Friday, March 30, 2012

Wine Pairing Suggestions for Salt Cod (Bacalhau)

Salt cod (bacalhau) and red wine
With the approach of Holy Week (Semana Santa), Brazilians' culinary thoughts turn primarily to two things - chocolate and salt cod (not necessarily together). These two foods are symbolic of the Easter season in Brazil, and in past years Flavors of Brazil has highlighted these food at this time of year. (Click here to read more about salt cod and here for Easter chocolates).

Although Brazilians drink much more beer than wine throughout the year, it's traditional to serve wine at the Good Friday and Easter feasts. As salt cod's traditional link to the Easter season is an inheritance from Portuguese culture, wine is the customary beverage, as Portugal has always been a wine-loving nation.

The problem is that pairing salt cod (bacalhau) with wine is a tricky business, and one can go seriously wrong. Salt cod's high salinity and complexity of the way it is normally cooked with other flavors such as onion, tomatoes, potatoes, olives, olive oil, etc. make it difficult to find a wine that stands up to the strong flavors and that complements them.
Salt cod (bacalhau) and white wine

In a recent article on the website of Prazeres da Mesa magazine, a number of Brazilian wine writers highlight some interesting suggestions. Here's a bit of what they had to say about suitable varietals to serve with salt cod (translations by Flavors of Brazil).
Chardonnay (unoaked) - This white wine has a consistent structure and an agreeable freshness. It works well with dishes containing flaked salt cod which normally retains more salt than filets of salt cod.

Carménère -  This Chilean red-wine varietal stands up well to salt cod dishes which contain green peppers, a notoriously tricky flavor when it comes to wine pairings.

Pinot Noir - This grape, known for its smoothness and balance, is recommended when salt cod is roasted or served with few other flavors.

Vinhão (also known as Souzão) - From Northern Portugal's Douro regions, red wines made with this grape combine exceedingly-well with salt cod dishes that contain a lot of olive oil.

Touriga Nacional - Another Portuguese varietal, Touriga Nacional red wines are the perfect accompaniment for salt cod dishes containing cream, or other rich casseroles.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

RECIPE - Pineapple Kisses (Beijos de Abacaxi)

One of the most beautiful words in the Portuguese language is beijo. Pronounced something like BAY-zhoo, it means kiss. Perhaps what give it its charm is the soft sibilant of the zh combined with the oo which requires the lips to purse as if ready to kiss that gives it its charm - or maybe it's only the act described in the word that makes it so appealing. In any case, Brazilians love the word - it's a staple in pop song lyrics, it's heard every night on the extremely popular TV soap-operas called novelas, and it has even found its way into kitchens and cookbooks. In Brazilian gastronomy beijo, not surprisingly, is used mostly in the dessert kitchen, and usually to describe a very sweet, small pastry or sweet.

In this recipe, which comes from the state of Pernambuco, the kisses are made from fresh pineapple. Consequently, although they are very sweet, the sharp acidic bite of the fruit prevents the delicacy from cloying. One is fabulous, and for most people, enough. These treats are perfect as part of a dessert buffet, or on a platter of mixed cookies. As an added bonus, they are very simple to make.
RECIPE - Pineapple Kisses (Beijos de Abacaxi)
makes 20

2 cups (300 gr) fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and very finely chopped
1 1/2 cup (300 gr) granulated white sugar
unsalted butter for greasing a cookie sheet
additional granulated sugar
fresh mint for garnish (optional)
Grease a rimmed cookie sheet with unsalted butter. Reserve.

Combine the pineapple and sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens sufficiently to pull away from the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

When partially cooled, spread the pineapple mixture in the cookie sheet, and let cool completely.

When the pineapple is completely cool, using buttered hands, form the mixture into 20 small round balls. Fill a small mixing bowl with granulated sugar, and roll each ball in the sugar to completely cover. Place the completed balls back on the greased cookie sheet and let stand for several hours.

Serve in small paper cups, decorated with a sprig of mint if desired.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

RECIPE - Brazilian Eggnog (Licor de Ovos)

Here in the Southern Hemisphere we've just passed the equinox and autumn is upon us. In certain parts of Brazil that doesn't really mean much as the weather is tropical all year round. However, in the more southerly part of the country, especially in high-altitude regions of the interior, during fall and winter temperatures can drop precipitously, and it can be bitterly cold, especially at night.

The interior state of Minas Gerais is one place that has learned well over the years how to lessen the impact of cold weather. In the historic cities of Minas during the cold season people light fires in fireplaces, eat hearty and rich stews and soups and drink hot drinks, all in aid of keeping warm. During the same season, they also drink a home-made spirit called licor de ovos (egg liqueur), the Brazilian version of eggnog.

Eggnog is a cold-weather drink almost everywhere it is known - the combination of milk, eggs, sugar and possibly liquor is just too rich to be enjoyed in hot climes. It becomes cloying and overly-rich when the temperature soars. So this recipe, which comes from the small town of Joaquim Felício, MG, is just starting to be made in these early days of autumn. That will ensure that in a month or two from now, on those chilly mountain evenings, there will be plenty of licor de ovo to warm the cockles of everyone's heart.

The liquor used in Minas Gerais to make licor de ovos is, naturally, Brazil's own cachaça. However, if you can't source cachaça you can substitute rum, although the result will be substantially less Brazilian (and it will also be sweeter).
RECIPE - Brazilian Eggnog (Licor de Ovos)
Makes about one quart (one liter)

6 fresh egg yolks, preferably free-range
1 lb. (500 gr) granulated white sugar
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
2 cups (500 ml) cachaça (rum may be substituted)
10 drops pure vanilla essence

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk just to the boil, then remove from heat and cool completely. Reserve.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks and the sugar. Beat with a fork or a whisk-type beater until the mixture is consistent and frothy. Pour in the reserved milk, and stir to mix it in completely. Then do the same with the  cachaça. Finally add the vanilla essence and mix once again.

Pour into a sterile bottle or jug. Refrigerate for at least one month prior to serving to let the flavors develop.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Brazil Scores at Gourmand World Cookbook Awards (again)

Every year since 1995, the best books, worldwide, about food and gastronomy have been honored at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. The 2012 awards were announced recently in Paris at a ceremony held in the famous Folies Bergère theatre, and Brazilian authors and publishers took home a number of awards, including first prize in the prestigious Food Literature category. We'll feature some of these winners and publish some of their recipes in future posts at Flavors of Brazil (some we've already covered), but for now, here's a listing of the books and authors, and the awards they were given.

Food Literature - 1st place
O Ganso Marisco (The Seafood Goose)
Breno Lerner, Author
Melhoramentos, Publisher

Photography - 1st place
Saveurs du Brésil (Flavors of Brazil (sound familiar?))
Sérgio Coimbra, Author
Studio Coimbra, Publisher

Desserts - 2nd place
Confeitaria Nacional (Brazilian Confectionary)
Luíz Farias, Author
Ilma, Publisher

Vegetarian - 2nd place
A Cozinha Vegetariana (The Vegetarian Kitchen)
Astrid Pfeiffer, Author
Alaude, Publisher

Fund-raising or Charity, Latin America - 2nd Place
Gourmet & Sustentável (Gourmet and Sustainable)
ONG Banco de Alimentos, Authors
Cook Lovers, Publisher

Spirits - 3rd Place
A Verdadeira História da Cachaça (The True History of Cachaça)
Messias Cavalcante, Author
Sá Editora, Publishers

Wine Translations - 3rd Place
210 Coquetéis Essenciais (210 Essential Cocktails)
Evelyn Ray Massaid, Author
Melhoramentos, Publisher

Wine Education - 3rd Place
Conheça Vinhos (Know Wines)
Direceu Vianna Junior and José Ivan Santos, Authors
SENAC, Publishers

Corporate Publishers - 3rd Place
Sabores Brasileiras (Brazilian Flavors)
Tramontina s/a, Authors
Bocatto, Publishers

Latin American Cuisine - 4th Place
Guia Carioca da Gastronomia de Rua (The Carioca Guide to Street Food)
Sérgio Bloch, Author
Arte Ensaio, Publisher

If you want to see more winners of the Gourmand World Cookbooks Awards 2012, click here to be directed to their website. There you'll find all the winners and finalists in every category.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rio de Janeiro's Dial-a-Popcorn Service

There's dial-a-ride, dial-a-cab, dial-a-pizza, dial-a-forecast, even dial-a-dietician. So why shouldn't there be dial-a-bag-of-popcorn service? Well, in Rio de Janeiro there is. Called Disk Pipoka, which means dial-popcorn in Portuguese, the service is run out of popcorn cart set up on one of the busiest corners in Rio's central business district. It's the brainchild of a certain Nelsinho Pipoka (don't think that was his surname a birth, though) who's been delivering popcorn to snack-starved popcorn aficionados in the office towers that surround his stand for more than 10 years now.

Nelsinho, like many of Rio's outdoor vendors (and cab drivers and waiters) comes from Brazil's northeast - in this case the state of Ceará. Historically the poorest part of Brazil, over the centuries the northeastern part of the country has provided a steady stream of emigrants traveling to other, richer, parts of Brazil is search of their fortune, or at least in search of enough money to get by.

Rush hour at Disk Pipoka
When he first got to Rio and set up his popcorn stand in the city's downtown, there were days when he almost didn't sell any popcorn at all, and he was in danger of losing his investment in his cart. According to Nelsinho, he was saved by a flash of inspiration - Rio already had delivery services for many other foods, why not try popcorn delivery. Why not, indeed! Nelsinho bravely hired a runner to deliver the popcorn, painted his cart with his cell phone number and hoped for the best. He hasn't looked back since. His cart is hopping from 3 to 10 pm M-F, and he claims it's his delivery service that has made the business the success that it is.

Nelsinho's local fame has grown to the extent that his cart, and his service has been featured on local TV. Being the astute businessman that he is, he's made sure that his TV interviews are available on YouTube, where he has his own channel. Here's a clip of one of his interviews in which his charm and his style shine through, even if you can't understand his Portuguese.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

SNACKS - Popcorn (Pipoca)

It's commonly known that corn (or maize) was first cultivated for food by native American Indians centuries before the arrival of European explorers in the Western Hemisphere. Corn (Zea mays) was first domesticated in what is today the country of Mexico sometime between 12,000 and 7,500 years ago, and cultivation of corn had spread both northward and southward from there among tribes settled in North and in South America long before Columbus began the process of European colonization in 1492.

What might be less well known is the fact that the Amerindian natives not only ate roasted and boiled ears of corn and dried corn ground into meal, they also, just like today's Cineplex movie-goers, loved popcorn. When and where this eating habit began is totally unknown, but wherever it was, the first time that someone let corn cook too long and it began to explode in the fire must have been a shocking and scary experience. However, the Amerindians soon learned that the explosion that creates popcorn creates a lovely, tasty snack, and by the time Europeans rolled up on these shores, the natives had a serious popcorn habit. A habit which the Europeans picked up as quickly and as permanently as smoking tobacco.

The Portuguese word for popcorn is pipoca (pip-OH-ka). It comes from the native Tupi language, an indication that the food predates Europeans in Brazil. Pipoca is one of Brazil's favorite snack foods, and it hasn't been relegated to cinema and home-theatre fare to the degree it has in North America. Cinema popcorn is available in Brazil, though a much smaller percentage of moviegoers in Brazil eat popcorn than in North America, and the portions are much, much smaller. Most Brazilians, anecdotal evidence would indicate, still buy popcorn freshly popped from street vendors - in parks, on promenades and during fairs and festivals. The vendors' popcorn stands are usually on wheels so they can move about in search of trade, and the popcorn is made the old-fashioned way, in a pot with a small amount of oil to aid the popping process. The popcorn is sold directly from the stand, either salted or with a caramel coating. A bag of popcorn normally costs about R$1, which is USD$0.55.

There is a second form of popcorn in Brazil, which we've not seen anywhere else. It's affectionately known as pipoca de isopor, meaning "styrofoam popcorn." This product is not made on the spot, but instead prepared industrially and sold pre-bagged. It's really not popped corn - a better name would be puffed corn. The process used on the corn kernels is similar to that used on rice and wheat to make puffed cereals like Rice Krispies and Puffed Wheat. The kernel retains its shape, it just expands and becomes airy. Pipoca de isopor is an acquired taste - many people dislike it intensely, though for many Brazilians it is a nostalgic snack, bringing back memories of childhood.

Brazilians don't eat anything like the 58 quarts per person that Americans consume annually on a per capita basis. But their love for this ancient native food miracle is intense, and it continues to pass from generation to generation as it has in this country for many millennia.

Friday, March 23, 2012

RECIPE - Bolivian "Rice" (Arroz Boliviano)

Call it the "blame-it-on-the-neighbors" school of recipe naming. It seems that in many cultures a hotchpotch recipe, in which a motley of ingredients are tossed together, heated and served, is often characterized as coming from a neighboring country, even if that country has nothing to do with the dish. A childhood friend's less-than-gourmet Canadian mother often dished up something that she called "American Chop Suey", a casserole that combined low-grade ground beef, elbow macaroni, chopped onions and green peppers and undiluted Campbell's Cream of Tomato Soup. (She was a lovely and warm-hearted woman, just not a great cook). In French-speaking parts of Canada, the dish called Shepherd's Pie is knwon as Pâté chinois, (Chinese Pâté in English.)

The Brazilians aren't blameless in this regard. They have a very similar naming tradition and have been known to take the name of neighboring countries in vain when choosing names for Brazilian dishes. This habit seems particularly strong, naturally, in parts of Brazil which border other South American countries. In an earlier post on Flavors of Brazil, we highlighted a dish from the Brazilian border state of Mato Grosso do Sul called Sopa Paraguaya, which is neither a soup nor Paraguayan.

This dish, called Arroz Boliviano in Portuguese, is from the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, which unsurprisingly has a long frontier with Bolivia. Although Sopa Paraguaya isn't a soup, Arroz Boliviano at least does include rice. It does, however, also include many, many other things. The list of ingredients includes ground beef, plantains, hard-boiled eggs, Parmesan cheese and french fries. With the exception of plantains, none of those ingredients are commonly associated with Bolivian cooking. It appears that this dish is just one more exemplar of the "blame-it-on-the-neighbors" school.
RECIPE - Bolivian "Rice" (Arroz Boliviano)
Serves 8

3 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
1 lb (400 gr) ground beef
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
salt to taste
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup fresh or frozen greeen peas
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/4 chopped green onion, green part only
6 cups cooked long-grain white rice
2 ripe plantains, peeled sliced into rounds, and fried in butter until soft
1 cup fresh or frozen french-fried potatoes
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil, then add the onion, garlic and ground beef and cook, stirring frequently and breaking up the beef, until the beef has lost all pinkness and the onion is transparent. Season for salt. Mix in the tomato paste, the peas and corn. Remove from the heat, then stir in the green onion. Reserve.

In a glass, ceramic or metal rectangular casserole spread out the rice in a layer. Spread the ground beef mixture over. Top with the banana rounds, the french fries and the slices of egg. Sprinkle the grated Parmesan over all. Put in the oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the cheese has nicely browned and everything is heated through. Serve immediately.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

RECIPE - Tomato and Sun-dried Beef Pasta Sauce (Molho de Tomate com Carne de Sol)

This recipe, an Italo-Brazilian hybrid, comes to Flavors of Brazil from the website of year-old Brazilian TV food network, Chef TV. Just over one year old, the channel has amassed an impressive collection of recipes, Brazilian and international, on its website, where it's also possible to stream the channel's programming. (Click here to read more about Chef TV).

The recipe was created by Chef Fernando Gualtieri, one of Chef TV's program hosts. His show, called Risoto, Pasta & Sugo is devoted to Italian cuisine and its considerable influence on Brazilian cooking. In this recipe he makes a classic Italian meat-based tomato ragù using Brazil's carne de sol, a salted and partially dehydrated beef, in place of the fresh beef used in the classic ragù bolognese.

Carne de sol is uniquely Brazilian and gives this pasta sauce an unusual and wonderfully delicious flavor. Carne de sol is not easy to source outside Brazil, but an acceptable home-made carne de sol can be made anywhere, as long as one has a freezer. Instructions for making carne de sol at home can be found in this post from Flavors of Brazil, from February 2010.
RECIPE - Tomato and Sun-dried Beef Pasta Sauce (Molho de Tomate com Carne de Sol)
Serves 4

1/2 lb (200 gr) carne de sol
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
14 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 medium fresh tomato, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 cup light beef stock
1 green onion, green part only, chopped
fresh-grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
salt to taste
Starting a day before cooking, soak the carne de sol in cold water in the refrigerator, changing the water at least three times during the 24 hours. When ready to proceed, drain thorough and pat dry. Cut the beef into small cubes, then coarsely chop - do not grind or over-chop, the meat should have some substance.

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauce pan, then cook the garlic until it just begins to brown - do not let it burn. Add the chopped meat and brown thoroughly, adding a bit more oil if necessary. Add the canned and fresh tomatoes and the beef stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the sauce until the beef is very tender and the sauce is thickened.

Add the chopped green onion to the sauce, and immediately remove the sauce from the heat. Let stand a minute or two, then serve over pasta of choice, topping with grated Parmesan if desired.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Brazil Gets Its Own Food Network

It was probably inevitable. With cable TV reaching into more and more Brazilian homes, and with the possibility of accessing hundreds of channels becoming a reality for most of Brazil's burgeoning middle class, it was only a matter of time before one of those available channels was filled by a channel devoted to food and cooking. After all, the USA has its Food Network, Canada has Food Network Canada, Australia's got Lifestyle Food, and France has got Le Canal Gourmandises, so why shouldn't Brazil have a food channel too?

It's not to say that Brazil didn't already have lots of TV programs devoted to food, cooking and food culture. Popular cooking-themed shows (particularly reality-TV style programs like Top Chef and all of Gordon Ramsay's *!$#% shows) from other countries are imported and subtitled and shown on cable lifestyle channels. GNT, a cable network aimed at women and owned by Brazilian media giant Globo, offers a diet of cooking shows along with talk, beauty and fashion shows. Major broadcast networks, like Globo itself, offer a few cooking shows weekdays during the morning. But up until 2011, Brazil didn't have a 24-hour, domestic, Portuguese-language food network.

That all changed, though, on January 17, 2011 when Chef TV went on the air for the first time on the TVA and TV Alphaville cable systems. Owned by Grupo Mídia do Brasil and based in São Paulo, Chef TV transmits food-related programming 24/7 to its subscribers. Its programming content also be streamed anywhere in Brazil direct from the channel's website Chef TV.

More than 80% of the channel's programming is produced domestically in Brazil, with the remaining 20% being rebroadcasts of international content. A glance at the channel's program grid reveals a total lack of reality-TV style elimination shows and a very small number of personality-chef based programs (so far). Most of the programs are thematic in nature, covering one aspect or another of gastronomy. For example, tonight's prime-time programs include a wine show starring a well-known sommelier, a cocktail show hosted by a bartender, a chef's TV diary and recipe collection, a program about the history of gastronomy, a program in which viewers can have their culinary questions answered, and a show devoted to the pizza. Other programs on the channel's schedules include a program about Brazil's Bahian regional cuisine, a seafood show, and of course, a dessert and pastry show. Many of the shows are cooking demonstrations, and all recipes from all shows can be found on the Chef TV website.

As devoted viewers of The Food Network in its early days, and as heart-broken spectators watching the network's degeneration into food-star silliness over time, Flavors of Brazil has its fingers crossed for  Chef TV. So far, it's a gastronomy channel and not merely foodetainment. We fervently hope it'll stay that way.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rio's Street Food (A Guide)

Thanks to a recent post on blogger TomLeMesurier's excellent blog Eat Rio, we learned about a Brazilian book published last year entitled Guia Carioca da Gastronomia de Rua, which means roughly - A Street Food Guide for Rio Dwellers. A title like that made it almost imperative that we buy a copy, which is exactly what we did a few days ago.

If any city lives on the street (and the beach) Rio de Janeiro does. The weather, which ranges from warm to hot during the entire year, the breathtaking natural setting, the spectacular beaches, and the year-long street festival that is the carioca lifestyle mean that a good portion of the population spends a great deal of their time out in public. Rio's weather isn't conducive to nestling at home - to quote Cole Porter. "It's too darn hot!" Who wants to curl up on the sofa when just a short ways down the hill there are miles of wide beaches, full of sunbathers - tourists and locals alike. Even at night, the tropical breezes beckon and there's bound to be a street festival, from a block party up to the citywide orgy of Carnaval, that you can't resist. And everywhere outside in Rio there's food for sale - which is the topic of Guia Carioca da Gastronomia de Rua.

The book is divided into very short chapters, only about two or three pages long. Each one highlights one of Rio's favorite street foods, focusing on one particular vendor. For example, a chapter called "Acarajé da Nega Teresa" doesn't just tell the story of acarajé, the Afro-Brazilian deep-fried black-eyed pea fritter, and how it made its way from Africa to the streets of Salvador, Brazil and on to the streets of Rio. It also tells Nega Teresa's story. A passionate devotee of Candomblé, Teresa is a daughter of the fierce goddess Iansã. When she retired from a career as a professional handball player, she followed in the footsteps of all those other daughters of Iansã who sell acarajé in Candomblé's Rome, Salvador. Teresa can be found selling her delicacies in Rio's bohemian Santa Teresa district every Thursday to Sunday, from 5 to 10 pm. If you want to be specific (and this book does) she sets up her stand on Rua Almirante Alexandrinho, in front of address 1458. You can reach her by phone at 2232-1310 or by email at

The Guia (Guide) has 18 more chapters featuring Rio's urban gastronomy and the marvelous people to make and sell it. There are chapters on snacks like pipoca (popcorn) and picolé (popsicles), heartier fare such as cachorro quente (hot dogs), churrasquinho (kebab) or sushi, and even a cocktail - the caipirinha, naturally. Each chapter introduces the reader to another fascinating character - Arnaldo, who brought his trade as a tapioca seller all the way from Ceará, in northeastern Brazil, or Val, who sells the best fruit salad on Ipanema beach.

What the book does best, besides introduce these marvelous characters and explain the street food they sell, is capture the outdoor soul of Rio - through text, gorgeous photos and even a DVD, included with the book. It's a paean to Rio's street food, and it has an entirely worthy subject. It's also a great guide for visitors to Rio, and the very last section is an excellent translation of the text into English. The book can be ordered online here and shipped anywhere in the world. If Rio's in your travel future, and you love street food, Flavors of Brazil highly recommends you buy the book before you go. You'll be introduced to some fantastic food, and wonderful people.

Monday, March 19, 2012


In most respects, given some variation for national food culture, going to a big supermarket in 21st Century urban Brazil is like going to the supermarket almost anywhere in the world. There's the bakery section, the meat section, dairy, produce, snacks and soda pop, etc. But there's a specific joy that Flavors of Brazil has found in Brazilian supermarkets that we've never come across in other countries, and that is the sale of totally "off the wall" produce. We're not talking about fruits that are common in Brazil but uncommon in other countries, such as the caju fruit or cupuaçu. What we mean is that from time to time a supermarket will offer for sale a type of fruit that's largely unknown, even to Brazilians.

This situation happened last week, when, during a run through the produce section of a local supermarket we came across a styrofoam tray of rather anonymous-looking small round orange fruits labelled Achachairú. They were very unprepossessing looking, but only cost R$3.00 (about USD $1.60) for a tray of about 20 of them. Our gastronomic curioiusity was sparked, and we bought them.

Before we tasted them, we asked several Brazilian friends about them. The universal response to the question "What does achachairú taste like?" was "What did you say? Achachairú? Never heard of it..." Which just increased our curiousity, naturally.

Before we bit into one, we googled achachairú and found out quite a bit (what did the gastronomicly curious do before the Internet? Risk a bite?) We learned that the fruit comes from the Bolivian rain forest, its scientific name is Garcinia humilis, that it's related to the Asian tropical fruit mangosteen, and that it's also known as achacha. We also learned that it recently won a 3rd prize trophy in Berlin at the 2012 Fruit Logistica exposition in the "fruit innovation" category. Although up to now it has only been commercially grown in Bolivia and the parts of Brazil close to Bolivia, efforts are underway in far-off Queensland, Australia to develop a commercial market for the fruit and the first plantation there is already in fruit.

Suing the trade name achacha, Australian growers have set up an informative, interactive website to promote the fruit, which they describe as "an exotic fruit from the Amazon basin now grown in tropical Queensland." It even includes a video showing how to open an achacha and lots of recipes for the fruit.

So our intellectual curiousity well satisfied, it came time to give the achachairú a test drive - a taste test. Following the Australian website's instructions, we opened an achachairú. Inside the leathery skin, which comes away very easily, the fruit itself was pure white, with a cottony texture. The flesh surrounded a hard, brown ovoid pit. The taste was acid and sweet at the same time, and highly perfumed. And absolutely delicious. It has that tutti-frutti taste common to lychees and mangosteens and is utterly refreshing. We were sold - and so was most anybody we were able to convince to try one.

Now that we've had a happy encounter with the achachairú, all we have to do is hope that we can continue to find them in the market. It would be a shame to lose contact, just when we were getting to know each other.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

RECIPE - Creamed Napa Cabbage (Acelga com Creme)

This is a very Brazilian, and very un-Asian, vegetable dish starring acelga, or Napa cabbage, originally from Asia but now enthusiastically adopted as native in Brazil. A versatile member of the cabbage family, acelga is equally at home in salad and cooked-vegetable presentations, and Brazilians enjoy it both ways. In yesterday's post at Flavors of Brazil, we featured leafy acelga in a light salad, and here we're highlighting its use as a vegetable side dish - a perfect accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats and poultry.
RECIPE - Creamed Napa Cabbage (Acelga com Creme)
Serves 4

1 whole egg, hard-boiled, at room temperature
4 (1 liter) water
1/2 large head Napa cabbage (acelga)
1 cup whole milk
2 tsp corn starch
2 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley
paprika to taste
Peel the egg and separate the yolk and the whites. Reserve.

Coarsely chop the Napa cabbage. Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. When the water comes to the boil, drop the chopped cabbage into the water for 10 seconds only, then immediately drain into a colander and refresh with cold water. Reserve.

Put 3/4 cup of the milk into a medium mixing bowl, and 1/4 cup into a small bowl. Stir the cornstarch into the milk in the small bowl, and when it has dissolved, add to the milk in the larger bowl and stir to mix completely. Reserve.

In a large frying pan or wok, heat the vegetable oil and when it's hot, add the drained cabbage. Stir fry for no more than 2 minutes, or just until the cabbage is heated and beginning to wilt. Add the milk, reduce heat slightly and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened. Stir in the grated Parmesan and 1 Tbsp of the parsley, then remove from heat.

Pour the creamed cabbage into a deep serving bowl. Using a small sieve held over the dish, push the egg yolk through the sieve to sprinkle the center of the dish. Rinse the sieve and then push the white through the sieve around the edges of the dish. Sprinkle the surface with the second Tbsp Italian parsley and paprika to taste. Serve hot.

Friday, March 16, 2012

RECIPE - Napa Cabbage Salad (Salada de Acelga)

This light and healthy Brazilian salad, which features the Asian green known in English as Napa cabbage or Chinese cabbage and which is called acelga in Brazil, can successfully be served as a side salad or in larger portions as a main course for a light lunch, particularly on hot days (which are the norm in Brazil).

The dressing is made with plain unflavored yogurt, and although the recipe calls for natural, full-fat yogurt, if you want to make a less caloric version you can successfully substitute non-fat yogurt.
RECIPE - Napa Cabbage Salad (Salada de Acelga)
Serves 5 as side salad, 2-3 as main course

1 medium head Napa cabbage (acelga)
1 large carrot, coarsely grated on a box grater or julienned with a mandoline
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1 small tub natural yogurt
1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
salt and pepper to taste
Tear off the outer leaves of the head of cabbage. Starting at the end away from the stem, thinly slice the cabbage, only going down about 2/3 of the way to the stem end.

Place the cabbage in a large salad bowl, and toss the leaves to separate them. Sprinkle the grated or julienned carrot and the olives on top. Reserve, preferably in the refrigerator.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, lime juice and honey and mix well with a fork. Add the mint and mix again. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the salad with the dressing on the side so that diners can add to taste.

Recipe translated and adapted from Gastronomia & Negócios, a UOL website.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

VEGETABLES 0F BRAZIL - Acelga (Napa Cabbage)

Although Asian greens, such as bok choy and gai lan, are not commonly eaten in Brazil outside the Asian communities of São Paulo's Liberdade district, one Asian form of cabbage has become a supermarket standard in Brazil, available all year round in most supermarkets in all regions of the country. Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis, known variously in English as Chinese cabbage, Napa cabbage and Chinese Leaf, is called acelga in Brazil, and under that name has made its way into many Brazilian vegetable and salad recipes. (Incidentally, the English name Napa has nothing to do with the California wine-growing district. Napa comes from colloquial Japanese nappa (菜っ葉), which means any edible leaf.)

Napa cabbage is a staple in most East Asian cuisines, and in one of its most well-loved incarnations is the prime ingredient in Korean kim-chee, the spicy fermented cabbage pickle without which Korean cuisine wouldn't exist. We've not found any source that explains how this Asian vegetable made its way to Brazil, but it would be logical that it arrived with the wave of Japanese immigrants to came to Brazil in the early 20th century to work in Brazil's coffee plantations.

Brazilian dictionaries and the Portuguese-language version of Wikipedia define acelga as chard, not Napa cabbage, but we've never seen true chard, which is a member of the beet family not a cabbage, in a Brazilian supermarket or farmers market under any name. Perhaps in Portugal acelga refers to the plant called chard in English, but in Brazil the word is restricted to Napa cabbage.

Brazilians really don't use the Asian cooking technique called stir-frying, and woks don't exist in this country - again, outside Asian communities. Acelga is more often a feature of Brazilian salad recipes, and the thin, light leaves of the plant are very suited to eating raw, unlike some other Asian greens which need to be cooked before eating.

We'll feature some Brazilian recipes for acelga in the next few posts. Under it's various English monikers, this green is easy to find in North American and European supermarkets in larger metropolitan areas, and in Asian groceries in cities that have Asian immigrant communities. Salads made with this green are light, refreshing and nutritious and serving a salad with Napa cabbage can elevate the day-to-day salad to something new and exotic.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SEPARATED AT BIRTH - Brazil's Coscorão and Scandinavian Rosettes

Scandinavian rosettes
For us here at Flavors of Brazil, one of our absolutely favorite Christmastide treats when we were growing up in northernmost Michigan in the USA were something called rosettes. Alongside shortbread and pfeffernuss, they were proudly served on the Christmas cookie platter and even though everyone was stuffed with other Christmas goodies, it was impossible to resist a rosette - especially knowing that they wouldn't appear again for another year. Rosettes are a traditional Scandinavian Christmas cookie, and they are common in areas in the USA and Canada where there are large communities which share Scandinavian ancestry.

Rosettes are something like a sweet, deep-fried waffle. To make rosettes you need a special decoratively-shaped iron, a thin flour batter, powdered sugar, and oil for deep-frying. Once the batter is ready, the iron is dipped into the hot oil to get hot, then into the batter, then back into the oil. When the waffle is nicely browned, you remove it from the iron and you repeat the process until you've used up all the batter. When the rosettes are cool, you sprinkle them with powdered sugar. They're then ready to serve.

We at Flavors of Brazil have recently been doing some research on the traditional foods of Brazil's Minas Gerais state, where one finds some of Brazil's oldest and most traditional food customs. Our searches led us the other day to the small town of Virginópolis, and its traditional holiday waffle, called coscorão. Which turns out to be nothing other than a Scandinavian rosette, though it has been thoroughly Brazilianized by substituting polvilho (a type of manioc flour) for Scandinavia's wheat flour. Other than that the two delicacies are identical - the thin batter, the decorative iron and the deep-frying.

Brazilian coscorões
Scandinavian rosettes are closely linked to the Christmas season, but the holidays which are connected to coscorões in Virginópolis are the mid-winter festivals called Festas Juninas, held at the end of June. During these festivals, street vendors set up stands on streets and in squares to cook and sell coscorões on the spot, and locals stroll by in the evenings, listening to live music, watching folk dances and sampling the wares of all the food and drink vendors - and one place that's an obligatory stop is the coscorão stand. We're sure that the aroma and the taste of a hot coscorão is as evocative of family and holiday times for residents of Virginópolis as rosettes are for the millions of descendents of Swedes, Norwegians, Finns and Danes in central Canada and the American midwest. But now we're curious - where's the missing link from Scandinavia to the isolated interior of Minas Gerais and from rosettes to coscorões?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

RECIPE - Salt Cod with Coconut Milk and Ginger (Bacalhau ao leite de coco e gengibre)

This recipe, which comes from A Crítica newspaper in Manaus, the largest city in Brazil's Amazonian region, highlights the local-produced  "salt cod" made from piracuru, the world's largest fresh-water fish. (Click here to read more about this salt-cod, known in Brazil as bacalhau da Amazônia.) Although this dish was developed by Manaus chef  Felipe Schaedler specifically to showcase the recently-introduced Amazonian salt cod, it can easily be adapted to standard salt cod, made from fish found in the North Atlantic. Chef Schaedler was recently named Manaus' chef of the year at the young age of 25 by Veja magazine's Comer & Beber Manaus. Currently, unless you live in the Amazon basin, you'll have to make this substitution, as bacalhau da Amazônia is only available in the region. Soon, however, it should be available elsewhere in Brazil, and potentially in other world markets.

Chef Schaedler combines the fish with local flavorings coconut milk, ginger and orange juice to give the dish a tropical feel. Most traditional Brazilian recipes for salt cod derive from Portuguese originals, and consequently are combined with vegetables that can grow in temperate zones and with seasoning found in European pantries. This modern take on salt cod Brazilianizes it by combining it with flavorings that are tropical in origin. However, in today's global economy, these flavorings are widely available in non-tropical countries, so the ingredients for this dish should not be difficult to source almost anywhere.
RECIPE - Salt Cod with Coconut Milk and Ginger (Bacalhau ao leite de coco e gengibre)

2 lbs (1 kg) good-quality salt cod
extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red bell-pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated, with its juice
4 Tbsp fresh-squeezed orange juice
cilantro or Italian parsley (optional)
Three days before cooking, place the salt cod in a pan or deep platter and cover with fresh cold water. Place in the refrigerator. Twice a day remove the fish from the refrigerator, drain it, cover again with fresh cold water and replace in the fridge. When ready to cook, drain thoroughly, cut into serving sized pieces and reserve.

Preheat the oven to 350F (170C). Place the fish in a roasting pan, drizzle with plenty of extra-virgin olive oil, and roast for about 20-25 minutes, or until the fish begins to brown and is starting to flake.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, heat a small amount of olive oil, then saute the onions, garlic and red bell peppers until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Add the orange juice, bring to a boil and reduce the liquid by half. Stir in the grated ginger. Add the coconut milk, bring to a boil, reduce slightly to thicken. Reserve.

When the fish is cooked, remove it from the oven. Spread some of the coconut milk-ginger sauce on the bottom of a deep dinner plate, then place a piece of roasted fish on top. You may garnish with a leaf of two of Italian parsley or cilantro. Serve with write rice or mashed potato.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Brazil's Domestic Bacalhau Arrives on the Scene

Bacalhau, which is salted and semi-dried cod fish and which is known in English as salt cod, has roots in Brazilian food culture that go back to the arrival of the very first Europeans to arrive on these shores. Portuguese fishermen were fishing cod in the cold waters of the North Atlantic as early as the 15th century and most of their harvest was preserved by salting and drying the catch. Salt cod was carried on board Portuguese caravels on their early voyages of exploration and when Pedro Cabral made the first European landing in Brazil in 1500, his ship carried significant stocks of salt cod to feed his crew. Ever since that day Brazilians have been eating bacalhau and it has become an indispensible part of Brazilian cuisine.

Bacalhau is linked to holiday eating patterns in Brazil and is a feature of both Christmas and Easter feasts. At these times, when family memories tend to be the longest, Brazilians find comfort in eating bacalhau just the way that vovó (grandma) used to make it. But even when neither of the two large Christian holidays is near, Brazilians eat bacalhau for Sunday lunch, traditionally the biggest meal of the week, and for other daily meals and snacks.

Because cod is a cold-water fish and the waters in the oceans off Brazil's coasts are mostly warm water, up to now all of Brazil's bacalhau has had to be imported, 97% of the total coming from Norway. Each year, Brazil imports 30 thousand tons of the fish from Norway to meet its needs, making Brazil the largest cod-importing nation in the world. In 2010, Brazil spent 1.03 billion Norwegian kroners (about 175m USD) buying salt cold. That's a lot of money, and that's just the import price. By the time bacalhau arrives at the retail level, whether fish shop or super market, it has become a very expensive food. Average Brazilian retail price in 2011 was approximately R$90/kg, which works out to about USD$22.60/lb. But even with these high prices, which go higher every year, Brazilians do not seem to be willing to forego their bacalhau.

Location of Maraã
In 2011, there were the first stirrings of what might be a dramatic shift in the market for salt cod in Brazil. In August, in the isolated village of Maraã in Brazil's gigantic Amazonian rain forest, Brazil's first factory of domestically-produced "bacalhau" opened. Located in an area of the forest which has been designated a Sustainable Development Reserve (RDS in Portuguese), and built with support from state and federal governments, a cooperative factory processes a fresh-water fish from the Amazon called pirarucu the very same way that bacalhau is produced from cod and with very similar results. The pirarucu is the world's largest fresh water fish, reaching up to 150 kg (over 300 lbs) and yielding up to 70 kg (over 140 lbs) of meat per fish. Fishing of Piracuru in the RDS is monitored and controlled for sustainability, and the Maraã cooperative only uses fish from the reserve to produce its "bacalhau da Amazônia". The product is marketed under that name to avoid confusion with true bacalhau, which must come from cod.

At the end of 2011, the first commercial production of "bacalhau da Amazônia" reached supermarkets in Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon basin, as well as other cities in the region just in time for the Christmas season. The retail price ranged between R$35 and R$50 per kilo, or about half of the price of Norwegian bacalhau. Customers liked the price, of course, and first reports are that they also liked the product, comparing it favorably to true bacalhau.

In December, 2011, representatives of Brazil's largest chain of supermarkets, Pão de Açúcar, visited the factory in Maraã in the hopes of creating a commercial partnership with the cooperative to market and sell "bacalhau da Amazônia" in other regions of Brazil.

In many ways, the potential for "bacalhau da Amazônia" is enormous. The world's largest fresh-water fish, farmed sustainably, used to supply the world's largest import market for salt cold - it all makes very good sense. Flavors of Brazil wonders if the Norwegians might be looking at this scheme with a nervous eye.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Sapodilla (Sapoti)

It's been a while since Flavors of Brazil has posted an article in our long-running but sporadic series on the fruits of Brazil. If readers of the blog have been thinking that the lack of new entries meant that the blog had covered all the fruits eaten in this country, rest assured that we've only just begun to work our way through the hundreds of Brazilians fruits. There are still many that are untasted and unreported, so keep tuned.

Many of Brazil's typical fruits are as beautiful as they are delicious - fruits like carambola (star fruit) or pitaia (dragon fruit) are showy and exotic. A few are downright ugly, like the homely ata or fruita-do-conde (custard apple). But the fruit called sapoti (sa-po-TCHEE) in Portuguese and Spanish-derived sapodilla in English is a real plain Jane - not gorgeous nor hideous, it's just anonymous and rather boring. A fist-sized ball of mousy brown or light chestnut, the outside of the sapoti is unassuming and a bit dull, kind of like a smooth potato or a larger kiwi fruit - it doesn't "sell" itself like many other fruits do (for perfectly logical botanical reasons). If one of the objects of a fruit is to aid plant reproduction by encouraging animals to eat the fruit and thus spread the seeds, it's a miracle that the sapoti has survived for millions of years. But it has, very successfully.

If the outside of the fruit isn't anything special, the inside certainly is, in visual appeal, in aroma and in taste. The flesh is a lovely muted orange with a grainy texture, sort of like a pear. The flesh encloses the fruit's seeds, which number from two to five, and which have a hook at one end that can catch in the throat if one isn't careful. The fruit has a high sugar content and is exceptionally sweet. Some people claim that the taste is malty or resembles caramel or brown sugar. When the fruit is unripe, its high tannin content gives sapoti a sharp astringent quality which dries out the mouth. In Brazil, sapoti is normally eaten fresh, although it is also processed into jam, juice, ice cream and syrup.

The sapodilla tree (sapotizeiro) is native to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, although it spread throughout tropical America and the Caribbean long before the arrival of Europeans. However, its spread to other tropical zones of the world, particularly India, Malaysia and Indonesia, did come about through the agency of European colonizers. Today, the world center of sapodilla cultivation is India.

The sapodilla tree is extensively cultivated not only for the fruit that it bears, but also for the white-gummy latex found in its bark. This rubbery latex is called chicle, and it was the original base material for chewing gum, although natural chicle is now frequently replaced by manufactured substitutes.

Sapoti can grow anywhere in the tropics, but in Brazil it is associated mostly with the northeastern region of the country. Sapoti is often sold by street vendors in cities of the northeast, even at street crossings during red lights. Taken home, chilled for an hour or two, cut open and peeled, a wedge or two of sapoti is refreshing and energizing. Just one more reason why Brazil's one of the world's paradises for fruit lovers.

Friday, March 9, 2012

RECIPE - Slavic Soup (Sopa Eslava)

When March has come in like a lion and the days are cold, damp and blustery one's mind often turns to thoughts of hot, meaty, comforting soups. There's nothing better than a bowl of soup to warm one  from the inside out. Other than steeping in a hot bath for a prolonged period of time, soup is probably the most pleasurable way to warm the body when it's just come in from the cold.

The comfort of hot soup on a cold day is an unknown pleasure to most Brazilians. In the twelve-month heat wave that is the most typical kind of weather in Brazil, soup just doesn't have the appeal it does when the outside temperature is below zero. Consequently, Brazilians don't eat soup as often as do people living in colder climes, and soup isn't served nearly as often as it is closer to the poles.

In the most southerly parts of Brazil, though, soup is more common. There are really two explanations for this. First, the south is the coldest part of Brazil, relatively speaking. Being farther from the equator, the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná have four distinct seasons, and in mid-winter (July and August south of the equator) days can be drizzly and raw, and from time to time there's even a dusting of snow. It's real "soup-eating weather."

The second reason that the south has more of a taste for soup is related not to weather but to immigration patterns. This part of Brazil has the highest percentage of European immigrant roots, specifically northern European. The Brazilian south was settled, in many places, by immigrants from Germany, from Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe. One of the things that these immigrants carried with them from their homelands in Europe to their new homes in Brazil was a love of soup. That, and the memories of favorite soups from Europe have resulted in a soup-eating tradition in southern Brazil. Families who can trace their ancestry back to the countryside of Eastern Europe treasure old recipes for soup and put soup on the family table to this day.

This recipe, which has obvious European roots, comes from Paraná, where it is called simply Slavic soup. It might come from Poland, or from the Ukraine, or from Bulgaria (where the family of Brazil's current president, Dilma Rousseff, comes from). But it's now become Brazilianized and rebaptized in honor of immigrants from all the slavic countries of the world.
RECIPE - Slavic Soup (Sopa Eslava)
Serves 10

1 lb. stewing beef, cut into small cubes (1/2 inch max)
1/2 Tbsp salt
1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 lbs (1 kg) boiling potatoes, peeled but whole
8 cups (2 liters) light beef, chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
sweet paprika to taste
3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/4 cup sour cream (or Brazilian creme de leite)
salt to taste
Toss the cubed meat with the salt. Reserve.

Heat the oil in a large pot until hot but not smoking. Add the cubed beef and fry for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and fry for 3 more minutes. Add the chopped onion and continue to fry for 10 minutes more, or until the onion is soft but not browned. Add the potatoes and the stock, the paprika and the Worcestershire sauce, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender. Correct for salt. 

Remove the potatoes, mash them, and return them to the pot. Add the sour cream or creme de leite and cook for 10 more minutes.

Serve immediately. If desired, garnish with a dab of sour cream and a few fresh sage leaves.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

RECIPE - Brazilian "Refried Beans" (Tutu de Feijão)

One Mexican dish that's become famous outside the borders of that country is somewhat misnamedly called frijoles refritos, which means refried beans. The dish consists of cooked dried beans that have been partially mashed and then reheated in a frying pan, often with the addition of some form of fat, usually lard. Creamy and rich, these beans and an accompanying mound of rice make the traditional sides on a Mexican dinner, lunch or even breakfast plate.

Brazil's variation on this Mexican theme is called tutu de feijão and employs a variety of cured meat products, like sausage or bacon, to add flavor to pre-cooked beans plus manioc flour to thicken and enrich the bean liquid. It's popular all over Brazil, but particularly so in the state of Minas Gerais - so much so that the dish is sometimes called Tutu de Feijão à Mineira, which means "tutu in the style of Minas Gerais".
RECIPE - Brazilian "Refried Beans" (Tutu de Feijão)
Serves 4

3 cups pre-cooked beans, with their cooking liquid
1 small onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 thick slice bacon, cut into small cubes (optional)
1 small linguica or other garlic sausage, cut into small cubes (optional)
1 cup manioc flour (farinha)
1 cup water
chopped cilantro and green onion for garnish
In a blender or food processor, blend the beans and their cooking liquid until they are homogenous. Reserve.

Using a large frying pan, fry the bacon and sausage until they have rendered the fat and they are thoroughly browned and crunchy. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the fan in the pan. Reheat the fat, then add the onion and garlic and fry over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until they are soft and transparent, but not browned.

Add the reserved beans to the pan, reheat them, then add the water. When the mixture begins to boil, slowly add the manioc flour by sprinkling a few tablespoons at a time and mixing them in before adding additional flour. When all is absorbed continue to cook for a few minutes or until the mixture has thickened.

Put the tutu in a deep serving bowl and sprinkle the cilantro and green onion on top. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Maria Izabel's Artisanal Cachaça

The small city of Paraty (also spelled Parati) sits on the shore of a lovely bay in Rio de Janeiro state, 235 km from the capital,  and enjoys a reputation as one of the most beautiful, relaxing and hip towns on the entire Brazilian coast. Home to a number of well-preserved historic buildings, Paraty also has a collection of small boutique hotels and a burgeoning culinary scene that makes it a weekend destination of choice for tourists from around the world.

Among those visitors who come to Paraty in search of good food and drink, it's obligatory to experience the city's most famous artisanal beverage - Maria Izabel Gibrail Costa's home-made cachaça. In Paraty's most elegant pousada (traditional boutique-style inn), Casa Turchesa, guests find a bottle of Cachaça Maria Izabel awaiting them in their room when they arrive, and in sophisticated restaurants the waiters proudly proclaim that their caipirinhas are made with Cachaça Maria Izabel.

Maria Izabel's cachaça surely merits the name artisanal for the entire annual production of approximately 7500 liters is distilled on Maria Izabel's property and is made from sugar cane grown on the same land. In fact, the entire production process from the planting of sugar cane to the final bottling takes place on Maria Izabel's property, located on the seafront near town. Maria Izabel, born in Paraty 61 years ago, claims that the distinctive flavor of her cachaça is due to her property's seafront location, saying that the sea air increases the salinity of the sugar cane and thus affects the final taste of the drink.
Maria Izabel Costa

Maria Izabel comes by her cachaça-making prowess honestly. Municipal records show that her paternal great-great-grandfather, Francisco Lopes da Costa, produced cachaça in Paraty in 1800. Although her name is recognized everywhere in Paraty, Maria Izabel doesn't court fame. She prefers to stay at home, tending to her production. She usually spends the day barefoot, and still bathes daily in the sea.

With such a limited production and local demand, it's almost impossible to find Maria Izabel's cachaça anywhere besides Paraty. Even in the town, a bottle of her liquor costs about as much as a good bottle of Scotch, an impressive feat in a country where decent cachaças often sell for less than USD $5 a liter.

All of which is fine with Maria Izabel, who just wants to continue making cachaça. She calls herself "a última das moicanas" (the last of the Mohicans). There are few left who do the work Maria Izabel does, but one does hope that one of her children, or some other younger person who loves cachaça, will take over from Mariz Izabel when the time comes and ensure that she isn't, in fact, the last of the Mohicans.

With material from Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, written by Nana Tucci.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

RECIPE - Pudim

As we mentioned in yesterday's post on Flavors of Brazil, the well-loved Brazilian dessert called pudim has many, many variations and there is no unique, true recipe for this dish. Every home cook makes pudim in their own manner, often just their way their mother made it. And that mother learned how to make pudim from her mother and on and on up the generations.

This recipe is, however, can make a claim to being close to the ur-recipe for Brazilian pudim. It's simplicity itself and the list of ingredients includes only those elements that are absolutely necessary for a successful pudim - no extra flavorings or fancy treatments here. It includes sweetened condensed milk which adds a flavor much prized by Brazilians and which became a pudim ingredients in the days before electrical refrigeration, when canning milk was the only way to keep it from spoiling in Brazil's tropical heat. Now, of course, refrigeration is common and there's really no necessity to included condensed milk, but Brazilians have come to love the flavor it imparts to pudim and so continue to use it.
RECIPE - Pudim

3 whole eggs
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 measure whole milk, equal to can of condensed milk
3 Tbsp granulated white sugar
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Bring about 2 cups of water to the boil in a kettle and keep hot.

Caramelize the sugar (click here for instructions) and use it to line the bottom of a mold or tube-style cake pan.

Combine eggs, condensed milk and whole milk in a blender and blend at medium speed for three minutes.

Pour the combined milk and eggs into the mold or cake pan. Place the pan  in a casserole or lasagne pan, heat the water in the kettle to boiling and pour the water into the pan about 2 inches deep.

Carefully put the casserole in the oven and bake for about 30-40 minutes, until the top is browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of the custard comes out clean.

Remove from heat, cool the custard on a wire rack and when completely cool, refrigerate for at least three hours.

When ready to serve, unmold the custard onto a deep serving platter or plate and serve immediately.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pudim - Brazil's Favorite Dessert?

It's impossible to say with any degree of certainty what Brazil's favorite dessert is. There are too many candidates and too many Brazilians with varying tastes to make a rash pronouncement as to the favorite dessert of a nation of almost 200 million persons.

However, it's quite easy to make a short-list of candidates, and few would argue that the dessert (or dessert family) known as pudim doesn't deserve a spot on the list. Pudim (pronounced something like poo-JING in Brazil) is a word that was imported into Portuguese directly from the English word pudding. In English pudding has several meanings depending on region and culture - it can be a catch-all word meaning dessert of any type, it can refer to blood sausage or other sausage types, it can be a steamed cake, or it can be a creamy dessert make from milk, eggs and other ingredients.

In Portuguese, pudim has this last sense, and when Brazilians think of pudim they're generally thinking about the type of dessert called variously around the world custard, flan, crème caramel or crème brûlée among many variations. Brazilian pudim combines milk (often in the form of sweetened condensed milk), eggs and sugar, with many additional flavorings optionally added.

These custard-type desserts came to Brazilian cooking from Europe, specifically from the Portuguese tradition of sweet-making. Often associated with monasteries and convents, Portuguese pastries and desserts frequently are based on the milk/egg/sugar combination. Pudim arrived on Brazilian shores with Portuguese colonists, but was received with enthusiasm by all sectors of Brazilian society, and today pudim has lost its specifically Portuguese connotation.

This simple dessert is infinitely variable, and Brazilians cooks have created numerous "tropical" variations on the original theme. Use of tropical fruits and liquors to spark up the relatively bland flavor of the original recipe is common. Other flavors, such as chocolate and coffee, also enhance Brazilian pudim. In the next few posts, we'll publish a few Brazilian pudim recipes - some very traditional and some modern variations.