Monday, April 30, 2012

RECIPE - Pressure Cooker Beans (Feijão na Panela de Pressão)

There's no reliable statistics on how many tons of beans are cooked everyday in Brazilian homes for the family mid-day meal, though it's absolutely clear that the quantity IS in the tons. Brazilian mid-day meals almost always include beans and rice in addition to whatever else is being served that day.

Making beans is part of a Brazilian home kitchen's everyday morning schedule, whether that kitchen is run by a housewife/mother herself, or by a domestic servant. Another day, another pot of beans. If these beans were cooked the way most North American and European cooks make beans - soaking the dried beans overnight, then cooking them on the stove for an hour or two until the are fully cooked and ready to eat - these cooks would spend a good portion of their waking hours cooking beans.

That doesn't happen though, thanks to the continued use of pressure cookers in Brazil, even though they have almost disappeared in other parts of the world. Again, there nor no reliable statistics, but anecdotal evidence would indicate that by far the largest portion of those tons of beans were cooked in a pressure cooker. If you ask a Brazilian cook if they make beans in a pressure cooker, you're likely to get a stunned expression and a quick "of course" as a response. Brazilians just can't imagine why anyone would cook beans any other way. Presoaking isn't required, the cooking time is a mere 15 minutes, and even if you take into account the half an hour that you need to let the pressure cooker cool, the whole process can be done in under an hour. With all the other tasks needed to get the family meal on the table, that's a blessing. At least that's how Brazilian cooks seem to take it.

Flavors of Brazil published a non-pressure cooker recipe for basic Brazilian beans some time back. You can find it by clicking here. However, if you have a pressure cooker lying around somewhere, unused, why not get it out and try making beans the Brazilian way. Here's how:
RECIPE - Pressure Cooker Beans (Feijão na Panela de Pressão)

2 cups dried beans (any kind - Pinto, black, etc.)
4 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs cilantro, whole
2 green onions, whole
salt and black pepper to taste
Wash and pick over the beans. Put them in a 4 quart or larger pressure cooker. Add four cups water, the cilantro, green onions and the bay leaf. Cover the pressure cooker and heat on stove according to directions. When the pressure takes (the cooker begins to whistle and steam) reduce heat slightly and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve. Do NOT open the pressure cooker.

After about 30 minutes, check the pressure in the cooker. If there is no pressure remaining you can open the pan. Remove the cilantro, green onion and bay leaf and discard them. Let the beans and their liquid sit in the pressure cooker.

In a cast iron frying pan heat the vegetable oil. When hot but not smoking add the onion and garlic. Cook for about 5-8 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and transparent but not brown. Reduce heat. With a ladle, remove about one ladleful of beans from the pressure cooker and about one ladleful of their liquid. Add to the frying pan and coarsely mash the beans with the back of the ladle. Cook for a few minutes, then return contents of the frying pan to the pressure cooker. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately, or let cool completely. Can be stored in the refrigerator for two days or in the freezer for up to a month.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

UTENSILS - The Pressure Cooker (Panela de Pressão)

Although pressure cookers - pans with airtight lids that allow steam pressure to build up inside the pan and consequently allow cooking at temperatures higher than the normal boiling point - we invented back in the 19th Century and had their heyday in the decades following the Second World War, in most parts of North America and Europe they have fallen by the wayside. Children born in the 1970s and 1980s are now reaching adulthood without ever having seen a pressure cooker. In modern American kitchens, pressure cookers are as scarce as the proverbial hens' teeth.

In Brazilian kitchens, however, pressure cookers, once they became popular never disappeared. A pressure cooker (called panela de pressão in Portuguese) can be found in most Brazilian kitchen cupboards or pantries and Brazilian home cooks often use a pressure cooker on an almost-daily basis. Brazilian cooks use pressure cookers to make the beans without which a Brazilian meat isn't complete. They also use them to make meat and poultry stews, relying on the pan's high temperature to tenderize tough meats. And they use them to cook the salted, dried meats, like carne de sol and charque, which are an integral part of Brazilian cuisine.

The ability to tendersize tough cuts of meat is just one of the virtues of the pressure cooker that make it a valuable part of a Brazilian cook's batterie de cuisine. Because it generates such high temperatures, pressure cookers allow for a much shorter cooking time for things like dried beans, which can take hours when cooked in a normal pan. This shorter cooking time benefits Brazilian cooks in two ways - first, because it allows them to do the daily cooking faster, saving time for other chores, and second, because the shorter cooking time means significantly less energy is required, whether the cook is using a wood stove, a gas stove or an electric one. This last reason is probably the most important reason why the pressure cooker has stayed popular in Brazil, as many houses rely on their own resources of wood or on bottled butane gas for cooking purposes. Only in the large cities, and then only in the better neighborhoods, can centralized gas be found. When fuel is limited, and for many Brazilians, expensive, a pressure cooker makes a lot of sense.

Brazilian cookbooks are full of recipes that require pressue cookers. To date, Flavors of Brazil hasn't published any, as most readers of this blog aren't likely to have one at home. But as we here at Flavors of Brazil have taken the plunge and bought a pressure cooker, we'll publish such recipes from time to time in the future. Pressure cookers are still available in North America and Europe and they do make good economic sense, as well as providing an excellent method of cooking. Newer models have many safety features, too, which eliminates some people's worries about cooking with potentially explosive steam. Who knows, in this world of increasing energy costs, maybe the pressure cooker is due for a comeback.

Friday, April 27, 2012

RECIPE - Bread Farofa (Farofa de Pão)

Over the past few days, Flavors of Brazil has been featuring a small sampling of the many thousands of recipes for a dish called farofa - a flavored and seasoned mixture of dry manioc flour (farinha) and some form of fat or oil. It's one of the most basic cornerstones of Brazilian cuisine and dates back to the time before the arrival of Europeans on these shores.

One difficulty for cooks outside Brazil who want to discover this versatile and unusual side-dish is sourcing the main ingredient - dry manioc flour. Those who are lucky enough to have a Brazilian food market in their community won't have problems, as every Brazilian market, large and small, in Brazil or outside, sells farinha. Those emigrant Brazilians who live in areas where there isn't a Brazilian community often carry farinha with them - hoping to avoid culinary homesickness.

Fortunately, there are a very few recipes for farofa that don't call for manioc flour, and those can be made easily almost everywhere. What these recipes don't have is the characteristic gritty feel of manioc flour, which Brazilians adore and some non-Brazilians find, to put it politely, less than wonderful. These recipes substitute dried bread crumbs for the manioc, but use the same basic cooking technique as the classic recipe. The flavor profile of the finished dish is very similar to classic farofa, and the dish can serve the same purpose as manioc-based farofa as a side dish. If farinha is completely unavailable to you, give this a try. It's next to "as good as the real stuff" good.
RECIPE - Bread Farofa (Farofa de Pão)
Serves 6

6 day-old French rolls
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup butter
salt to taste
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Cut the rolls into thick slices and lay out the slices on a baking sheet or cookie sheet. Place in the preheated oven and toast until the slices are completely dry and nicely browned.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Grate the bread slices on a box-grater, using the largest holes. Reserve,

In a large frying pan, heat the oil and butter together until the butter is melted and the fat is hot but not smoking. Add the chopped garlic and cook just until it begins to brown. Do not overcook. Add the grated bread crumbs in a steady stream, stirring constantly, until all the crumbs are moistened by the oil and heated through. Season with salt to taste and remove from the heat.

Stir in the chopped parsley and serve immediately, or let cool completely and serve at room temperature.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

RECIPE - Water Farofa (Farofa d' Água)

Most recipes for farofa, the Brazilian side-dish made from dry manioc flour toasted with some form of oil or far, aim for a finished dish in which the grains of manioc flour remain separate and retain the particular gritty, sandy crunch of the flour itself. The grain is heated with enough flavored oil and seasonings to give the dish some character, but not enough to cause the grains to clump together.

There is one very old and very traditional recipe for farofa that doesn't abide by the "keep it dry and keep the grains separate" rule of thumb. It's called Farofa d' Água and it adds one step to the traditional recipe. After toasting the manioc flour with oil or far, a relatively small amount of water is added to the pan and the dish is cooked until the water is absorbed. The additional of water causes the grains of manioc to plump up, soften and begin to stick together. The result is a texture something like a poultry stuffing, very different from garden variety farofa.

Farofa d' Água is eaten everywhere in Brazil, but it's particularly popular in the Northeast. Just as with the other recipes for farofa that Flavors of Brazil has been presenting the last few days, it's most commonly served with grilled or roasted fish or meat. It also makes an excellent side dish for meats or fishes cooked in a sauce.
RECIPE - Water Farofa (Farofa d' Água)
Serves 4

2 cups farinha (dry manioc flour)
2 Tbsp butter
1 small red onion, chopped
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup green onion, green parts only, chopped
salt to taste

 Melt the butter in a large, preferably cast-iron frying pan. When the butter is hot and begins to bubble, add the chopped red onion and cook just until the onion is softened. Add the manioc in a steady stream, stirring constantly with a wooden or silicon spoon, making sure that all the grains are covered with butter. Toast for a minute or so, then reduce the heat and slowly pour in the water, stirring constantly to moisten all the grains. Cook for just a minute more, or until the grains are softened and begin to clump together.

Remove from heat, season with salt as desired, and stir in the chopped cilantro and green onions. Serve in a decorative bowl as accompaniment to a main dish of meat or fish.

Recipe translated and adapted from Nordestinos na Cozinha.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

RECIPE - Bahian Farofa with Dendê (Farofa de Dendê)

All Brazilian farofas combine manioc flour (farinha) with some sort of fat or oil to moisten and flavor the dry, lightly-flavored flour. The fat can be melted butter or lard, it can be rendered bacon fat, or it can be a liquid oil like olive oil or neutral vegetable oil.

In the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, where the local style of cooking evidences a strong African influence - a heritage of the history of slavery in Brazil - the oil typically used in making farofa is the shockingly-orange, highly-flavored palm oil called dendê, which came from West Africa with the very first slaves bound for Brazil's gold mines and sugar plantations.

This recipe from Bahia also adds another typically West African flavor to the manioc and dendê mixture - dried shrimps. With a strong flavor of the sea, the small, dried crustaceans are finely chopped or ground into a flour to add one more of Bahia's essential flavors to this dish.

Bahian dendê farofa, along with white rice, is the perfect accompaniment for any of Bahia's marvelous moquecas - fish or seafood stews, redolent of coconut milk, cilantro and dendê.

There is no adequate substitute for any of the main ingredients in this dish, though manioc flour (farinha), dendê and dried shrimps can often be found in Latin American and African markets in cities which have immigrant communities, and dried shrimps can also be found in most Asian markets.
RECIPE - Bahian Farofa with Dendê (Farofa de Dendê)
Serves 6

1/2 cup (125 ml) dendê oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 oz. (100 gr) dried shrimp
2 1/2 cups dried manioc flour (farinha)
salt to taste
Finely mince the dried shrimp with a large knife or cleaver, or, alternatively, grind them in a spice grinder.

Heat the dendê in a large frying pan, the add the chopped onion and cook until the onions are soft and golden. Add the minced or ground shrimp and stir well to combine. Add the manioc flour in a steady stream, stirring all the while to moisten all the flour. When the farofa is dry and the grains are separated, season with salt, then continue to toast the farofa for a minute or two, stirring constantly.

Serve immediately as part of a Bahian-style meal.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

RECIPE - Basic Farofa (Farofa Básica)

In yesterday's post about farofa, the Brazilian side dish made from dry manioc flour toasted with the addition of some form of fat, Flavors of Brazil mentioned that the bread-and-butter, everyday recipe for farofa calls for nothing more than dry manioc flour, butter and salt.

When a Brazilian cook is preparing a for-the-family-only weekday mid-day meal, she will almost always include white rice, some form of cooked dried beans, and the following recipe for farofa. If the meal is a weekend or holiday feast, or if there are guests, the farofa will probably be more elaborate with additional flavors added. But to begin at the beginning, here's how to make basic Brazilian farofa.
RECIPE - Basic Farofa (Farofa Básica)
Serves 4

3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
farinha (dry manioc flour)
Melt the butter in a heavy, preferably cast-iron, frying pan. When it's bubbling hot, add the salt and mix with a wooden or silicon spoon. Continuing to stir, slowly add the manioc flour in a steady stream, stirring all the while to moisten the grains equally. Continue to add flour until you reach the point where the mixture is dry and the grains are separated (see photo above for how the mixture should look). Continue to cook for a minute or two more to heat and toast the mixture, then serve immediately as part of a meal of grilled or roasted meat or fish, along with white rice and beans.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Farofa - The Universal Accompaniment

Photo courtesy Come-Se
When Brazilians eat grilled or roasted meat or fish, the side dishes are plain white rice, beans and a golden-colored mixture with a sandy texture called farofa. Eating churrasco, the Brazilian-style mixed grill cooked over charcoal without a dish of farofa to accompany it is considered culinary heresy.

There are infinite variations and thousands of recipes for farofa, but at its most basic farofa is a mixture of dry manioc flour toasted in some sort of fat to flavor and moisten it. The fat can be butter, it can be bacon fat and in Bahia, where African culinary traditions rule, it's like to be be dendê, the brilliant orange palm oil that is the herald of Bahian cooking.

Farinha - dry manioc flour
Manioc itself, of course, is a heritage of Amerindian cooking traditions in Brazil and the only truly native staple food in this country. This protean tuber appears at the Brazilian table in a startlingly large number of forms - so many and so different that it's hard to imagine they all come from the same plant. Manioc can be mashed or french-fried like potatoes, it can be made into breads and pastries, or it can show up as tapioca, which in Brazil means a crepe, not a dessert pudding. But it is as farofa that it's most commonly found on the dinner table.

Besides the use of different forms of fat to vary the basic recipe, Brazilian chefs also occasionally add other flavoring ingredients such as onion, crispy bacon bits or shredded carne de sol (dried jerky). Sometimes fresh herbs, particularly cilantro and chopped green onion, are added to give the farofa a fresh touch. Day-to-day farofa is likely to be more basic, however.

In Brazilian supermarkets it's possible to buy packages of farofa, pre-made. Most Brazilian cooks, though, still make it at home, preferring freshly cooked farofa to the industrially prepared variety.

Just as there are many different ways to cook farofa, there are many different ways to eat it. Some people like to sprinkle farofa directly on the grilled meat or fish. This is particularly popular when eating churrasquinho, Brazil's meat-on-a-stick take on kebabs. Some prefer to mix all the side dishes on their plate, the rice, the beans and the farofa, to make one all-purpose accompaniment to the meal's centerpiece. Others like to dip each forkful of meat into a pile of farofa before popping it into their mouth. And some, farofa's most ardent fans, will eat theirs straight up, not mixing it with anything else.

Because of the characteristically sandy, gritty texture of manioc flour and it's relative lack of flavor, visitors to Brazil are often puzzled by farofa. They don't appreciate the texture, likening it to beach sand, and they don't see what it adds to the dining experience. But non-Brazilians who spend some time in this country often find that the habit of eating farofa eventually sneaks up on them. At at some point in the Brazilianization process, they are likely to discover that a plate of grilled meats without farofa looks bare and incomplete. They've become farofasized.

The manioc flour used to make farofa, called farinha in Portuguese, can be difficult to source outside Brazil, unless you live in an area with a Brazilian immigrant community. In those areas, farinha can be bought in Latin American ethnic markets. Manioc flour is also a common ingredient in many African culinary cultures and African markets are likely to stock it as well.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

RECIPE - Creamy Yam Soup (Sopa de Cará)

It's an almost universal rule in Brazil that the mid-day meal, called almoço, is the largest meal of the day. Small inroads are being made in this custom due to the influence of North American culture and lifestyle, but even among office workers and students who don't return home to eat at lunchtime, the habit of eating more at noon than in the evening is very strong.

At night, at home, when Brazilians eat the meal they call jantar (in English - supper), they eat much more frugally than at midday. Jantar might be leftovers from a homecooked lunch, it might be a sandwich, or often, it's a bowl of soup. If you look up the etymology of our English word supper, you'll find that it comes from the the French word souper, meaning "to eat soup." So it appears that in early times in England supper was often soup, just as it still is in Brazil.

This soup is a typical Brazilian "supper" soup. Most soups in Brazil's are thick and hearty, often made creamy by the addition of pureed vegetables, such as beans, potatoes, or in this recipe the Brazilian yam known as cará. It can successfully be made with any sort of sweet potato or yam. In fact, it also works well with mashed potatoes, although the flavor will vary significantly.
 RECIPE - Creamy Yam Soup (Sopa de Cará)
Serves 6

1 lb (500 gr) yam or sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed
6 cups light beef stock (can substitute vegetable stock if desired)
3 Tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped (optional - to garnish)
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil, then add the chunks of yam and stir-fry for five minutes. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook for about three minutes more, or until the onions are soft and transparent but not browned. Add the stock, bring to a very slow boil, and cook until the yams are very soft and tender.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the yam chunks from the broth. Using a potato masher or ricer, puree the yam completely, then stir the puree back into the broth. Add the cubes of tomato and cook for an additional five minutes. Turn off the heat and let the soup stand on the stove for about 3 minutes, then serve in bowls or mugs, sprinkling chopped parsley on the surface if desired.

Recipe translated and adapted from Mdemulher Culinária.

Friday, April 20, 2012

RECIPE - Yam Bread (Pão de Cará)

We all know that there's no bread like homemade bread, even if we don't often get a chance to make it or taste it. Homemade bread blesses both the baker and the consumer, and no matter how spectacularly good a loaf of storebought bread might be, it can't hold a candle to bread from one's own oven.

Brazilian home bakers often add pureed potato, sweet potato or yams to their bread dough, which gives the final product an unidentifiable light sweetness and a marvelously airy texture. This recipe calls for the type of yam Brazilians call cará, but the bread can be made equally successfully with mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes - though obviously the taste will differ depending on which tuber you choose.
RECIPE - Yam Bread (Pão de Cará) 

5 cups unbleached all-purpose wheat flour, sifted
pinch of salt
1/2 cup demarara sugar (or other brown sugar)
1 Tbsp instant yeast
2 whole free-range eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp softened butter
1 cup cooked and mashed yams
1/2 cup whole milk
In a large metal or glass mixing bowl, combine the sifted flour, the salt, the sugar and the yeast. Mix well with a wooden or plastic spoon. Add the eggs, butter and yams, mixing in each ingredient as it is added. Finally add the milk in small quantities, making sure that each is incorporated before adding more.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and knead it for 10-15 minutes, adding a bit more flour if required from time to time, or until you have a smooth, elastic and non-sticky dough. Form into a large ball.

Place the kneaded dough in a clean bowl, cover with a clean cloth towel and put it in a warm, non-drafty place. Let the dough rise for about one hour, or until it has doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Return the dough to the working surface, punch down and form into loaves (large or small as desired). If you wish you can also cook the bread in prepared greased and floured loaf pans. If not using loaf pans, place the formed loaves on a greased and floured cookie sheet.

Bake the bread in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until the loaves have a nice browned crust and sound hollow when tapped. Let cool completely on a wire rack, then store or serve.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Natureba.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


The starchy edible tuber known in Brazil as cará (pronounced ca-RAH) is a member of the yam family and is one of the oldest of all cultivated foods in the American tropics. It's a member of the Dioscorea genus, and the only species in the genus (Dioscorea trifida) to have originated in the New World. Its Old World cousins, including the Philippine purple yam and the large African yam, have made their way to Brazil and are an important part of the Brazilian diet, but it's the native cará that is still the most important member of the family.

In pre-Columbian times, over most of the territory of modern-day Brazil, the staples of the native Amerindian diet were manioc, peanuts, sweet potato and yam (the cará). One of the very earliest Portuguese observers of native culture in Brazil, Padre José de Anchieta, mentioned the cará by name in his writings, praising its nutritional value and its flavor. It is a highly energetic food and contains high levels of various B vitamins.

Brazilians eat this versatile tuber in a variety of ways. It can be served simply boiled or mashed, just as if it were a potato. Another popular way to serve it is insoup - usually some sort of thickened puree. Cará is also an ingredient in a number of breads and cakes, some savory and some sweetened.

In the next few posts on this blog, we'll highlight some typical Brazilian uses of cará. In any recipe for this tuber, you can substitute other members of the yam family. Just don't try to use sweet potato, as sweet potatoes and yams are entirely distinct families of vegetables, a distinction that's often lost on supermarket grocers in the USA and Canada.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

RECIPE - Kettle-fried Pork (Porco Caipira no Tacho)

Frying chunks of pork, boned or unboned, in its own fat (lard) is about as basic a way of cooking pork as possible. It's also one of the most delicious ways to serve up this exceptionally flavorful meat. Of course, you do have to kind of ignore the amount of fat you're consuming - this is not the world's most heart-healthy food no matter how you interpret the nutritional data.

Cooking pork this way is also one of the most universal ways to prepare pork for the table, or for the banana leaf, or for the bun or tortilla. Mexico's famous carnitas is just one example of pork cooked this way. It's often seen as well in China and Vietnam. Almost every culture that considers the pig an source of meat has some variation on the technique, probably because pork has a natural layer of fat just beneath the animal's skin, making frying in pork fat the most natural way to cook the beast.

In Brazil's "far west", the large interior states of of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and Goiás, ranchers and farmers have been cooking pork this way for centuries, since the first cleared the land for cultivation and for pastures. Originally, the pork was cooked in a large cast-iron kettle over an open fire, and even today, the best results are obtained from the use of a cast-iron Dutch oven or deep frying pan. The Portuguese name for this dish - porco caipira no tacho - simply means country-style pork in a kettle.

Just as few would argue that the best way to eat Mexican carnitas is inside a freshly made corn tortilla, many Brazilians will tell you that porco no tacho is best served in a sandwich made from fresh French rolls. The recipe, however, originated on ranches and farms hundreds or even thousands of miles from the nearest French bakery, and so the most traditional way to eat this dish is with plain white rice and beans, the two bases of all Brazilian cooking.

When buying the pork for this dish, you can ask the butcher to give you the fat from the shoulder or fresh ham and render your own lard, or you can but lean pork and lard separately. The former option is the cheaper of the two, by far, and the most authentic. You can find out how to render lard simply at home here.
RECIPE - Kettle-fried Pork (Porco Caipira no Tacho)

3 lbs lean pork from pork shoulder or fresh ham (trimmed fat can be used to render lard), cubed
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 Tbsp salt
The day before cooking, mix the cubed pork, minced garlic and salt well, and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature the following day before cooking.

Using a cast-iron Dutch oven, kettle or deep frying pan, melt the lard over medium-low heat. You should have at least 2 inches of fat in the bottom of the kettle or pan. When the fat is entirely melted, increase the the cooking temperature and heat until the fat is hot but not smoking.

Add the chunks of pork, stir once or twice to completely coat the meat with fat and fry, stirring only very infrequently, until the meat is browned and crispy on all sides.

When the meat is cooked, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, and drain thoroughly on paper towels. Let cool to room temperature and reserve.

The pork can be served at room temperature, or it can be reheated in a dry, well-seasoned cast iron pan before serving.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Porco Caipira - Brazil's Redneck Pig

Porco caipira
The Brazilian Portuguese word caipira is one of those emotionally-charged words which carry a lot of connotations, both positive and negative. Just like it's nearest equivalents in American English, hillbilly or redneck, it can be extremely perjorative, affectionate, or a banner of pride depending on the context and who is speaking. No one knows what the origin of the word is, though the most authoritative Portuguese dictionaries indicate that it derives from Tupi, one of the languages of Brazil's original Amerindian inhabitants.

In the world of politics or community relations, caipira is generally carry negative connotations, but in the culinary world it is overwhelmingly positive. Think of it as meaning homestyle or country-style. A rustic chicken stew called galinha caipira is one of Brazil's most celebrated comfort foods. But not only the stew is named galinha caipira - the same moniker is given to what we'd call a free-range chicken. A redneck hen, in other words.

Not only hens are redneck or hillbilly in Brazil, though. They have a barnyard cousin known as the redneck pig (porco caipira). And this rural porker has become the flavor of the month - showing up in food magazines and Brazilian food blogs, being featured in food festivals and on chefs' menus. And just in time it appears, for the porco caipira was in serious danger of extinction until its culinary value was recognized by the food community and its genetic importance was recognized by Embrapa, The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation.

Pigs are not native to the new world. Ancestral pigs lived in almost all regions of Europe, Asia and Africa prior to the European colonization of the Americas, and were brought to the new world by European explorers and colonizers. Over time, many pigs escaped and became feral, often interbreeding with their American cousins, the peccary. Even those which remained domesticated interbred without thought of genetic purity, becoming completely naturalized to Brazilian conditions as a result. This is the porco caipira - a true mongrel, perfectly suited to Brazilian climatic conditions and topography.

In the past 50 years or so, the porco caipira had been losing ground to created-in-the-laboratory breeds of pork that grew faster, were leaner and overall more efficient as sources of meat. Brazil's large meat packers required farmers to provide them with the breeds that gave them the most lucrative product possible, and as a result, the pig that had always been Brazil's pig was in danger of extinction.

Coming to the rescue though, combining their efforts for different reasons, Embrapa and the culinary community seem to have snatched the porco caipira from the jaws of extinction. The agriculture department has recognized that the miscegenated porker is a valuable contribuent to the porcine gene pool, and cooks and diners alike have discovered that porco caipira just plain tastes better than factory pork. For the first time in a long time, the future of the redneck pig is looking quite rosy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Beirute - A True-Blue Brazilian Sandwich Classic

Just as French toast didn't really originate in France, the sandwich known universally in Brazil as a beirute wasn't invented in the Lebanese capital. It was invented, created or put together for the first time in Brazil's largest metropolis, São Paulo.

French toast's anonymous creator chose the name he (or more likely, she) did not because the dish came from France, but more as an homage to France and French cooking, a recognition that the dish was inspired by French cooking techniques and ingredients. Brazil's beirute sandwich was given its name for similar reasons.

Levantine immigrants, Brazil, early 20th century
In the early years of the 20th century, burgeoning São Paulo received a large number of immigrants from the Old World, and among them were significant numbers of immigrants from the Levant, specifically from Syria and Lebanon. They prospered in Brazil and their community grew to be one of the most important ethnic communities in the giant melting pot that is São Paulo. In fact, at present both the mayor of the city of São Paulo, Gilberto Kassab, and the governor of São Paulo State, Geraldo Alckmin, have Lebanese background. Current estimates of the number of Brazilians who identify as purely or partially of Lebanese of Syrian stock is between 10 and 13 million.

One of the foods that these immigrants from the Levant brought with them from their homeland was the round, often pocketed flatbread called pão sírio (Syrian bread) in Portuguese and best known in English as pita bread. Variations of this bread can be found throughout the Balkans, Greece, Turkey and the Middle East, and in Brazil, pão sírio is now considered an integral part of Brazilian food culture.

No doubt it was the Levantine bread used that caused the sandwich to be called beirute, because it's the one essential ingredient of a beirute. The meat, cheese and everything else that goes into the filling can vary from place to place and from restaurant to restaurant, but if it's not served on pão sírio, it's not a beirute.

Most typical recipes, however, do include some sort of cold meat and slices of cheese, making the sandwich a member of the Brazilian meat/cheese sandwich family along with the Bauru and the misto quente. The classic beirute is filled with sliced cold roast beef, sliced cheese, a fried egg, plus lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. In a beirute, the filling goes between two whole pieces of pão sírio, not into the pocket, making the sandwich a true meal in itself. This is not finger food - a good beirute will fill the whole plate and requires nothing else to make a complete and satisfying lunch.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Comida Di Buteco 2012

Although it officially began yesterday, Friday the 13th, the 12th edition of Comida di Buteco, a celebration of Brazilian bar food that calls itself Brazil's largest culinary contest promises to be anything but unlucky for the bars who serve up this year's winning dishes.

Founded in 1999 in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, by Eduardo Maya, a local radio personality and boteco enthusiast, Comida di Buteco has grown to include 16 cities in Brazil and more than 200 bars and botecos all vying for the honor of claiming that they have the best bar food in their city. Every city has a separate contest, and winners are chosen by ballot by bar patrons, not by professionals. There are no national prizes, but in each city three dishes, from three different bars, are chosen as first, second or third prize winners.

Comida di Buteco runs from April 13th to April 29th in most cities, although the contest in Belo Horizonte, the acknowledged mecca of Brazilian boteco culture, runs from April 13th to May 13th and in a few other cities, the competition is non-concurrent.

Of the 16 Brazilian cities involved this year, 5 including Belo Horizonte, are in the state of Minas Gerais, reflecting the importance of boteco culture in that interior state. This is also the first edition of the contest that will include Brazil's largest city, São Paulo.

In Fortaleza, Flavors of Brazil's home base, this year's edition will feature 19 botecos and bars. As the contest is only 16 days long, it would take a daily visit to one or more bars every day of the contest to sample all the dishes in contention. This is not likely to happen, but we hope to be able to report on some of the bars, and their contest entries, during the next two weeks.

Friday, April 13, 2012

RECIPE - Ceará Fish Stew (Peixada Cearense)

In yesterday's post about peixada cearense, we mentioned that the dish, like many other traditional dishes in Brazil and elsewhere, has numerous recipes and an untold number of variations. But unlike, for example, moqueca de peixe from Bahia or something like Greek moussaka, peixada cearense was popularized by one particular restaurateur in Ceará's capital, Fortaleza, only fifty-plus years ago. Thus, the myriad of recipes for peixada cearense can be thought of as theme and variations. There is Alfredo, Rei dos Peixes' recipe (the theme) and everybody else's (the variations).

In studying classical piano, it doesn't make any sense to practice the variations until you know the theme. Same thing with peixada cearense. The recipe below is Alfredo's original - once mastered, it can be changed, amended, altered and varied as you see fit. But you should try it this way the first time, just so you know the original.

One thing that you might have to vary, even the first time through, is the kind of fish that you use. Alfredo uses fish that are caught locally - right outside the front door of his restaurant, in fact. Fish like dourado, garoupa and badejo. You should too - use only fish that are fresh in your own city's fish markets. Firm-fleshed white fish are best, particularly those that can be bought in the form of steaks. We're found that one of the best is halibut, but in others can be just as successfully substituted in making your own peixada.
RECIPE - Ceará Fish Stew (Peixada Cearense)
Serves 4

2 lb (800 gr) fish steaks - any firm-fleshed white variety
1 small (1/2 medium) green cabbage, cut into chunks
2 large boiling potatoes, peeled and halved or quartered depending on size
2 tomatoes, seeded and halved
2 medium carrots, peeled and quartered
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into large pieces
2 whole eggs, hardboiled and peeled
1 cup (250 ml) coconut milk
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
annatto oil (can substitute 1 Tbsp sweet paprika
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped green onion, green parts only
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, carrot, and bell pepper and cook for about five minutes. Add the annatto oil or paprika, mix well, then add the tomato, cabbage and potato. Add water just to cover the ingredients, then cover the pan, reduce heat and cook just until the potatoes and carrots are almost cooked.

Add the fish steaks, salt and pepper to taste, and the coconut milk. Stir gently to mix. Cook for about five minutes, uncovered, or until the fish is cooked and just beginning to flake. Add the whole eggs, continue to cook just until they are heated through, then remove from heat.

Stir in the cilantro and green onion, pour into a deep serving bowl and serve accompanied by white rice.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ceará's Iconic Dish (since 1958) - Peixada Cearense

Jangada at Mucuripe beach
Map from 1629 showing Ponta Mucuripe
At the eastern end of Fortaleza's 3 km seaside promenade known as Beira Mar is a fishing community called Mucuripe. Although it is now located in the middle of a touristic strip of hotels, restaurants and bars, the harbor at Mucuripe still shelters hundred of jangadas - the primitive rafts on which Brazilian fishermen have gone to sea for centuries. There is a thriving fish market located right on the beach, there's a small Catholic church, and there are two of Fortaleza's oldest and most well-known seafood restaurants.

The first seafood restaurant in Mucuripe was opened back in 1958, when Mucuripe was a separate village, by Alfredo Louzada de Souza. He named the restaurant after himself, and in later years added the nickname he earned from the fame of his most famous dish - Alfredo, O Rei da Peixada, or The King of Peixada. The restaurant is still flourishing today, as is the next door restaurant owned by Alfredo's son, Marquinho. It's called, naturally, Marquinhos Delícias Cearenses.

Together, father and son have created a dynasty of seafood restaurants in Mucuripe, and in the process have made their common signature dish, peixada, the most famous and sought-after dish in the state of Ceará. Tourists in the millions arrive in Fortaleza every year, and many of them arrive already have already decided that they want to try peixada during their visit. Almost every restaurant in the city that offers seafood has peixada on the menu, but for the original recipe in its original location, one has to go to Mucuripe.

Alfredo didn't invent peixada out of the clear blue sky. Fish stews and chowders are common dishes all along the coast of Brazil, with local variations in every region. But it was Alfredo who codified the ingredients for peixada cearense, and today his recipe is almost universally recognized as ur-peixada.
Afredo's peixada is centered around thick-cut fish steaks from any of a number of local species cooked in a broth with a good dose of coconut milk, augmented by pieces of cabbage, tomato, potato, green pepper and whole hard-boiled eggs. Obligatory accompaniments are plain white rice and fish pirão.

Peixada is a substantial dish and a meal in itself. And for many who eat it, whether in Ceará or far away, it's the one dish that carries with it the history and flavor of the once-upon-a-time seaside fishing village that was Mucuripe.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

RECIPE - Rice Vermicelli Salad (Salada de Bifum)

The thin, elongated rice noodle known as rice vermicelli in English and as bifum in Portuguese, has been taken to enthusiastically by Brazilian cooks in recent years, and has established a place in the Brazilian pantry.

This is partly due to historical and demographic reasons (click here to read more about Japanese immigration to Brazil) and also due to the fact that in the tropical heat of Brazil a type of pasta that doesn't need to be cooked and which is perfect for making light salads is just what contemporary chefs, professional or domestic, are looking for. A salad made with bifum isn't highly caloric, as it can be very lightly dressed with little oil. The noodles themselves, being made with rice, do not contain gluten, which is an added bonus.

Many Brazilian recipes for bifum are distinctly Asian in style and in ingredient choices. This salad, for bigum salad perked up with bell peppers, hearts of palm and pork tenderloin exhibits both Asian and Brazilian character, and is perfect for a lunchtime main course when the day is just too hot to eat something warm.
RECIPE - Rice Vermicelli Salad (Salada de Bifum)
 serves 2

6 oz. (150 grams) pork tenderloin
1 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
6 oz. (150 grams) dry packaged rice vermicelli (bifum)
1/2 small red onion, cut into thin slices
1/2 small red bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 small green bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 small Japanese cucumber, cut into julienne strips
1 stalk, heart of palm, cut into thin slices
1/4 cup chopped cilantro and green onions mixed
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 tsp finely minced fresh ginger
Preheat a deep frying pan, preferably cast-iron over medium heat. Add the oil and when it's very hot but not smoking add the tenderloin and cook quickly, turning the loin to sear the outside completely. Cook for abour 5 minutes, then remove from heat, let cool, cut into julienne strips, and reserve.

Put the dry rice vermicelli in a large glass or metal mixing bowl. Pour very hot (not boiling) water over to cover and let stand for about 10 minutes, or until the noodles have softened and are pliable. Taste one or two to make sure they are completely softened, but still al dente. Drain thoroughly and reserve.

In a small jar with a tight lid, combine the soy sauce, vinegar and ginger. Shake will and let stand for a few minutes for flavors to blend.

Put the reserved noodles in a large decorative salad bowl. Top with the pork strips, the onion, bell peppers, cucumber, heart of palm and cilantro. Toss gently to distribute the dressing, then serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

INGREDIENTS - Bifum (Rice Vermicelli)

Although the thin, long noodles made from rice and known in English as rice vermicelli originated in south-eastern China, this pasta is an integral part of many Asian cuisines and can be found from India, through Southeast Asia, and on to China and Japan. It is probably most commonly associated with Cantonese cuisine, however, and its name in Cantonese, mifen, has made its way to Brazil, where the noodle is most commonly known as bifum. It is also occasionally marketed under this same name in English-speaking countries, though the package will likely also refer to the contents as rice vermicelli.

As Brazil doesn't have a tradition of Chinese immigration, bifum came to this country by way of Japan. In the early 20th century large numbers of emigrants left Japan to find their fortune in the coffee and orange plantations of São Paulo state, and today the city of São Paulo has the largest ethnically Japanese community in the world outside Japan.

Brazilians have taken enthusiastically to Japanese food, and even many small towns in Brazil have a sushi restaurant, probably the only non-Brazilian restaurant in town. Bifum noodles have found a place in Brazilian domestic kitchens as well,something that sushi hasn't accomplished - as elsewhere sushi is considered restaurant food in Brazil.

Bifum can be found in most Brazilian supermarkets, in the pasta aisle, right alongside the spaghetti, lasagne, and macaroni. Brazilian home cooks make use of bifum in stir-fries and in salads, as it can be served hot or cold.

Preparing bifum for cooking is simplicity itself. The noodles do not have to be cooked. They only need to be soaked in hot water for about 10 minutes, and then they are ready to be stir-fried or tossed with a dressing and some chopped meats or vegetables in a salad.

One note of caution: there is another type of Asian noodle that is similar in size, shape and packaging that is made with mung bean flour, not with rice. In English, it is called bean-thread or cellophane noodles. This noodle is also known in Brazil, though really only in areas with a Japanese population. It is similar to bifum, but not close enough that it can be substituted for bifum in recipes.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The USA Recognizes Cachaça (and Brazil recognizes Bourbon)

This week, Brazil's President, Dilma Rousseff, is making an official visit to the USA, stopping in Washington, DC, and in the Boston area. This is her first visit to the United States since she took office just a bit more than a year ago. There are a number of issues that she will be discussing with President Obama, and a number of agreements, diplomatic and commercial, that the two countries will sign during her visit.

During a lunch today at the White House, President Obama announced that in response to the tremendous increase in the number of Brazilians visiting the USA the United States planned to open two new consulates in Brazil - in the cities of Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre. This news was greeted with joy in Brazil, as visa regulations for Brazilians wishing to visit the USA require a personal interview at a US Consulate. In a country as large as Brazil attending an interview can require a large commitment in time and money, with no guarantee of receiving a visa.

Additionally (and of more importance to Flavors of Brazil) the two countries sign a commercial according to boost trade in Brazilian cachaça and in American bourbon (plus Tennessee whisky). In the USA cachaça will be recognized as a distinctly Brazilian product, and the name may not be used on spirits imported from any other country or manufactured in the USA. Equally, the names bourbon and Tennessee whisky in Brazil will from now on be restricted to whisky distilled in Kentucky and Tennessee respectively.

Up to the signing of this accord, the USA had required Brazilian cachaça to be labeled as "Brazilian rum." Although both rum and cachaça ultimately come from sugar cane, the two spirits are entirely different, cachaça being made from sugar cane juice and rum from molasses, and having to call their national spirit rum is something that has long irritated Brazilian cachaça exporters. Rum it is not - it's cachaça.

As soon as the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau amends their regulations and requirements, Brazil will do the same for the two types of American whisky.

Although by far the largest percentage of the world's USD$1.1bn in annual cachaça sales occur domestically in Brazil, the cachaça export market is growing rapidly. Up to today, the largest market outside Brazil is Germany, but Brazilian cachaça distillers hope that these new regulations will help them capture a part of the American imported-spirits market. The caipirinha cocktail, made with cachaça, is already trendy and becoming more common in the USA. Now Brazilians hope that cachaça itself will catch on with American consumers.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

RECIPE - Skate Moqueca (Moqueca de Arraia)

One of the most popular ways to serve arraia (ray or skate in English) in Brazil comes from the northeastern state of Bahia, specifically from the Afro-Brazilian culinary traditions of Salvador, the state's capital city and Brazil's original capital.

In traditional Bahian cuisine, a thick stew made from fish or seafood in a broth of tomatoes, onions, coconut milk and the brilliant-orange palm oil known as dendê is called a moqueca. The word moqueca and the recipe both come from Africa and the tradition of cooking fish in moquecas crossed the Atlantic to Brazil in the hold of slave ships which carried Africans to slavery in the mines and sugar cane plantations of Brazil.

This recipe for moqueca de arraia (moqueca of skate or ray) comes from the SENAC cooking school in Salvador, and is a typical moqueca. There are as many recipes for moqueca as there are cooks, but the ingredients used in this recipe are found in some combination in almost every recipe.

Dendê palm oil has a distinctive color and flavor and there really is no substitute for it, although substituting 2 or 3 tablespoons of sweet paprika will give the final dish almost the same color. However one of the most important flavor components will be missing when dendê is absent. In cities that have a Brazilian immigrant community, markets that cater to Brazilians will likely have dendê in stock, and in cities with an African immigrant population you can often find dendê in African markets, labeled simply palm oil.
RECIPE - Skate Moqueca (Moqueca de Arraia)
Serves 4

2 lbs (1 kg) skate wings
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
juice of one lime
1 medium onion, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and sliced
2/3 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup dendê oil
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the skate wings into large pieces. Bring lots of water to a boil in a large saucepan, then add the skate. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook the fish for about 15 minutes. Drain the fish, and let cool completely. When the fish is cool, using your fingers or a fork, pull the meat away from the cartilaginous bony structure and flake it. Discard the cartilage. Season the meat with the lime juice, chopped garlic and cilantro and season with salt. Let marinade no more than 1/2 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C)

In a ceramic or glass casserole, preferably round, layer the slices of tomato and onion, alternating with layers of the reserved fish. Pour the coconut milk and dendê oil over all. Place in the preheated oven, and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the tomato and onion are soft and the broth is bubbling hot.

Serve immediately accompanied by plain white rice and some sort of hot chili-pepper sauce.

Friday, April 6, 2012

FISH OF BRAZIL - Ray or Skate (Arraia)

There are at least 500 species of fish in the zoological superorder Batoidea, and the vast majority of them are edible, or at least certain parts of them are edible. This family of fish is commonly known as ray or skate in English and arraia (pronounced a-HIGH-a) in Portuguese, and is distinguished by its cartilaginous skeleton, flattened body and enlarged pectoral fins, commonly called "wings". The rays are close relatives of the sharks, and one of the oldest surviving families of fish.

Rays are an under-appeciated food fish in many parts of the world, although much use is made of them in Asian and African cultures. Sophisticated diners in Europe and North America know that skate is a wonderfully delicious fish, but the commercial market for the fish is not large. Some food historians posit the fact that some rays are poisonous (sting-rays) for reluctance of many in the USA and other parts of the world to eat ray, even though the venom of poisonous rays is restricted to the tail, which is not edible.

Uncooked skate wing
The part of the fish that is commonly considered edible is the large pectoral fin, the wing. In fish markets which sell ray or skate, it is often labeled skate wings. In the wings, the white, fibrous flesh lies between parallel rows of cartilage, and can easily be separated from the cartilage once the fish is cooked.

In some parts of the world, the wings are cooked and served whole and the flesh is separated from the cartilage by the diner. In Brazil, though, most recipes for arraia are soups or stews, and the fibrous flesh is separated and flaked during the cooking process, leaving the final dish without any cartilaginous bones to be removed.

Pastel de arraia
Arraia, flaked and seasoned, is also a favorite filling for the savory deep-fried pastries Brazilians call pastel. It also pops up on bar-snack menus in the form of a bolinho, a small round ball of arraia mixed with mashed potato or mashed manioc which is deep-fried and served hot. Because the flavor and texture of arraia in a bolinho closely resembles the popular bolinho de bacalhau, made with much more expensive salt cod, arraia is sometimes called "poor man's bacalhau."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

UPDATE - Brazil's DomesticBacalhau Arrives in the Supermarket

Pirarucu en route to Pão de Açúcar supermarkets
Last month, Flavors of Brazil reported in this post that bacalhau (the Portuguese word for salt cod) was being processed for the first time in Brazil's Amazon region using a gigantic native fresh-water fish called pirarucu instead of true cod, which only comes from the cold waters of the North Atlantic. An environmentally-sustainable product, bacalhau made from pirarucu is remarkably similar to the original product, and for several reasons enjoys a significant price advantage over true salt cod.

This domestic bacalhau is processed in the remote region of Maraã located two thousand miles from Brazil's big cities in the South, and up til now the product's distribution was restricted to villages, towns and cities in the Amazonian basin.

However, as a result of a recent marketing pact between the cooperative in Maraã that produces the domestic salt cod and Brazilian supermarket giant Pão de Açúcar, which was also reported in our earlier article, domestic Brazilian salt cod arrived this week in Pão de Açúcar's stores in São Paulo, just in time for the heightened Holy Week demand for bacalhau.

Tomorrow, Good Friday, is traditionally a meatless day in Brazil. For many Brazilians, it is also a day to feast on bacalhau. This year, for the first time, Brazilians, or at least those who live in São Paulo and shop at Pão de Açúcar, have a patriotic and environmentally-friendly option - they can eat Brazilian bacalhau. Because the North Atlantic cod fishery is perilously close to extinction, let's hope that they find this sustainable alternative just as satisfying as the original.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

STATS - Brazil's Chocolate Easter Egg Market

Anecdotal evidence would tell anyone wandering the aisles of a Brazilian supermarket in the weeks leading up to Easter that Brazil's have a very, very large appetite for chocolate Easter eggs - usually for very, very large eggs, too. Supermarkets in Brazil construct apparatuses for hanging Easter eggs in the aisles themselves, so that shoppers wander through the aisles as if in an endless cavern with shiny foil-wrapped stalactites hanging overhead.

But how many shoppers pull down an egg, or two or three, and plop it into their shopping cart? Just how many eggs are consumed in Brazil during the annual Easter-season chocolate orgy? In the age of the internet, it was relatively easy for Flavors of Brazil to find out.

According to chocolate-industry predictions, in Easter season 2012 Brazilians will consume 80 million chocolate Easter eggs. This number is about 10% higher than the totals for 2011, and economists posit that the bulk of the growth is due to the increasing economic power of the lower middle class - those who have moved from poverty levels to middle class in the last decade. This hunger for chocolate makes Brazil the third-largest chocolate market in the world.

This growth in the market comes even at a time in which prices for chocolate Easter eggs is rising much faster than the rate of inflation in Brazil. Prices for Easter eggs in 2012 are expected to be about 9% higher than last year, even though the cost of pure cocoa has fallen more than 4% during the same time period. The increased costs are put down to large increases in the price of sugar and the cost of labor.

The manufacture of Easter eggs in Brazil is dominated by multi-national food giants, and two of the top three producers are multi-nationals. The best-selling brand of chocolate Easter eggs in Brazil is Lacta, owned by American food giant Kraft. It expects to sell 27 million eggs this year. In second position, with 20 million eggs sold, is Brazilian chocolate manufacturer Garoto, and in third place, selling under its own brand name is Nestlé, which expects to move 17 million eggs.

One interesting statistic about chocolate Easter eggs shows the huge economic power of Brazil's most populous state, São Paulo. With just over 41 million inhabitants, the state of São Paulo makes up approximately 22% of the total population of the country. But according the the chocolate industry, Paulistas (those who live in the state) will purchase 45% of the Easter eggs produced in 2012.

However you slice these statistics, it's a whole lot of chocolate and sugar, and millions of square feet of shiny foil to wrap them in. But the chocolate Easter egg is thoroughly ensconced in Brazil's Easter iconography, and the continued success of the product is not even slightly in doubt.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

RECIPE - Fried Fish Roe (Ovas de Peixe Fritas)

Fish roe, in other words - fish eggs, is considered a delicacy in many cultures in all parts of the world. The fame of Russian or Iranian caviar, and its astronomic price put sturgeon roe at the very top of the list of haut cuisine. Japanese sushi wouldn't be the same without the bright sparkly orange balls of flying fish roe (tobiko in Japanese) that dot the surface of many sushi rolls. Salmon roe has always been highly prized among the Amerindian tribes that lived, and live, along the coast of British Columbia and Alaska.

Brazilian food culture is not exempt from the appeal of fish roe. In coastal regions of Brazil, particularly along the lengthy coast of northeastern Brazil, one of the highlights of the local seafood bounty is fish roe. The roe from all the larger fish of these warm seas, robalo, badejo, pargo and more, is harvested and sold in fish markets right alongside filets, steaks, bones and heads. Nothing is wasted from the catch.
raw fish roe

Fortunately, unlike caviar, fish roe in northeastern Brazil isn't expensive. Because it is fragile and must be eaten shortly after the fish is landed, most of the roe is sold locally. Preserving fish roe for transport over distance requires either canning or salting and drying, both of which increase roe's price. But here in the northeast, roe is abundant, inexpensive and marvelously tasty.

The most common way to serve fish roe is to dust it gently with seasoned flour, then lightly fry it. Pure simplicity. The only seasonings are a bit of salt, plenty of fresh limes, and an optional sprinkling of chopped cilanto. The only trick to properly cooking fish roe is to make sure not to overcook it - a light touch is the right touch when it comes to roe in the frying pan.

This recipe can be used with any type of fish roe, as long as you can find it still in its membranous sac. It doesn't work for loose roe. Roe may not be displayed at your fishmongers, but if you ask, you might just find that there's some available. It's worth asking.
RECIPE - Fried Fish Roe (Ovas de Peixe Fritas)
serves 2

12 oz (350 gr) fish roe, in its sac
juice of one lime
salt to taste
2 Tbsp all-purpose wheat flour
1 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
lime wedges to garnish
chopped cilantro leaves to garnish
Season the roe with salt and lime juice, then dust completely with the flour. Reserve for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the fish roe. Adjust the heat if the oil begins to smoke. Fry the roe for about 8 minutes on one side, then very gently turn the roe over and fry for another 5 minutes.

Remove the roe from the frying pan, place on a serving platter, sprinkle with the optional cilantro of desired and serve with lime wedges.

Monday, April 2, 2012

RECIPE - Bacuri Mousse (Mousse de Bacuri)

Although the preponderance of Brazil's annual crop of the tropical rain-forest fruit known as bacuri is eaten fresh and very close to where it has been cultivated or harvested, there is some culinary use made of processed, canned, bacuri pulp, principally in the manufacture of ice creams and pastries.

In the northern Brazilian state of Pará, located near the mouth of the gigantic Amazon river system, the fruit is also extensively used in home cooking. One specialty of Pará, and especially of the city of Belém, the state capital is variously called mousse de bacuri, or creme de bacuri, meaning either bacuri mousse or bacuri cream.

Turning fruit pulp of almost any sort into a rich, creamy mousse has long been a Brazilian tradition. Some of the most well-known are mousse de maracujá (passion-fruit mousse), mousse de limão (lime mousse) and mousse de abacaxi (pineapple mousse). In most of Brazil, mousse de bacuri isn't nearly so well known, but in Belém it's considered one of the best of the pack.
RECIPE - Bacuri Mousse (Mousse de Bacuri)

1 cup sweetened condensed milk (leite condensado)
1 cup creme fraiche or sour cream (creme de leite)
1 cup canned bacuri pulp
Put all the ingredients in a blender, and blend at high speed for a minimum of five minutes. Pour into a glass or ceramic baking pan and refrigerate at least four hours before serving, accompanied with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Although many Brazilian consider bacuri (Platonia insignis) to be one of the tastiest fruits native to the Amazonian rain forest, the bacuri will never win any botanical beauty contests. The fruit is so plain and non-assuming, if not downright ugly, that it's a wonder that the primitive Amerindians, the region's first inhabitants, even bothered to open one up and taste it - especially when the Amazon is so rich in fruits that are both beautiful and tasty. But the Amerindians must love it - even today, the native don't cultivate the fruit, which grows best on tall, ancients trees, but when they clear an area to create an open living space, they always leave any bacuri trees untouched so they may enjoy the bounty in their new homes.

The bacuri tree grows wild in a very large geographical region, from the Guianas, through the entire Amazon basin as far as Colombia in the northwest and Paraguay in the southwest. The tree bears fruit during the dry season, which is from August to the end of November in most of the Brazilian part of the Amazon basin.

The bacuri fruit itself has a thick yellow-brown, often mottled skin, making the fruit look a bit like a rounded papaya. When the thick skin is cut away, the fruit's sticky white pulp is exposed. The pulp surrounds anywhere from three to five seed, and is strongly aromatic (maybe that's why the ancient Amerindians decided to give the bacuri a try). The taste of the fruit itself is described as being both sweet and sour at the same time.

Most of Brazil's bacuri crop is eaten fresh, and is marketed only in the region in which it grows, or nearby. There is limited industrial processing of the fruit, mostly making ice creams, jams and jelllies. Up to now, the export market for bacuri hasn't been developed, and the fruit is very little known outside Brazil and neighboring countries.

Bacuri - painted in oils by Solange Bogea
Ugly as the fruit might be, bacuri is refreshing and has a very distinctive taste. For anyone who is visiting the Amazon, it's well worth one's time to search out bacuri in markets and supermarkets if the season is right. If not, look for bacuri ice cream - it's available year round and the taste is very much like that of the natural fruit.