oranges
4.5 lb (2 kg) farinha (manioc flour)
4.5 lb (2 kg) white long-grain rice, cooked and kept warm
oregano, salt and black pepper to taste
All the salted meats (carne de sol, salted pork etc) must be soaked in cold water for at least 48 hours before beginning to cook. During that time change the water at least six times.

Soak the black beans in plenty of water for at least 12 hours before beginning to cook.

Wash the pork hocks very well, and boil them separately in a large pot. When completely cooked, remove them from the pot, let them cool, then reserve them.

Cut all the meats and sausages into large bite-sized pieces. Do not include the tripe. Separate the ribs. Put all the meats in a large stockpot or kettle, cover with cold water, bring to a boil and let cook until very tender. Reserve.

Drain the beans, cover with lots of fresh water and cook over medium heat until tender, about 45 minutes to 90 minutes depending on the beans. Begin to sample for doneness after 45 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve in cooking water.

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil, add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is just beginning to brown. Add oregano, salt and pepper to taste then add the beans with some of their cooking liquid, just enough to keep them very moist. Stir to mix, then add the tripe. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for about an hour, adding more liquid from the bean pot from time to time.

Add the reserved meats and sausages to the beans, stir to mix, and cook for about 30 minutes more. Add more liquid if needed - you want the beans and meat to have a thick broth, not a soup. The dish should not be allowed to go dry, however.

Meanwhile, in another large pan heat the bacon fat, add the bacon bits and onion and cook until the onion is transparent. Add the kale, and stir-fry, cooking only until the kale takes on a bright green color. Reserve.

Cut each orange into 8 wedges lengthwise. Chop the cilantro and green onions (green part only), mix them together and put into a bowl.

Mount the feijoada on a large buffet-style table. Serve the beans and meat in bean-pots or large deep dishes. Serve the white rice at the side of the beans. Next, place bowls or serving platters of stir-fried kale, then bowls of orange wedges and chopped cilantro and green onions for garnishing. Make sure to serve a good quality hot sauce for those who want. The obligatory drink to accompany a plate of feijoada is a caipirinha.

Recipe translated and adapted.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval Feijoada

Feijoada, the black beans and rise dish (or rather the meal) that has long been enshrined as Brazil's unofficial national dish, is eaten year round every where in Brazil, but normally only at mid-day or early afternoon, as it's just too heavy and filling to be eaten just before going to bed, and only on the the weekends, as even the thought of returning to work after a plate of feijoada is exhausting. (Click here to learn more about feijoada.)

Surprisingly, for such a rich and filling dish, in Rio de Janeiro feijoada is strongly associated with the Carnaval season and especially with the city's traditional samba "schools". During the build-up to Carnaval season, every samba school holds weekly rehearsals in the large hall that they call their home, normally on Saturday. The dancers, the chorus, and especially the approximately 200-strong percussion section expend hours and untold calories going over and over that particular year's samba until the rhythm, the lyrics, the samba steps and the melody are literally drummed into the brain and the body.

After the exhausting rehearsal it's party time at the samba school. Traditionally, in all the samba schools, the party starts with a massive feijoada buffet which feeds the revenous multitude, and continues late into the night with lots more samba music and plenty of free-flowing beer.

Feijoada - Othon Palace Hotel 
But it's not only in the samba schools where one finds Carnaval feijoada. On the Saturday of Carnaval, which this year is tomorrow, February 18, restaurants all over the city serve a huge mid-day fejoada buffet to the city's Carnaval-crazed residents as well as to the hundreds of thousands of tourists who flock to Rio every year at Carnaval time. Local botecos will serve a simple feijoada for their regulars, more upmarket restaurants will offer a more luxurious version for their clientele, and the city's five-star hotels will present massive, and expensive, feijoada buffets featuring luxury ingredients and often a floor show of samba music. The price varies with the venue of course. In this Wednesday's Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, the journal listed some typical prices for feijoada during Carnaval 2012. The bohemian bar Mineiro, in artsy Santa Teresa district charges only R$30 (USD $17) for their all-you-can-eat buffet. A traditional restaurant in Rio's historic Lapa district, has two different prices. Men are charged R$120 (USD $68) and women R$80 ($42), again for all you can eat, which explains the price differential. The luxurious Rio Othon Palace hotel on Copacabana beach charges R$270 ($150), but their feijoada includes a floor show featuring the percussion section of the Salgueiro samba school. That's still not the most expensive Carnaval feijoada in Rio, however. At the tony and exclusive Jockey Club, local tycoon Ricardo Amaral hosts his annual Carnaval feijoada party/ball. There feijoada will set you back a cool R$500 (USD$300) per person - that is, if you can get in. The party is one of the most "desired" events of the year and is always sold out well in advance.
Feijoada - Bar Mineiro

So if you can't figure out how to get in to Amaral's ball, take the R$500 that you just saved, take a taxi to the Mineiro Bar and treat yourself and fifteen friends to feijoada. You'll be treated like a king or queen and will still have R$20 in your pocket for the cab ride home.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Caxiri - An Endangered Beverage

Just as many of the myriad of plant and animal species that flourish in the grand reaches of the Amazonian rain forest are threated with extinction, many of the traditions of the way of life of the Amerindian tribes that live in relative isolation in the forest are equally under threat.

For millennia the women of these tribes have had the responsibility of making a beverage called caxiri - traditionally men are forbidden to make the drink. Making caxiri is both a culinary and a religious task, because the drink plays in important role in shamanistic tribal ceremonies. Made from manioc, caxiri is allowed to ferment naturally for a few days before it is consumed, by which time it has a low level of alcohol. For the Amerindians, caxiri, when drunk, opens a pathway to the supernatural world. Both the drink, and the gourd in which it is served become supernatural entities, and when consumed, they allow the drinker access to their world.

To make caxiri, the women work communally in an isolated location, far from the men of the tribe. Using a griddle, the women prepare a large manioc crepe or pancake, sometimes 6 ft in diameter. When cooked, the crepe is cut into slices or pieces as if it were a large pizza. Then the pieces are put in a large pot and covered with plenty of water. Traditionally a half gourd filled with pineapple leaves is placed at the bottom of the pot before the crepe or the water are added. The liquid mixture is allowed to sit for a few days, during which time it naturally ferments. When the pineapple leaves float to the surface, the caxiri is ready to drink.

The recipe for this traditional ritual drink hasn't changed in thousands of years, nor has the restriction of its use to religious ceremony. What is threatening caxiri today is a result of the increasing contact of tribe members with the greater Brazilian culture and that culture's love of sugar and alcohol. Younger tribe members, many of whom have visited one of the larger cities along the rivers of the Amazon, have learned that if sugar is added to the drink before it ferments, the resulting drink has a much higher alcohol content and can be used to get drunk without thought of ceremony or religion. Or, if one doesn't want to wait even the few days that natural fermentation requires, all one needs to do is add cachaça to make a potent cocktail.

The non-ritual drinking of caxiri, especially in its more potent forms, has caused severe social problems in many tribal homelands and caused an increase in the non-traditional problem of alcohol abuse.

True caxiri, made ritually and consumed ceremonially, is under siege - the adulterated drink, often made by young men in disobedience to ritual tradition, and its use as an intoxicant threatens its original purpose as a route to spiritual enlightenment.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

RECIPE - Shredded Beef (Carne Desfiada)

There's no question that Brazilians, or at least those that eat meat, like to eat ground beef. Just like most carnivores Brazilians enjoy a burger (of varying quality, it must be said). They like meatballs, and they love to put ground beef in pasta sauces and use it to top pizzas.

But it often seems that although Brazilians like to grind beef before eating it, they really prefer not to grind it raw, but to shred it once it's cooked and then use it as an ingredient in a casserole or a filling for a sandwich - anything that one might use ground beef for. Shredded meat shares with ground meat the virtue of being completely eatable  - no need to cut around the bone or remove the fat. But because it's cooked first, before it's pulled apart, it can stand up to long cooking in sauces without becoming lost in the mix. Shredded beef retains the fibrous structure of the cut from which it comes - it's closer to natural meat than ground beef it - and Brazilians like it that way.

It's not just in Brazilian culture where shredded meat is valued. American pulled pork is an example of the same technique. But Brazilians make use of the technique with a number of meats to create a large repertoire of dishes. Shredded chicken is used in sandwiches, shredded salt-dried beef (carne de sol) is cooked in the oven under a layer of mashed manioc to create something very similar to a shepherd's pie, and large cuts of beef are shredded, seasoned and recooked to create casserole dishes that are perfect for feeding a crowd.

This recipe, called simply carne desfiada (shredded beef) in Portuguese, is an example of this last type of dish. It can be made in larger or smaller quantities depending on the number of people that need to be fed, it can be made more fancy or simpler depending on the mood and the budget and it is perfectly suited to being part of a buffet table - because it can be successfully served from a casserole dish using only a large spoon, and because it can be eaten without needing to use a knife.

The cut of beef called for in the recipe is top round/topside (called coxão mole in Portuguese), but other large cuts of beef can very successfully be substituted. The recipe is in two stages which need not be done one right after the other. You can do stage one, the precooking and shredding, one day and continue the next to finish the dish. This dish can serve up to 10-12 persons as part of a full meal or buffet table, and can be modified for larger or smaller crowds. It can also be served hot or cold as a sandwich filling or can also be used as a sauce for pasta.
RECIPE - Shredded Beef (Carne Desfiada)

First stage:
7 lbs (3 kgs) top round of beef, or other large cut
1 cup neutral vegetable oil
1 head garlic, finely chopped
2 cups chopped onion
1/2 lb bacon, chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
3 Tbsp dried oregano
2cups white wine or apple cider vinegar

Second stage:
1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil
1 green bell pepper, seeded and julienned
1 red bell pepper, seeded and julienned
6 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 cup water
2 cups red wine vinegar
First stage: The day before cooking, in a large bowl or large Ziploc bag combine the meat with the garlic, onion, bacon, salt and pepper, oregano and vinegar, mix well to ensure the meat is covered with marinade and let stand for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. The next day remove the meat from the marinade, reserving the marinade, drain it well, then dry it with paper towels.Iin a large Dutch oven heat the oil over medium-high heat, the add the meat and brown it thoroughly on all sides. When it's brown, add the reserved marinade and sufficient water to cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then cover the pan and reduce heat until the liquid is simmering only. Cook over low heat for 3-4 hours, adding water if needed to keep the meat covered, until the meat is very tender and beginning to fall apart on its own. Remove the pan from the heat, take the meat out of the liquid, reserving the liquid, and let the meat cool completely. When the meat is cool, cut it into large chunks, about 1 1/2 inches on a side, then using your hands shred the meat completely. The shredded meat may be reserved up to 24 hours.

Second stage: In a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven heat the oil until hot but not smoking, add the red and green peppers and the onions and saute for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft but not browned. Add the water and vinegar, increase heat and boil rapidly until the liquid is reduced by about a third. Add the reserved shredded meat and heat it, stirring frequently until the meat is very hot and the liquid has reduced to about half its original volume.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

CUTS OF BEEF - Coxão Mole

From time to time Flavors of Brazil has dug into the arcane world of butchering in an attempt to clarify the differences between cuts of beef as they are found in Brazil and the cuts that result from a North American or European style butchering. Every culture has its own way of cutting up a beef carcass, and although some of the cuts might be made identically from one culture to another, but more often they are not.
The Three Graces
 by Peter Paul Rubens

The cut of beef that is the topic of this post, charmingly called coxão mole in Portuguese, is one of the most versatile and useful cuts of beef to know in Brazil. We say it is charmingly named because the  best English translation of coxão mole would be something like "big, soft thigh". (Makes one think of those voluptuous nudes who frolic around the edges of Rubens' painting).

This cut, which comes from the upper posterior part of the animal, also exists in English-style butchering where it is variously known as topside or silverside and in American-style butchering where it is referred to as top round. The cut isn't considered a first-class cut, like filet mignon or the prime steak cuts, but when properly cooked it can be one of the most delicious cuts from the entire animal.

Because coxão mole is very lean it is best suited to either roasting or to braising or stewing. If it is cooked quickly without liquid it can be very dry because of the absence of far. But a long cooking at low temperature, whether in a dry oven or in a brasing liquid, brings out the best in this cut.

In Brazil coxão mole is used in many traditional braised dishes where its qualities and flavor might shine. But it also has another very important role in traditional Brazilian cooking. Coxão mole is one of the most-preferred cuts to use when making carne de sol, Brazil's salted and dried beef. Because beef fat doesn't dry well, the leanness of coxão mole makes it perfect for undergoing the salting and drying process that creates carne de sol.

In Brazilian butcher shops it's also common to find lean ground beef that is made from coxão mole but it's in hearty Brazilian stews and braised dishes or disguised as carne de sol that coxão mole makes its true contribution to Brazilian cuisine.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Moqueca in Addis Ababa? - Brazilian Cuisine in Africa

Addis Ababa
Until fairly recently, Brazilian cooks and chefs often exhibited a tendency to devalue local Brazilian cuisine and to rely on Italian or French recipes, menus and techniques when they wanted to appeal to a sophisticated clientele. Sure, local holes-in-the-wall served true Brazilian food - always had done and always will do was their motto - but big-city restaurants that wanted to indulge and impress their clients gilded their menus with such dishes as vichyssoise, risotti, crêpes Suzette and tiramisù.

Not today. The best and most creative chefs strive to outdo each other in offering authentic Brazilian cuisine - local recipes, local techniques and local ingredients. As in many other fields 21st century Brazilians have developed a new pride in Brazilian cooking and gastronomy.  One restaurant might source an artisanal cheese that's been made the same way for three or four centuries in one remote location, while another restaurant might find in another location a fruit that's been eaten in a small territory for three or four millennia.

The Brazilian government now recognizes the importance, both domestically and internationally, of supporting Brazilian food culture. It sponsors local food festivals and gastronomic events, its tourism department has a sophisticated approach to culinary tourism, and its economic development branch supports Brazilian food exports.

Currently, thanks to the Brazilian embassy in Addis Ababa, three prominent Brazilian chefs are in Ethiopia to showcase Brazilian gastronomy in the high-altitude African capital. During the Brazilian food festival in Addis Ababa from February 03 to 27, the three chefs - Mara Salles, Paulo Machado e Eduardo Duó - will offer a Brazilian menu at one of the Addis Ababa's best restaurants, the Kuriftu Diplomat, at lunch and dinner. In addition to the festival at the restaurant, the chefs will also work with cooks from hospitals from the interior of Ethiopia to develop a healthy and sustainable food programs for those institutions.
The Brazilian culinary team

The chefs have taken it upon themselves to try to showcase Brazilian food using Ethiopean ingredients where possible, although they carried with them certain essential ingredients that cannot be found in Ethiopia, such as manioc flour, dendê oil and cachaça. For example, they will be offering a very traditional Brazilian moqueca (a spicy fish stew) but will use fresh-water fish from the River Nile rather than a frozen imported product. Even though Brazil is one of the world's largest coffee producers, they will serve Ethiopian coffee to honor the country where coffee was first drunk.

In addition to presenting Brazilian food at its best, the chefs say that they will also take advantage of the opportunity to learn about Ethiopian cuisine, which is almost completely unknown in Brazil. Maybe on their return journey they will be bringing back new and exciting Ethiopian ingredients to offer in their own restaurants back in Brazil - just one more fruit of this interesting and forward-looking program of showcasing Brazilian cuisine to the world, and one more link in the increasingly connected global world of gastronomy.

Based on material from Brazilian website Gastronomia & Negócios

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Feliz Aniversário, The French Chef

Although this has absolutely nothing to do with Brazil or Brazilian cooking, Flavors of Brazil couldn't let today, the 11th of February, pass unnoticed and unremarked. Because it was on this date in 1963, in probably what was a quite wintry Boston, that the very first episode of The French Chef was broadcast on that city's PBS station. And on that same date, the USA's (and the world's) love affair with the star of the show, Julia Child, began to blossom. And the bloom hasn't come off the rose to this day.

So a very happy 49th anniversary to The French Chef! We can't wait for next year and the 50th anniversary celebrations.

In the meantime, here's a early episode of The French Chef starring Julia and a goose, courtesy of YouTube:

Friday, February 10, 2012

RECIPE - Tangerine and Mango Mojito (Mojito de Tangerina e Manga)

In Brazil, we're now well into February, normally the hottest month of the year in this very hot country. These are the dog days of summer in Brazil, when the mercury boils over and so do many Brazilians. Checking Climatempo, the Brazilian equivalent of the Weather Channel, today Rio de Janeiro is expecting a high temperature of 34C (93F) with lots of sun and the occasional shower. In São Paulo, it'll go up to 32C (90F) and be sunny, humid, with afternoon thundershowers. Fortaleza, where Flavors of Brazil comes from, should be a relatively pleasant 29C (88F) with lots of sun and a strong breeze. But in the interior of the state, where there are no trade winds to cool one off, the temperature is expected to reach 35C (92F). It seems that Brazil's hottest city tomorrow will be Cuiabá, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso and always one of the hottest spots in Brazil. There it's predicted to go up to 36F (96F).

With temperatures like these during the summer months, Brazilians are perennially desperate for a chilled drink . Icy beer is always an option, fruit juices are popular, and the traditional cooling cocktail, the caipirinha, remains a popular option. However, some Brazilians are now finding that the caipirinha, even though it has lots of ice cubes, doesn't have a lot of water and has a high level of alcohol which doesn't aid cooling. Because of this, when it's really hot many Brazilians are turning to variations of the Cuban drink, the mojito. It's becoming increasingly popular in bars, restaurants, nightclubs and at the beach because a mojito's CQ (cooling quotient) is inhanced by the addition of refreshing fresh mint and plenty of chilled soda water, and if only natural fruit juices are used, cooling isn't inhibited by an excess of sugar.

The following recipe is typical of one of the new generation Cubo-Brazilian mojitos. Or should that be Brazo-Cuban? However it's described, it's wonderfully refreshing, light and not overly-alcoholic, and absolutely delicious. Even if you have to wait until July or August for a really hot day to hit your northern hemisphere neighborhood, remember this drink and try it out then. It'll cool you right off.
RECIPE - Tangerine and Mango Mojito (Mojito de Tangerina e Manga)
Makes one drink

1/2 small ripe mango, peeled and cubed
1/2 tangerine, peeled, seeded but left in segments
6 or 7 fresh mint leaves, thoroughly washed
1 oz (2 Tbsp) white rum
ice cubes
soda water or bubbly mineral water
Process the mango cubes in a blender or food processor until you have a smooth pulp. Reserve.

Combine the tangerine segments and the mint leaves in a tall tumbler. Using the handle of a wooden spoon or a glass stirring rod, lightly mash them together. Do not over-mash. You want them to be bruised so that the flavors are released, but not completely mashed.

Add the rum, and then enough mango pulp to fill the glass no more than halfway. Add 3/4 cubes of ice, then fill with soda water. Stir gently to mix, being careful not to over-stir the soda water.

Let stand for a minute or two to chill, then serve.

Recipe translated and adapted from Gula magazine.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

RECIPE - Diamantina Rice Cake (Bolo de Arroz)

Diamantina, in the state of Minas Gerais, is rightly known as a tourist "gem" - not just because of the vast quantity of diamonds and other gems that were extracted from the hills which surround it, but because of its well-preserved historical center and its relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Part of the town's charm comes as well from its gastronomic riches - Diamantina has preserved its culinary traditions as well as it has its architectural, musical and religious ones.

One of Diamantina's true gems is a woman named Zenília Rosália da Silva Rocha. Her story is told on the Brazilian gastronomic-tourism website Sabores de Minas, and although she isn't a professional cook, doesn't have a restaurant or even work in one, the one dish she is known for - a rice-flour cake - has made her famous, and beloved, in Diamantina and beyond.

Her is her story from the site, translated by Flavors of Brazil:

The ringing of church bells announces another religious festival in Diamantina. At the same hour, Zenília Rosália da Silva Rocha's oven advises her, "the rice cake is done." In Diamantina during the Festival of the Divine and the Festival of Our Lady of the Rosary, in July and October respectively, Dona Zenília has a mission: to make a thousand pieces of rice cake for each celebration. And to accomplish that, her marathon begins early. "I spend from 7 am to 8 pm making these treats", she says. And so, when the bells announce the beginning of the festival, she is ready to distribute her delicious sweets to all the festivals' celebrants. "It's a tradition. I've been doing it for 18 years. My grandparents did the same thing, and passed on the recipe to my mother, who taught me," she explains. The cake is a type of blessing she bestows on those who participate in the religious celebrations. "If there was no rice cake, the festivals just wouldn't be the same," she says. Golden in color due to the presence of squash, the pieces of cake she distributes are fluffy, moist and with a light flavor.  This light goodness is real sustenance for the pilgrims, as during the festival they must climb the steep, narrow streets and staircases of the city. It doesn't do to lose one's breath, and Dona Zenília's cake is a guarantee of strength for the thousands who walk in procession during the festivities. Her cake is a blessing for the pilgrim as well as a treat for their palates.
RECIPE - Diamantina Rice Cake (Bolo de Arroz)
Makes one tube-pan cake

3 cups raw long-grain white rice
3 cups cooked long-grain white rice, cooled
2 cups granulated white sugar
6 whole eggs
one medium acorn squash, or equivalent amount of any other winter squash, cooked and mashed
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup neutral vegetable oil
1/2 lb grated pizza-type mozzarella
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups (1/2 liter) milk
Grease and dust with flour a tube-shaped cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

In a small saucepan, heat the butter in the oil. Only heat until the butter melts, then remove from heat, cool and reserve.

In a food processor, process the raw rice until it is finely ground. Reserve.

In the bowl of a KitchenAid-type mixer, beat together the ground rice, the cooked rice, the eggs, the mashed squash. Alternatively use a hand mixer and a large mixing bowl. When you have a homogenous mixture, slowly add the butter and oil mixture. Then slowly add the milk while continuing to beat the mixture until you reach a cake-batter consistency.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, place in the preheated oven and cook for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool completely on a cake rack, then unmold and cut into small single-serving pieces.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Diamantina - Brazil's Other Baroque Gem

Diamantina at twilight
The baroque goldrush town of Ouro Preto, located in the mountains of Minas Gerais state, is one of the most well-known and visited Brazilian cities of tourism. Ouro Preto is an almost obligatory stop for any tourist visiting Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state and one of Brazil's largest metropolitan areas. Ouro Preto is only about an hour or two from BH (as Belo Horizonte is familiarly nicknamed) and so it's easy to make a day trip from the capital or enjoy a quick overnight visit. Ouro Preto's worth as part of the world's cultural patrimony has been recognized by UNESCO which honored it with World Heritage Site status in 1980.

Less well known, but equally worthy of its World Heritage Site status (granted in 1999) is another small town which owes its origins to the 18th century goldrush in Minas Gerais, Diamantina. Less accessible than Ouro Preto at 300 km. from Belo Horizonte, Diamantina doesn't receive the hordes of tourists that can sometimes lessen the pleasure of a visit to Ouro Preto. For some connaisseurs of baroque city planning and architecture Diamantina is more beautiful than Ouro Preto, but the friendly controversy over which city is lovelier will probably never be settled. Its mineral wealth was not limited to gold - the area around Diamantina was mined as well for diamonds (hence the city's name). The gems and metals of the mountains surrounding Diamantina meant that it was extraordinarily wealthy during its 18th century heyday. The artistic riches that remain are proof of that wealth, and testify to the labor of the millions of slaves who were forcibly brought from Africa to work in the mines of Minas Gerais.

Diamantina is also famous among Brazilians for being the hometown of one of Brazil's most-loved presidents, Juscelino Kubitschek, born in Diamantina in 1902 and the man whose vision was responsible for the creation and construction of Brasília, Brazil's new capital city.

Diamantina is a center for religious observances and pilgrimages in Minas Gerais. Some of the annual religious celebrations bring thousands of devotees to the city, as does the city's very traditional but very popular Carnaval. Tourism, whether during a festival season or not, plays a large role in Diamantina's economy, and the city is full of small inns and pousadas, traditional restaurants and bars and food shops selling traditional local snacks, preserves, pastries and sweets.

In our next post, we'll tell you all about Zenília Rosália da Silva Rocha, a local cook, and explain just why she's so famous in Diamantina.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Minas Gerais - Gastronomic Routes

Even though Italian cooking includes such well-known regional styles of cooking as Neapolitan, Sicilian, Venetian, even Sardinian, most gastronomic historians consider the region of Emilia-Romagna to be the true heartland of traditional Italian gastronomy. Containing such gastronomic hot spots as Parma (with its ham and its cheese), Modena (home of balsamic vinegar) and Italy's food capital, Bologna, Emilia-Romagna is at the same time the cradle of traditional cooking and the location of some of the most daring and avant-garde 21st century Italian gastronomy.

In Brazil, which resembles Italy in the number and variation of its regional cuisines, the interior state of Minas Gerais, located in the south-eastern part of Brazil, holds an analogous position in Brazilian gastronomy to that of Emilia-Romagna in Italian. Not as unique as Bahian cooking with its bold mixture of African and European styles and techniques, nor as strictly-European as the cuisines of the south of Brazil, mineiro (meaning from Minas Gerais) gastronomy is to many people the true essence of Brazilian cooking.

The influences that went into the creation of mineiro cooking are those which define all Brazilian cuisine - European, particularly Portuguese, African and native Indian. In the lush highlands of mountainous Minas Gerais these influences were blended, mashed and mixed into something uniquely new and Brazilian - Minas Gerais was the crucible in which Brazilian cooking was forged.

Even today, Minas Gerais is one of the places in Brazil where food and cooking matters most. From the modern capital Belo Horizonte, through exquisitely beautiful baroque cities like Ouro Preto, Tiradentes and Diamantina, and on to the small villages and farms that dot the landscape, people care about what they eat and they honor the foods that have been a part of their diet for years, even centuries. Local cheeses, long-cooked stews, sweets and desserts whose recipes date back to the convents of medieval Portugal - they all play a part in mineiro gastronomy.

Because so much of what makes mineiro cooking such a marvel comes from small towns and villages throughout the state, we at Flavors of Brazil were thrilled to recently come across a website called Sabores de Minas (Flavors of Minas Gerais) and its 69 different gastronomic routes through the state. Each route concentrates on a particular region or a particular speciality of this enormous state (slightly larger than France). For example, route number 32 concentrates of the baroque cities of the 17th Century mineiro gold rush, number 22 is focused on the relatively-unpopulated north of the state, and number 44 on coffee and sweets. For each route, the website publishes a map and a list of 15-18 suggested stops. A stop might be a farm that produces cheese, it might be a long-established local restaurant, or it might even be the home of a cook whose fame has spread beyond her family to include her whole village. Each stop is described in detail, with personal stories of the cooks and producers involved and each includes a recipe.

The site is a treasure-trove for anyone interested in traditional Brazilian gastronomy, and a powerful inducement to book a flight to Belo Horizonte, grab a rental car and head for the hills in search of the soul of mineiro cooking. And the 700+ recipes are enough to keep any amateur cook happy for months in the kitchen at home.

For most non-Brazilians there is one significant problem with the website - it's in Portuguese only. Although Google will offer to translate the page in most browsers, its translator is not yet sufficiently sophisticated to correctly translate this site. Because of that language difficulty, and because of the importance of mineiro cooking to Brazilian gastronomy, tomorrow  Flavors of Brazil will publish the first of s series of occasional reviews/translations of some of the best of Sabores de Minas. We hope it will open some eyes to the beauty of the state and the quality of its food products and cooking.

Monday, February 6, 2012

RECIPE - Panelada

Should you decide that you want to make the traditional Brazilian stew called panelada, you're likely to run into two obstacles en route to a culinary home run at the dinner table. First, if you live in North America or metropolitan areas of Europe you're likely to have problems finding sources for some of the ingredients that the dish demands. Things like cow stomach (including but not limited to tripe) and cow intestines. The other problem (at least if you consider honesty a virtue) is convincing family members, dinner guests or amyone else to whom you serve the dish to try panelada with an open mind. (If you don't consider honesty a virtue and try to lie your way into general acceptance of panelada the shape and form of the stomach and intestines will probably give your game away.)

But there are always those culinary pioneers who boldly go where no cook has gone before, and for them we offer this recipe for panelada from the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará, where panelada is considered an iconic dish.
RECIPE - Panelada
Serves 4

1/2 lb (250 gr) cow stomach (tripe may be substituted)
1/2 lb (250 gr ) cow intestine
juice of 3 limes
1/2 Tbsp salt
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 Tbsp annatto powder (sweet paprika may be substituted)
2 bay leaves
1 red or green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 cup chopped cilantro
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno or serrano chili
Using kitchen scissors, cut the stomach (or tripe) into small squares and the intestine into 1/2 in (1 cm) rings. Wash them very well in several changes of water. Put them in a heavy saucepan, cover with cold water, add the lime juice and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Let boil for one minute, then drain them in a sieve. When cool, wash again in several changes of fresh water.

In a large pan, combine the washed stomach or tripe and intestine, the salt, the chopped tomato and onions, the annatto or paprika and the bay leaves. Heat over medium heat, partially covered. Stir from time to time to mix ingredients and to help the tomato to break down. When liquid comes to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for approximately 40 minutes, adding a small amount of water from time to time if the dish appears to be drying out.

Stir in the bell peppers, the garlic and chilis. Cover the pan and cook over low heat until the meats can be easily pierced with a fork and are tender.

Remove from heat, pour into a deep serving bowl and mix in the chopped cilantro. Serve immediately accompanied by white rice.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Panelada - A Polarizing Dish

Some foods, and some prepared dishes, evoke strongly opposing reactions among those who try or sample them. Call them the "love 'em or hate 'em" items of the food world. In a recent article in Huffington Post, ten foods were listed as being among the most polarizing - no one seems to be neutral about them. The ten were, in no special order, cilantro, blue cheese, Vegamite/Marmite, celery, coconut, liver, mayonnaise, marzipan, green pepper and licorice.

Just like those foods, there are some prepared dishes that get some folks' mouths watering and others trying to stifle a gag reaction. Scottish haggis, Norwegian lutefisk, Dutch raw herring, Chinese Dim Sum chicken feet, even sushi. Those who love these dishes don't just love them, they adore them. And those who don't - well, they can't abide them.

In Brazil, even though it contains such potential troublesome pig parts such as salted ears, salted tail and salted belly fat, almost everybody loves the dish often considered Brazil's national dish - feijoada. Or at least no one will admit they don't like it. But another widely loved traditional stew, called panelada, evokes a strong pro or con reaction even among Brazilians. For some Brazilians, panelada is the ultimate comfort food - something to eat on a cold rainy day, or the best cure for a wicked hangover. For others, even the smell of panelada cooking is enough to send them flying out of the kitchen with their hand over their mouths.

Panelada is just one of the many Brazilian variants of a stew - meat and vegetables cooked in a thick broth, all served together. Writer Roberto Da Matta, in his book "O Que Faz o Brasil, Brasil?" (What makes Brazil Brazil?), talks about the general Brazilian preference for stew-type dishes, from feijoada to peixada, to dobradinha, and of course, to panelada, "It appears we (Brazilians) have a prediliction for food that is neither liquid nor solid but halfway between the two."

So it's not the fact that it's a stew that makes panelada a "problematic" dish. It's what that stew contains. A proper panelada contains a wide variety of those parts of an animal collectively known as offal. One recipe, for example, calls for 2 lbs (1 kg) each of tripe, intestines, nerves and feet. another calls for hoof instead of foot. Most recipes will call for, at minimum, tripe, intestines and foot. It's these ingredients that make panelada, to coin a phrase, one man's meat and another man's poison.

Although panelada is made, and loved or hated, all around Brazil, it is particularly associated in most Brazilians' minds with the northeastern region of the country. Tomorrow we'll publish a recipe for a northeastern panelada, one from the state of Ceará.

Friday, February 3, 2012

RECIPE - Coconut Blancmange for Yemanjá (Manjar Branco para Yemanjá)

Yemanjá painted by Carybé
In yesterday's post here on Flavors of Brazil, we promised to post a recipe today for one of the ceremonial dishes associated with the goddess Yemanjá in the Afro-Brazilian religious tradition of Candomblé. Each of the many gods and goddesses of Candomblé has specific foods with which they are associated - foods that they are said to enjoy - and these foods are offered to the deity during Candomblé ceremonies (and subsequently eaten by devotees during the post-ceremonial feast).

Because Yemanjá is the goddess of the sea, the essence of motherhood and protector of children, and because she is identified with the Virgin Mary, her colors are blue and white. The foods that are offered to her are consequently white or light in color.
Manjar branco

This recipe, which comes from a Brazilian webpage called Comida do Orixá Iemanja (Food of the Goddess Yemanjá) is for one of the dishes most commonly associated with Yemanjá. Simple, light, sweet and most importantly, white, the milk pudding known as blancmange in English and manjar branco in Portuguese is perfectly suited to this loving, motherly, beautiful and vain goddess.

It's also perfectly suited to non-ceremonial roles, such as a simple dessert to end a rich meal. It can be topped with almost any fruit compote or coulis if you wish a more complex dish, but when it's served to Yemanjá it's presented in its simplest and purest form.
RECIPE - Coconut Blancmange for Yemanjá (Manjar Branco para Yemanjá)

4 cups (1 liter) hot whole milk - just at the boiling point
1 cup grated unsweetened coconut
4 Tbsp cornstarch
a small amount cold whole milk
1 cup (250 ml) granulated white sugar
In a medium saucepan, pour the hot milk over the grated coconut. Let soak for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, dissolve the cornstarch in a small quantity of cold milk. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the liquid in the saucepan, then add the white sugar.

Heat the saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar is complete dissolved. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is very hot and has thickened, usually about 3 to 5 minutes. Do not let come to a full boil.

When the mixture has thickened, remove from the heat, pour into a ceramic bowl or a decorative mold and let cool completely. When cool, refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

February Second - The Festival of Yemanjá

Every year on February Second, some million or more people in the Brazilian city of Salvador, Bahia, walk in procession through the streets of the Rio Vermelho district of that city, all dressed in white, making their way down to the seashore and the small house that's said to be the home of Yemanjá, a powerful goddess (Orixá) in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. Yemanjá is the essence of motherhood, the protector of children, fishermen and sailors, and most importantly, she is the sea itself. When the celebrants reach the shore Yemanjá's they pass their baskets laden with gifts for the goddess to fishermen to take out to sea and leave them on the waters as offerings to the Orixá. Gifts for Yemanjá often include images of the goddess, flowers and objects of female vanity (perfume, jewelry, combs, lipsticks, mirrors). Later in the day, the festival of Yemanjá becomes a massive street party which carries on into the night.

In the synchristic tradition that blends the Orixás who traveled to Brazil with African slaves with the saints and holy figures of Christianity who arrived with the Portuguese,  Yemanjá is identified with certain aspects of the Virgin Mary, and February Second in the Roman Catholic calendar is the day of Our Lady of Navigators (Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes). The celebrants at Salvador's festival honor one divinity in two personages, the African Yemanjá and the Christian Our Lady, without thoughts of separation or difference between the two.

Gifts for Yemanjá
As with all the gods and goddess of the Candomblé tradition, Yemanjá is associated with certain foods, and these foods are offered to her on her special day as well as eaten by her devotees at the street festival that follows the ceremonical activities of the day. Yemanjá's colors, like the Virgin Mary's, are white and blue - obvious choices for a Rainha do Mar (Queen of the Sea). An Orixá's favorite foods are often visually connected with his or her image and chosen colors, Yemanjá's special food are white, or very light in color (there are very few foods that are truly blue). Yemanjá prefers sweet foods, making such dishes as honeyed rice and sweet corn puddings essential parts of her festival. She is said to be particularly fond of a sweet coconut-flavored milk jelly called manjar branco (the word is a cognate of the French-English word blancmange). She also enjoys puffed rice, and this snack is everywhere at her festival.

The following YouTube video was filmed in Salvador on February 02, 2011 during the festival of Yemanjá. The soundtrack is Brazilian singer Baden Powell singing his composition Canto de Yemanjá.

Tomorrow, Flavors of Brazil will publish a recipe for Yemanjá's manjar branco.