Monday, June 25, 2012

RECIPE - Crab in Coconut Milk (Caranguejo ao Leite de Coco)

In yesterday's post, we discussed Fortaleza's Thursday night ritual of heading out to a beach bar or casual restaurant for a crab feast. Every beach bar along Fortaleza's principal beach, Praia do Futuro, touts their own recipe as the best, but in fact, almost anywhere you go the basic recipe is the same. The recipe is so closely associated with Fortaleza and surrounding beach communities that it's sometimes called Caranguejo Cearense, meaning "Crab from Ceará" the state of which Fortaleza is the capital.

At its simplest, and most traditional, the recipe calls for cooking/steaming the crabs in a broth of rich coconut milk seasoned with garlic, onions, and tomatoes and garnished with lavish amounts of chopped cilantro. During the cooking process, the coconut milk is infused with the juices of the crabs so that when the dish is presented the aromas of the coconut milk and of briny seafood combine into a mouth-watering invitation to pick up the hammer, grab a crab and begin to smash and nosh the night away.

In Fortaleza, this recipe is made with local caranguejo-uçá crabs but can be successfully be made with whatever species of crab is available in your local market - with the possible exception of Alaska king crabs which are better suited to other treatments due to their enormous size.
RECIPE - Crab in Coconut Milk (Caranguejo ao Leite de Coco)
Serves 4 - 8 depending on size of crabs

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups (500 ml) coconut milk
1 tsp. annatto powder or oil (can substitute sweet paprika)
1 bunch cilantro, large stems removed, finely chopped
8 small crabs, thoroughly washed
In a large saucepan with a lid, heat the olive oil, then add the garlic, tomatoes and onion and fry until the onion and garlic are softened and the tomato is breaking up. Stir in the coconut milk, the annato or paprika and half of the cilantro. Cook a few more minutes or until the tomato has completely broken up. Bring the liquid to the boiling point.

Add the crabs plus just enough water to cover them. Reduce heat, cover the pan and let the crabs cook/steam for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Put the crabs in a deep serving bowl, pour the cooking liquid over, then sprinkle the remaining cilantro over all. Serve immediately, to be eaten by hand.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hometown Crab - Caranguejo-Uçá

For thousands of local residents Thursday night in Fortaleza, Ceará, Flavors of Brazil's hometown, means only one thing - crab. On Thursday nights, beachside and downtown bars restaurants alike serve up thousands of crabs to hungry diners. On Tuesday almost no one orders crab, nor on Wednesday or Saturday, but on Thursday the first question a waiter will ask you is likely to be "How many?" rather than "What would you like?". You give him a number and off he goes. He sets the table with small wooden chopping boards and wooden hammers, lots of paper napkins, a plastic bowl for empty shells and hot sauce. Then he brings the feast - small crabs steamed/cooked in a rich broth of coconut milk seasoned with onion, tomatoes and cilantro. A crab goes on the chopping board, you rip the legs off, use the hammer to open them, and the feast begins. And to accompany the crabs? Plenty of icy cold beer, or soft drinks. That's all.

Late last year, when we introduced some friends visiting from Canada to the Thursday night crab ritual, they exclaimed in shock when the bowl of crabs arrived at the table - "Yech! Their legs are hairy!!" And true it was. But once we explained that the hair doesn't come off and that in fact if you dip one of the legs into the delicious broth the hair helps to bring the broth to your mouth they began to relax and to enjoy the meal. But it was a definite culture-shock moment, that first sight of the hirsute crustaceans.
Mangrove swamp

The overwhelming majority of crabs served on these Thursday night blowouts is a species called (in Portuguese) caranguejo-uçá. Caranguejo is the Portuguese word for crab - any crab - and  uçá is a Portuguese adaptation of the species' taxonomic name (Ucides cordatus). Uçá crabs are small, about the same size as an adult human hand. The species is one of two known as mangrove crabs, as their unique habitat are muddy mangrove swamps. The animals live on and in the mud, burrowing in when the tide is high and scuttling about when the tide is low. They are very important to the ecology of mangrove swamps, which are plentiful along the northeast and north coasts of Brazil.

crabs on a string
Most of the supply of crabs for Fortaleza's restaurants and bars comes from the area around delta of the Parnaíba river, about 250 kms. away, in the neighboring state of Piauí. In the city of Parnaíba, located near the mouth of the river and within close distance to miles of coastal mangrove swamps, the harvest and merchandising of crabs are the prime local economic activity. Crabs are commonly sold by the string - each string containing four crabs. Each week during crabbing season about 65,000 strings of crabs are sold in Parnaíba. A crab fisher received 25 centavos (R$0.25) for a string, a price which by the time it reaches a restaurant or bar in Fortaleza sells for R$10. In most beach bars and casual restaurants in Fortaleza, each crab sells for about R$4. Ask a crab fisher how easy it is to catch crabs in their muddy habitat and whether he thinks he's being fairly compensated - the answer is like to be a firm NO. And he'd have a point. The retail price in Fortaleza, which is still only about USD$2 per crab, is 60 times what the fisher receives.

For tourists coming to our city it's essential to try the Thursday night crab feast at least once - it's an important part of local gastronomy. Leaving Fortaleza without eating Caranguejo-Uçá is as heinous a gastronomic crime as leaving New Orleans without eating a Po' Boy sandwich, Naples without sampling pizza in the land of its birth or Vancouver not having indulged in wild Pacific sockeye salmon. Don't do it!

Friday, June 22, 2012

RECIPE - Rabbit in a Clay Pot (Coelho na Panela de Barro)

Brazil doesn't have a large tradition of eating rabbit, unlike some European and North American countries. It's not that rabbit as food is totally unheard of, it's just that when you ask most Brazilians if they like eating rabbit you're likely to get back a puzzled expression in return. Sort of, "Rabbit? Never really thought of that."

It's not really that Brazilians object to eating small furry beasts - in the semi-arid interior of northeastern Brazil there's a tradition of eating an animal called preá - Wikipedia translates it into English as Brazilian guinea pig. Perhaps part of the reason is that rabbits are not native to most of South America and arrived in Brazil only after the country was colonized by Europeans. To this day southern Brazil has no wild rabbit population.

However, there has been a recent increase in interest in rabbits as food - from domesticated, fared rabbits. The health benefits of rabbit meat, which is lean and low in cholesterol, appeal to 21st Century eaters around the world, and the relative ease of entry into the rabbit-farming world is appealing to would-be rabbit producers.

This recipe for rabbit cooked in a clay pot comes from the website of Coelhos Lagoa Funda, a rabbit farm in the state of Espírito Santo. This state is famed for its clay pots so it's only natural that regional dishes cooked in clay pots would be adapted to rabbits.

As with yesterday's recipe, this dish can successfully be cooked in ceramic, cast iron or other metal cookware, but according to the recipe source it is particularly delicious when cooked in clay.
RECIPE - Rabbit in a Clay Pot (Coelho na Panela de Barro)
Serves 6

2 rabbits, cut into serving pieces
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled and cubed
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 medium onion, chopped
1 1/3 cup (350 ml) dry white wine
34 cup (200 ml) water
fresh rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan, then brown the pieces of rabbit on all sides. Do in two batches if necessary to avoid crowding. Reserve the browned rabbit.

In a wide deep clay pot (or other suitable piece of cookware) place the reserved pieces of rabbit, then sprinkle the chopped carrots, tomatoes and onions over. Gently pour in the white wine and water, then sprinkle the chopped rosemary.

Bring to a boil over a medium flame, then reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook for about one hour, gently stirring from time to time. If the dish begins to dry out, add more water. At the end of the cooking time, if the sauce is very liquid increase heat and boil the sauce to thicken it.

Remove from the heat and serve immediately in the clay pot. Accompany with buttered egg noodles or boiled potatoes.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

RECIPE - Shrimp and Rice, Espirito Santo Style (Arroz com Camarão Capixaba)

This wonderfully flavorful dish of rice and shrimp - halfway between risotto and paella - comes from the coastal state of Espírito Santo and is a perfect examply of how Brazilian cooks make use of clay cooking pots, something we've been featuring recently on this blog.

Espírito Santo lies along Brazil's southeastern coastline, bordered on the south by Rio de Janeiro state and on the north by Bahia. The coast has miles and miles of wonderful beaches, backed by the same spectacularly beautiful granite domes and mountains that famously frame Rio de Janeiro's landscape. Because of the long coastline, Espírito Santo's gastronomy is dominated by fish and seafood and the state is famous for its unique way of making fish and seafood moquecas - highly seasoned stews. Espírito Santo and Bahia are both famous for moquecas, but each has its own tradition. Bahian moquecas use coconut milk seasoned with dendê oil to provide the base for the stew; in Espírito Santo the broth is based on coconut milk, tomatoes and onions.

Espírito Santo's coastal cuisine isn't all about moquecas though - equally loved are rich and hearty main course dishes combining rice and any number of varieties of seafood. In Portuguese these dishes are rather prosaically called simply "rice and...". For example, rice and shrimp or rice and mixed seafood. In English they'd more likely be called risotto or paella, though technically they are neither. The rice used in regular long grain, so they really aren't risottos, which require Italian short grain rice. And they aren't really paellas either as they lack the essential saffron color and flavor and never mix seafood with chicken or sausages.

What does make these rice dishes special is that they are always cooked in clay pots. In Espírito Santo there is even a particular locally-based type of clay cookware known as Goiaberas, manufactured artisanally in Vítoria, the capital of the state. (Click here to read more about this type of cookware). The pots from Goiaberas are of a perfect shape and form to make this recipe, though it can easily be made in any type of pot or pan that you normally use for stovetop cooking. The resulting dish might not have the charm and Brazilian-ness that cooking in Goiaberas wear does, but those two whom you serve it will not complain, guaranteed. It's a wonderful dish for a casual supper with guests - informal, beautiful and tasty.
RECIPE - Shrimp and Rice, Espirito Santo Style (Arroz com Camarão  Capixaba)
Serves 4

4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp annatto, ground or paste (can substitute sweet paprika)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
9 medium tomatoes, cut into small cubes
2 medium onions, chopped, not too finely
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
salt to taste
2 lbs (1 kg) medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/3 cup green or black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
6 cups cooked long grain white rice
2 stalks hearts of palm, halved horizontally (optional)
1/2 small tomato, cut into four wedges
grated parmesan to taste
In a large, low clay pot (or other pot or pan, like a large skillet or saucepan) heat the oil, then add the annatto or paprike and crushed garlic. Cook for a minute or two then add the chopped tomatoes, the onions, the cilantro and salt to taste. Cook for a few minutes, or until the tomato begins to break up. Add the shrimps, the coconut milk, the peas and corn and half of the olives and mix thorough. Lower the heat, cover the pot or pan and cook for ten minutes.

Uncover the pot or pan, stir in the cooked rice and continue cooking, stirring regularly, until the rice is heated through and has absorbed the liquid.

Serve at table in the cooking dish or other decorative serving dish. Garnish the surface with the tomato wedges, the palm hearts and the other half of the olives. Serve with grated parmesan on the side.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How To Season a Clay Cooking Pot

Cooking in an unglazed ceramic cooking pot is a time-honored and marvelous way to create soups, stews, grain and legume dishes, and braised-meat dishes. The thermic properties of clay, which allows for cooking a dish at low temperature over a long period of time, unattended, makes cooking in clay ideal for the cook that wants to assemble a dish then basically let it cook itself, leaving the cook free for other activities. Think of cooking in clay as the origin of the slow cooker - it only lacks electricity.

Before using a clay pot for the first time it is essential to season it. Because the clay is unglazed and therefore somewhat porous, the earthy taste of the clay itself will leach into the food if the pot is unseasoned. Once seasoned, however, you can use a clay pot without fear of the taste of clay spoiling your dish.

Seasoning a clay pot
This technique for seasoning an unglazed clay pot is adapted from from Brazilian food writer and blogger Neide Rigo and can be found on her blog Come-Se. Her seasoning process is a two-day process and begins with a twenty-four hour soaking of the pot in cold water. One the second day, she removes the pot from the water, drains it completely then fills it half-full with fresh water. She fills the pot with chunks of pork belly with its rind in the water and heats the pot slowly over low heat. She lets the water come to the boil and then continues the cooking until the water evaporates completely and the pork belly begins to fry. She continues to fry the pork belly using a silicone brush to paint the entire interior of the pot with melted fat until the pork skin becomes crispy  - fried pork rind (torresmo in Portuguese). At this point, she removes the pot from the heat, allows it to cool completely, drains it completely, wipes the interior dry, then washes the pot in hot water only. Once the pot is completely dry it's ready for its first use. (Added bonus - the pork rind, or cracklings, are delicious!)

Clay pots should be cleaned with water only - detergents can have an effect on the taste of food cooked in clay. Use hot water and if needed a plastic scouring pad to clean. It's also important to dry the pot quickly after washing to avoid musty flavors developing. In Brazil, cooks just put the pot in direct sunlight. In less tropical climes, fifteen minutes in a 150F oven will do the trick.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

UTENSILS OF BRAZIL - Clay Pot (Panela de Barro)

When proto-Brazilians first learned that many foodstuffs were improved, or even simply made edible, by the application of heat, they basically used two ways to apply that heat. In the rain forests of the Amazon basin and the coastal mountains, on the savannahs of western and central Brazil and on the beaches of the the country's immense coastline, Amerindians cooked their food either by direct exposure to fire (grilling, basically) or by indirect exposure. Indirect exposure involved placing the food in some sort of fired clay container and heating the food in liquid inside the pot or pan. Even the most primitive tribes of Amerindians seem to have known the technique of firing clay to make ceramic products and to have learned that once fired, ceramics can be exposed to high levels of heat without damage. Metals were unknown to these tribes, and wood was unsuitable in the presence of fire, so without clay pots they would only have been able to grill food.

Grilling is a technique that is well suited to most meats and seafood, plus some types of vegetables. However, it is less well suited to cooking roots and tubers and other types of vegetables that constitute the basic staple foods of most cultures. In pre-Colombian South America these staples included manioc, potatoes and corn. The most common way for Amerindians to cook them was in clay pots. African slaves also brought with them their own traditions of cooking in clay when they came to Brazil.

Today there is a resurgence in the use of clay cooking pots in Brazilian cooking, even though in rural areas of the country it had never really gone out of style. In the cities of Brazil, in the kitchens of fine restaurants and in the homes of dedicated amateur cooks, there has been a rediscovery of clay cooking utensils. There is something about the way that clay transmits and retains heat that really cannot be duplicated in metal or glass - particularly in relation to heat retention. For dishes that require long cooking at low temperatures, there is nothing better than clay. This rediscovery of clay cooking utensils really is just one more case of "everything old is new again." Today in Brazil, there is nothing more ancient or more avant-garde than cooking in clay.

To buy clay pots and pans in most Brazilian cities, all one needs to do is visit the nearest market in which artisanally produced material can be purchased. There you can find pots of all sizes from miniature to mammoth and in a myriad of shapes and forms. Some are beautifully decorated with incized designs and decorative handles, others are purely utilitarian. But they all work equally well. It's also possible to buy clay pots online in Brazil for those who don't live near a market that sells them.

Clay pots need to be seasoned prior to first use, but once seasoned, they can last a lifetime if properly handled. In the next post here on Flavors of Brazil we'll teach you how to season an unglazed clay pot Brazilian-style, and then we'll highlight some Brazilian recipes which are best cooked in clay.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Food Guide to Rio de Janeiro - Downloadable

In coordination with the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which is currently wrapping up in Rio de Janeiro, Slow Food Brasil published a guide for conference-goers to the food of the city. The guide, entitled 100 Dicas/100 Tips Rio de Janeiro was published in a bi-lingual format in English and Portuguese and provided free-of-charge to participants in the global event. It is also available on Slow Food Brasil's website for download as a .PDF.

Organized by neighborhood, which makes the guide extremely user-friendly, the 129-page book covers restaurants, cafes, bars and botecos, fresh juice bars, ice cream shops, food shops and live-music venues. Emphasis is on local cuisine and local foods which is naturally for a Slow Food publication.

This guide is something that any of Flavors of Brazil's readers who one day might find themselves in Rio de Janeiro will want to download now and carry with them on their laptop or tablet when they travel to Rio. It's very informative, well-written and from what we can judge from our own experiences in Rio quite accurate.

You can download 100 Dicas/100 Tips Rio de Janeiro HERE.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

RECIPE - Grilled Chicken with Lime Marinade (Frango Grelhado com Limão)

A long time ago clever Brazilian cooks and foodlovers discovered that there is a natural affinity between meats and poultry and sharp, lively lime juice. This is particularly true in the case of grilled meats, but a splash of lime juice (or lemon juice for that matter) can wake up a tired sauce and make almost any meat dish come to life.

This recipe, from the Brazilian website Sabores do chef admirably shows off this animating effect of lime juice. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are marinated for at least six hours in a mixture of lime juice, soy sauce, mustard and other seasonings then grilled. The long time that the chicken spends in the acidic marinade makes for tender chicken and ensures that the breasts won't dry out during the grilling process.

This chicken can be served hot off the grill, or at room temperature. If not serving it immediately, let the breasts cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until about one hour before serving. Remove from the fridge to let the meat rise to room temperature before serving. Served in this manner this chicken makes perfect picnic food.
RECIPE - Grilled Chicken with Lime Marinade (Frango Grelhado com Limão)
Serves 4

4 chicken half-breasts, boneless and skinless
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp Tabsco sauce, or other bottled hot sauce
1/2 tsp paprika
2 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
wedges of fresh lime for garnish
Put all the ingredients except the chicken in a large Ziploc-tip plastic bag, close the bag and mix the ingredients thoroughly. Add the chicken breasts, squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag, then seal it. Put it in the refrigerator for at least six hours, but no more than about eight.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator about one half hour prior to cooking. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving the marinade for basting the chicken while it grills. Cook the chicken on the grill for 7-8 minutes on the first side and about 5 on the second, depending on the thickness of the breasts. Brush the chicken breasts a couple of times with the reserved marinade during the grilling process. The chicken is done when the outside is nicely browned and the juices run clear. Do not over cook.

Serve immediately, or let cool and serve at room temperature, garnished by wedges of fresh lime.

Friday, June 15, 2012

RECIPE - Lime Mousse (Mousse de Limão)

It really wouldn't be fair to end a series of posts about Brazil's fabulous spectrum of limes and lemons without posting a few recipes employing these versatile and universally-loved citrus fruits. So here comes the first one.

Probably Brazil's favorite lime dessert, and certainly one of the very easiest to make is called mousse de limão in Portuguese, which you can translate as lime mousse. All that you need to do is squeeze some fresh limes, zest their peel, add a couple of cans of milk products, blend it all in a blender and chill it. Done! The result is cool, creamy and zingy with lime flavor and there can't be many people that wouldn't like it. In Brazil you can buy this type of lime mousse in bakeries, sweet shops and supermarkets, but really, it's so easy to make at home that there's really no reason to do so.

The recipe calls for sweetened condensed milk and another processed milk product that is called creme de leite in Brazil. In Spanish speaking Latin America the product is known as media crema, and it can be found under that name in Latin American grocery stores throughout North America. The best-known brand, in Brazil and elsewhere is Nestle, and in cans that are sold in the USA and Canada the produce is labeled table cream as well as media crema. It's available online as well from any number of vendors of Mexican foodstuffs. You can even buy it on though there you'll have to buy a case of 24.

This recipe can be made either with Persian limes or Key limes, though if you are using small Key limes, you should double the quantity of fruit listed below.
RECIPE - Lime Mousse (Mousse de Limão)
Serves 6-8

2 cans sweetened condensed milk
2 cans creme de leite (media crema)
juice of 6 freshly squeezed Persian limes
microplane-grated zest of one lime for garnish (optional)
Combine the sweetened condensed milk, the creme de leite and the lime juice in a large blender. Blend at high speed for at least four or five minutes, or until the mousse thickens.

Pour into a decorative serving bowl, or individual dessert dishes, sprinkle the surface with grated lime zest if desired and refrigerate for at least four hours before serving.

Serve cold from the refrigerator.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


During the past few days, Flavors of Brazil has been posting articles about those members of the large lemon/lime branch of the citrus fruit family that are present in Brazilian cooking and that can be found in Brazilian food stores.

To wrap up this line-up of limes (for in Portuguese, these are all limes - limão) here are a couple of less common members of the family. Although these fruits can generally be found in produce stores and sometimes in farmers markets, at least here in Fortaleza, Flavor of Brazil's home, they are considered exotic in Brazil, are generally more expensive and there are fewer recipes in Brazilian cookbooks that call for them. But their flavor, acidity and aroma characteristics makes them useful and can add a familiar-but-unkown note to dishes in which they're used. They're worth getting to know, whether you spot them in Brazil, or in some Asian or Latin American market elsewhere in the world.
Rangpur or Mandarin Lime (limão cravo in Portuguese) - This sharply acidic hybrid cross between limes and mandarins was the subject of a post in this blog back in May of 2011. Click here to read about it.

Palestine Sweet Lime (lima-da-pérsia in Portuguese) - Looking a bit like an oversized, yellow lime, the Palestine sweet lime is the Clark Kent of the lime family - the mild-mannered, self-effacing lime that lacks the punch of most of its cousin limes. The primary difference between this fruit (Citrus × limettioides) and the other limes is its very low acidity, which can be as low as 0.1% citric acid. It can be found in specialty produce stores in Brazil and grows very well in most areas of the country. In other areas of the world, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, it's used to make a refreshing fruit drink, one that doesn't need a lot of added sugar to counteract the acidity. Even though it has less citric acid than most limes, it still has high levels of vitamin C. Because other limes are so assertive, the Palestine sweet lime is sometimes accused of being bland or insipid. It's really not so, it's just that in all sorts of ways it's more subtle than garden variety limes or lemons. It can be used to make a low-acid caipirinha for those who are bothered by high-acid drinks. It's thin skin can also be candied or preserved to make a delightful sweet.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Lemon (Limão Siciliano)

Although the bright yellow citrus fruit called lemon (Citrus limon) is, along with the lime, the closest we have to the original wild citrus fruit that was domesticated in South Asia in prehistoric times, lemons in Brazil are still something of a novelty. Up until fairly recently, they were virtually unseen in Brazilian markets and supermarkets where the lime reigned supreme.

Brazilians call the lemon limão siciliano which literally means Sicilian lime. There is no single word in Portuguese to distinguish lemons from limes, and for Brazilians, lemons are not a fruit distinct from the lime - they are a lime that happens to be yellow, have a different shape, aroma and taste, but nonetheless they are still limes.

As recently as three or four years ago in Fortaleza, Flavors of Brazil's home base, it was impossible to find a lemon anywhere. For us, as Canadians used to having the option to chose lemons or limes, it was difficult indeed to be restricted only to limes in cooking and in drinks. As much as we love limes, and we love them a lot, there are times and places that call for lemon, not lime. Iced tea is one - it's just not the same without a thick wedge of lemon. Not that Brazilians drink iced tea; they don't. So Brazilians didn't miss that wedge in a frosty glass of iced tea. Lemon curd is another personal favorite, one that's surprisingly easy to make at home - that is, if there are lemons available. There weren't so no homemade lemon curd.

However, recently, lemons have been showing up on supermarket shelves with increasing regularity everywhere in Brazil. We first spotted them in gourmet delis and shops where they sold for astronomical prices (which we paid due to our homesickness for lemons). Then they started showing up in standard supermarkets, still expensive but not ridiculously so. And this year prices have actually started to come down, which probably indicates a larger commercial crop has finally reached the market.

The increasing presence of lemons in Brazil is probably due to the increased sophistication and increased buying power of Brazilian consumers. Recent years have been very kind to the Brazilian economy, and enormous numbers of Brazilians are making their first trips outside of South America - principally to the USA and Europe, where lemons are easily found. Perhaps this created a demand that hadn't previously existed, resulting in astute ranchers and farmers planting lemon groves and eventually lemons in supermarkets around the country.

As there is no tradition of cooking with lemons in Brazil, dishes that feature the flavor of lemon are most easily found in contemporary, upmarket restaurants in Brazil's larger cities, and recipes are found in food and wine magazines. There are signs, though, that lemon's distinctive flavor is catching on in Brazil. Our local ice cream shop, which makes their own ice cream from natural flavors, recently added  limão siciliano to their list of flavors. We also spotted a limão siciliano mousse on a local restaurant's dessert menu. But the surest sign of all of the surging popularity of the lemon was in a neighborhood bar. They've started to offer a caipirinha de limão siciliano, substituting chunks of lemon for the limes in the  original recipe. It's not-surprisingly delicious!

We're all for traditional, local foods and ingredients, but the arrival of lemons on our culinary horizon is very welcome news. Now if we could just figure out how to get Brazilians interested in celery!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Limes (Limões)

The citrus fruit that is most important in Brazilian cooking and gastronomy is, by far, that small, round, sharply-acidic green ball called a lime (limão in Portuguese, limões in the plural). Oranges might outweigh limes when it comes to export statistics, and there's no question that Brazilians drink a lot of orange juice, most of it unfortunately highly-sugared. But if you look in Brazilian cookbook indexes  recipes that call for limes vastly outnumber those that call for other citrus fruits.

Interestingly, botanists tell us that limes (including lemons) are the closest living relatives to the wild fruit trees of sub-Himalayan and Southeast Asia and were the first citrus fruits domesticated and cultivated by mankind. Even such important citrus fruits as oranges, tangerines and grapefruits are either natural or cultivated hydrids of the original lime-like citrus and came into cultivation much later.

Citrus fruits made their first appearance in the West in the hands of Muslim traders sometime between the 7th and the 9th centuries. There is some evidence that Romans were aware of limes and used them medicinally, but there was never a commercial citrus crop in Europe during Roman times. In any case, citrus cultivation and consupmtion was firmly established in the Mediterranean basin by the beginning of the second millennium CE.

From Europe, citrus fruits made their way to American shores in the holds of ships carrying the first European explorers and colonists in the decades following Columbus and other early explorers. Limes took very well to Brazilian soil and climatic conditions - they can successfully be cultivated in most of Brazil. From its earliest days, Brazilian cuisine made use of the fruit - particularly the juice, which adds a fresh, acidic note to any dish containing it. Although they had no knowledge of why it worked, sailors discovered that drinking lime juice daily prevented the onset of scurvy and limes were carried on all long sea voyages. The British Navy mandated a daily drink of lime juice, thoughtfully mixed with rum, which is the origin of the nickname of British sailors - limeys.

On land as on well as at sea, cooks discovered the many ways in which limes could be employed in the kitchen. Lime juice is essential in many traditional Brazilian sweets and dessert, as well as in cold drinks. It's also used in conjunction with fish and seafood dishes. There's a particular affinity between limes and foods from the sea, although traditional cooks in Brazil seem not to have discovered the "cooking" effect that lime juice has on seafood - the effect which is the basis for Peruvian and Mexican ceviche.

Today in Brazil, there are two main varieties of limes sold commercially, and in most markets and supermarkets you'll always find both. In Brazilian Portuguese they are called limão Tahiti and limão Galego. Although they are similar in color, size and taste, one is very close to the original citrus fruit of prehistoric Asia and one is a hybrid of fairly recent origin.

Limão Galego (Citrus aurantifolia) is the oldster, the ur-lime. In English it's known as the Key lime, due to its association with the Florida Keys. Its color is a light green, often edging toward yellow. It is smaller, seedier, has a higher acidity, a stronger aroma, and a thinner peel than the limão Tahiti and is the lime of choice when making Brazil's famed caipirinha cocktail. It is very juicy. In Brazil is it grown commercially mostly in the northeast and center-west regions of the country and it bears fruit throughout the year, having no distinctive season. Up until recently, it was the most common lime in Brazil, though in recent years, it's given way to the limão Tahiti.
Left Limão Tahiti - Right Limão Galego

Limão Tahiti (Citrus latiifolia) is the upstart hybrid in the family of Brazilian limes. In English it's called the Persian lime and it's the garden-variety lime of supermarkets throughout North America and Europe. Its color is vivid strong green. It is less acidic than the limão Galego, has a thicker peel which can be nubbly, is slightly larger in most cases, and being a hybrid it is seedless, or virtually so. It is a very robust species. Today it is the most valuable member of the lime family in the export market, due to its seedlessness, its thicker peel which makes it less fragile, and its aroma which is considered exotic in northern climates. Like its ancestor, the limão Galego, it bears fruit all year.

In Brazil these two varieties alone are considered lime limes - that is, when a recipe calls for lime, unmodified, it means that either of these two may be used. If another member of the family is required, it will be indicated by a modifying name. These two are also what the English-speaking world thinks of as limes. There are other members of this family, though, and in upcoming posts, we'll discuss them as well as provide some Brazilian recipes which use this marvelous fruit.

Monday, June 11, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Limes and Lemons (Limões)

The extended family of fruits called citrus (or cítrico in Portuguese) is tremendously important to Brazil in all kinds of ways. In the economic sphere their importance to the Brazilian export market in agricultural products is enormous - Brazil is the world's largest exporter of oranges and among the largest in the export of limes. Gastronomically, the sharp acidic tang is absolutely essential to a vast number of Brazilian dishes, which wouldn't be the same at all if another acidic substance, vinegar for instance, was substituted. Citrus juices, particularly fresh-squeezed ones, not only provide acidity to a dish, they add a sparkling fresh quality - a taste of a sun-soaked orchard - that cannot be duplicated. And then again, there's the whole business of cocktails. Brazil's increasingly-popular "national cocktail" the caipirinha relies on chunks of macerated whole limes and their juice to provide the non-alcoholic part of its punch, letting cachaça liquor provide the high-proof part.

Citrus fruits have moved far beyond their origins in Central or Southeast Asia and today are eaten all around the world. They are cultivated practically everywhere the climate allows, which means the world's tropical and sub-tropical reasons. You'll never find an orange grove in Canada or Finland no matter how hard you try, it's just too cold. Fortunately, though, citrus fruits travel well, and today fresh oranges, grapefruits or limes can be found in markets and supermarkets high above the Arctic circle as well as in the word's temperate zones, where most of North America and Europe lie.

Citrus fruits really are a family, and not just in the taxonomic sense. There is the sharp-tongued, lively bachelorette aunt, the lemon. There is the sensible, hard-working and slightly dull breadwinner - the navel orange. There's the mom who's always on weightwatchers, Ruby - she's a grapefruit. And there is the relative who only shows up at Christmas time - the mandarin orange. Each has its own personality and utility, just like in human families.

What's interesting though is that the Brazilian family of citrus fruits is quite different than the North American or European one. Some very common citrus fruits in the USA or Canada, like the grapefruit, are virtually unkown in Brazil. Others, like the exotic beauty Brazilians call  limão-cravo, are unobtainable north of the Equator. Some, of course, are common almost globally, but not all are.

In the next few posts on Flavors of Brazil, we'll look at Brazil's just one part of the citrus fruit family, the one that happens to be the most common in Brazilian cooking and gastronomy. Brazilians call them  limão, in English they're limes. We'll discuss which ones are common, which are found only regionally in Brazil, and which ones are just now making their way into the market. The market for citrus is changing rapidly in this country- in our newly globalized world, some citrus fruits that were unknown in Brazil as recently as three or four years ago are popping up with increasing regularity in fruit markets and supermarkets all over Brazil. We'll highlight the standard varieties of Brazilian limes and discuss the new entries - with recipes for all, new and old.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

RECIPE - Pork Hocks Minas Gerais Style (Pé de Porco Mineiro)

The new/old philosophy of raising food animals humanely and organically is something that has struck a chord around the world in recent years. The success of worldwide organizations like Slow Food as well as of small community group-created iniatives in support of local organic food producers would seem to indicate that there is growing concern that the meat and dairy products that we eat (at least those of us who are not vegans) come from animals that have had a healthy, non-medicated and relatively happy life and that the animals who have been slaughtered suffer as little fear and pain as possible.

The most recent post in this blog, about a ranch in Brazil that is home to a contented group of pigs, is an example of this philosophy being expressed in action. You can click here to read more about the ranch and its four-legged denizens.

There is another aspect, though, to this new attitude to meat-eating that wasn't discussed in the post about Alfheim ranch. That aspect is the idea that once an animal has been slaughtered for food, for our benefit, it behooves those who eat it not to waste large portions of the animal. The thought is, basically, that if we kill an animal to eat it, it deserves at the very least not to have only small choice bits used and the rest thrown away or converted into food for other farm animals.

Traditional food cultures around the world have always felt that way and have found ways to eat almost the entire slaughtered carcass. There's an old saw about Chinese cuisine that says that when it comes to pigs, it serves up everything but the squeal. Obviously there is an economic rationale for this complete utilization of a slaughtered animal, but it is also a matter of respect.

Brazilian cuisine has traditionally made use of many portions of an animal that might be thrown away in other cultures - limbs, bones, organs, ears, noses, testicles, everything. Some of the most iconic traditional dishes of Brazilian gastronomy, like feijoada and the recently-discussed buchada, make use of what might euphemistically be called "lesser cuts" of meat.

Minas Gerais state, in Brazil's mountainous interior has a well-developed traditional cuisine and one might expect to find recipes using less expensive cuts of meat to be found in cookbooks, on family tables or served in restaurants specializing in regional food. And one does. Recipes like this one for pork hocks (or pigs' feet if you will) which is the house specialty at the Bar Giovanni in the small village of Cristina, 250 miles from Belo Horizonte, the state's capital and biggest city.

At the Bar Giovanni, pork hocks are never off the menu - the owner, Giovanni Concenza, and his wife/chef say that local customers wouldn't allow it. Sr. Concenza says that it's not when a customer leaves the bar singing the praises of the dish that they know the customer loved it, it's when the customer has eaten so much of it that he or she has trouble even walking out the door when the meal is finished.

The recipe is very simple, and at Bar Giovanni, the pork is accompanied by sauteed kale and angu, the Brazilian take on polenta. Pork hocks are generally available from good-quality butcher shops everywhere, though you may have to order them in advance.
RECIPE - Pork Hocks Minas Gerais Style (Pé de Porco Mineiro)

2 lbs (1 kg) pork hock (usually two pieces)
10 cloves garlic, 7 chopped, 3 whole
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 14-oz can crushed tomatoes, or tomato puree
salt to taste
chopped cilantro and green onion to taste
Wash the pork hocks carefully in running water. Using the tip of a sharp knife or a turkey-trussing pin, pierce the skin thoroughly to allow fat to drain.

Put the hocks in a large pan, add 2 quarts cold water, bring to a boil over medium high heat and let boil for five minutes. Remove from the heat, drain the hocks and reserve.

In a clean deep pan, combine the hocks with 1 quart fresh water and three whole cloves of the garlic. Bring to a boil, cover the pan and reduce the heat, and cook at a slow boil for 1 hour to 90 minutes, or until the pork is completely cooked and tender. Drain the pork and reserve.

In another clean pan, heat the olive oil, then add the chopped garlic and fry for a few minutes. Do not let the garlic brown or burn. Add the chopped tomato and the canned tomatoes, mix thoroughly and cook for a few minutes. Add the pork hocks, regulate heat so that the tomato sauce just bubbles, cover the pan and let cook for 30 minutes, adding a small amount of water if necessary to cook moist.

Remove from heat, and serve the hocks immediately, sprinkled with chopped cilantro and green onion. Traditional accompaniments are kale and angu (polenta) but you can substitute other green vegetable and boiled potatoes if desired.

Recipe translated and adapted from Sabores de Minas-Roteiros Gastronomicos website.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Canadian-Brazilian FairyTale - Rance Hesketh's Happy Pigs

Rance Hesketh (in blue T-shirt) and his pigs
The lucky porkers who live on the Alfheim ranch, located high in the Serra do Mar mountain range that separates São Paulo city from the coastal plain of São Paulo state, just might be the most blissed-out pigs in all of Brazil. The ranch, whose name means "elf home" in German, is situated deep in the dense mountain forests of the Mata Atlantica, Brazil's threatened coastal rain forest. It is at Alfheim that Rance Hesketh, 49, a transplanted Canadian, cultivates organic crops and raises a variety of animals in the best-possible and most organic way, and it is there where those fortunate porcines spend their days rooting around, rolling in the mud and grunting contentedly.

Hesketh moved to Brazil in 2008, although he was already familiar with the country from previous visits, upon arrival began to implement his dreams for the ranch. Among his plans and ambitions was a scheme to raise native breeds of pigs organically and humanely. He eventually decided to raise two breeds, the Sorocaba and the Monteiro. When the ranch was ready to receive its first animals, he traveled to Mato Grosso state in western Brazil to pick up his first breeding pairs. Today, Alfheim is home to about 150 pigs who share their territory with organically raised dairy cows and free-range chickens.

The pigs are only fed organic food, which is primarily cultivated on the ranch itself. Sugar cane and manioc are planted on the ranch, and provide the bulk of the pigs' nutrition. Corn which comes from neighboring Paraná state supplements their diet and contributes about 20% of the animals' caloric intake. When the pigs are ready to go to market they are also given whole milk from the ranch's cows to prepare them for slaughter.

Every week, the ranch sends two or three pigs, aged between 3 and 6 months, to the nearest licensed slaughterhouse, located in Ubatuba, 35 kilometers away. Hesketh would prefer to slaughter the pigs on site, but is forbidden to do so by agricultural regulations. He disagrees vigourously with this requirement and says, "What good does it do to submit the animals to the stress of transport? It destroys all we have done in raising them humanely. We need to come up with a less stressful way of slaughtering our stock."

The pigs from Alfheim go to market at a much smaller size than most pork - at about 70 kgs (150 lbs), yeilding about 20 to 30 kgs (45 to 70 lbs) of deboned pork - but Hesketh believes that at that size, the animal provides a better-tasting and more tender meat.

The idea of humanely raising meat animals who feed only on organic, vegetable food is a new one in Brazil, where such ideas are just beginning to take hold with producers and consumers. Whether there is a viable market for such meat in the long run is still unknown. But what can be stated with certainty is that the grunts of the Sorocaba and Monteiro pigs who call Alfheim home sound like the grunts of very, very happy piggies.

With material from an article by Olivia Fraga published in the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper. Translation of Mr. Hesketh's remarks by Flavors of Brazil.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Promise Fulfilled - Buchada

Back in October of 2009, in the very first month of this blog's existance, I wrote a post about a dish called buchada - one of the most well-known traditional dishes of Ceará, the northeastern Brazilian state where Flavors of Brazil originates. (Click here to read the post). At the time that the post was published, I rashly promised that although I'd never eaten buchada, I would do so in due course and report the results to the blog's readers.

A firm believer in the better-late-than-never philosophy of life, I can now report that I have done as I promised there - I have eaten buchada. Not only that, I've lived to tell the tale.

What might make buchada something that one might promise to eat, and then take nearly three years to fulfil the promise? Let's just say it's because the dish is simply offal (sorry, can't resist a bad pun). The dish's name buchada derives from the Portuguese word bucho, meaning meaning animal stomach, and that's exactly what buchada is: an animal's stomach stuffed with the same animal's innards - things like intestines, lungs, spleen, heart etc. - sewn up like a purse and cooked.

You might call buchada Brazil's answer to Scotland's haggis, though the difference is that the innards in buchada are coarsely chopped and there's nothing added to them to create the stuffing, whereas in haggis they're finely chopped and mixed with oatmeal before being stuffed into the stomach.

In any case, for someone who's never been a big fan of offal, buchada was a challenge, or rather, the idea of eating buchada  was a challenge. In the end, at a holiday luncheon today at the house of a friend, the main dish was homemade buchada, and having it served at the table meant that it would be impolite to refuse it. Not only that, in term of the promise made here at Flavors of Brazil three years ago, it would have been cowardly to refuse. So, with a half lamb stomach's worth of buchada staring up at me from my plate, I managed not to disgrace myself among the tableful of buchada-lovers. I cleaned my plate, to the delight of my fellow guests who'd been placing bets on whether the gringo would be able to down a plateful of buchada.

In the end, what was it like? It certainly wasn't awful tasting - in fact it really didn't have that much taste at all; it was quite bland. The stomach itself was quite tender, but some of the bits inside, which I tried not to look at too closely or identify, were chewy, almost rubbery. The seasoning was simple, just some onion, garlic and salt and pepper as far as I could tell, although there was a delicious gravy served alongside. Cultural or other problems in eating animal organs aside, there was really nothing special about the dish. It was neither delicious or revolting, just somewhat characterless and lacking in flavor. My worries about eating buchada were, in the end, much ado about nothing. At the lunch table, though, it was clear my somewhat negative opinion about the culinary merits of buchada was a minority opinion - the rest of the diners all seemed to love it, and heartily praised the cook. I'm thinking perhaps, like many offbeat traditional foods, you must have to have been raised on the stuff to truly appreciate it.

As for me, buchada is now mission accomplished. The promise to eat it for this blog's readers isn't hanging over me any longer - I can now gracefully say, next time a serving of buchada is offered to me, no thanks!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Motel Menus

Brazilians love to hear the many, mostly apocryphal, stories of American tourists who arrive in some city in Brazil without hotel accommodation. During their search for a place to sleep these hapless travelers spot a large sign MOTEL atop a nice looking building so they decide to check it out. When they ask the desk clerk what the price is, they're shocked by how low it is, so they decide to confirm it before checking in. They ask the clerk, "Are you sure it's only R$30 (about USD $15) per night?" The clerk replies, "Per night? Of course not, that's the price per hour."

The word motel, in most parts of Brazil, does NOT mean simple roadside accommodation where you can spend a night or two while on the road. What motel does mean is an establishment which rents out rooms by the hour, presumably for people to have sex. People sleep in hotels, people sleep with each other in motels. Motels range from the very basic to Las Vegas-style luxury with circular beds and mirrors on the ceiling. Some are grotty, but many are spotlessly clean with fresh sheets on the bed and thick towels in the bath. Motels can be found in every Brazilian city, from small towns to metropolises. There's little social stigma attached to using motels.

We're not sociologists here at Flavors of Brazil, but it seems there are a couple of main reasons for the popularity of motels in Brazil. First, it's usual for a family's unmarried children to live at home with parents even into their 20s, 30s and 40s, so there's really no place else for young couples to spend private time together. Second, commercial sex (prostitution) is big business in the country, and many professionals use motels to meet with clients. Also, clandestine sex outside the marriage bond is fairly common, so married men or women use motels to meet with their lovers.

Whatever activity it is that couples get up to during their stay in a motel, they often get hungry and thirsty. Room service is available in the better class of motels where one can order champagne, wine or cocktails delivered to the room, as well as a range of things to eat from simple snacks to gourmet dinners. Even grotty downmarket motels will have beer and packets of chips available for their clientele.

Next week, on June 12th, Brazilians celebrate their own equivalent of St. Valentine's Day, a day called Dia dos Namorados (Lovers' Day). In preparation for that big event, which is probably the biggest day of the year for motel operators, the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, one of São Paulo's largest daily newspapers, sent Josimar Melo, one of their food critics, out to some of the city's motels to critique the menu and food service. The resulting article is both informative and amusing.

In his article, Sr. Melo was surprised to find that Asturias, one of the most expensive, luxurious motels, had the worst food.  (Click on the link above to visit the motel's website). Prices were high (steak with potatoes and rice for two cost nearly USD$50), the menu itself was tattered, and worst of all, the plate the dish was served on arrived wrapped in plastic!

Lumini Motel
His experience in another motel, Lumini, was exactly the opposite. The menu was created by Ana Soares, a consultant to many of São Paulo's better restaurants. In this motel, the food arrived on a cart covered with white linen, there were cloth napkins, and the plates of food were served under cloches. He found the menu interesting, with items such as chicken with Brie sauce, accompanied by risotto milanese (USD $20) or bacalhau (salt cod) with arugula and fresh vegetables (USD$25).

He also visited and evaluated other motels and found their offerings fell somewhere between these two in terms of quality, service and price.

From this article, it would appear that it's not only the circular bed or the mirror on the ceiling that keeps motel clients coming back. Just like in the Ritz-Carlton or the Four Seasons, it's what comes out of the kitchen. Next week, on Dia dos Namorados, we're sure those kitchens will be serving up a lot of food for energy-depleted Brazilians in the nation's love motels.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

RECIPE - Brazilian Mussels in Green-Coconut Sauce (Sururu no Molho de Coco Verde)

Whether or not you will be able to make this dish at home will depend on whether you can source green coconuts in your community. When we speak of green coconuts, we mean those coconuts which still have their entire shell (green, obviously) and which are not completely mature. In a green coconut, the consistency of the meat inside the shell is jelly-like and there is abundant water with the shell. In a mature coconut (the brown, "hairy" one) the meat has hardened to the point it can be cut into chunks and grated and if there is residual water, it's very limited in quantity.

This dish depends on both the meat and the water from green coconuts, and mature coconuts cannot be substituted. If you're lucky enough to live where coconuts grow (meaning - you live in the tropics) sourcing green coconuts shouldn't be a problem, And even if you don't live in the tropics, you should be able to find green coconuts in Latin American, African and Southeast Asian grocery stores in cities with immigrant communities.

As we mentioned in our previous posts about the native Brazilian mussel called sururu, if you don't live in Brazil you'll most likely have to substitute some other sort of mussel. That's no problem. But if green coconuts can't be found in your city, you'll just have to move on to another recipe on Flavors of Brazil. Sorry!
RECIPE - Brazilian Mussels in Green-Coconut Sauce (Sururu no Molho de Coco Verde)
Serves 4

5 medium tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb sururu or mussels, meat only, no shells
salt to taste
1 large green coconut
finely chopped cilantro
In a medium frying pan,  heat the olive oil, then fry the onion until it is soft and transparent. Put the onion, along with the chopped tomatoes in a blender. Blend thoroughly, then reserve in blender.

Cut open the top of the coconut, then drain the water into the blender. Using a long spoon, scoop the meat out of the coconut and add to the blender. Blend again until completely homogenous.

Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and heat to simmering point. Add the mussels and cook for 15 minutes, or until the mussels have firmed up and the liquid has thickened.Stir in a small handful of chopped cilantro.

Remove from heat, and pour the mussels into the coconut shell for serving, accompanied by white rice.

Recipe translated and adapted from Circuito Gastronomico Sabores da Terra website.

Monday, June 4, 2012

RECIPE - Brazilian Mussel Chowder (Caldo de Sururu)

One of the pleasures of the northeastern Brazilian beach (and there are many) is the sight of a vendor making his or her way along the strand carrying one or two termos bottles, a supply of plastic cups, and perhaps some small containers with hot chili sauce, chopped green onions or chopped cilantro. When you spot one of these coming your way, you know that you're going to be offered a cup of hot soup (caldo in Portuguese). And you know you'll accept. The only question is what kind.

Soup doesn't seem like something you'd want to eat on a topical beach under the blazing sun, but take it on faith, it is. It nourishes without filling, satisfies like a meal does, yet leaves you with room to enjoy a cold beer, caipirinha or soft drink. Surprisingly, it doesn't seem to make you feel any hotter either.

The standard offerings for on-the-beach soups are bean, fish and sururu. If you have read yesterday's post on this blog, you'll know that the sururu is a tiny mussel native to northeast Brazil. It's locally believed to be an aphrodisiac  as well. So if you aren't sure you want your sexual desire to be enhanced, which is after all what aphrodisiacs do, then choose bean or fish. But if the company and the mood are suitable, give sururu a try. At worst, you'll most likely have a delicious cup of soup, at best, one with a spectacular added bonus.

The sururu mussel in found only in tropical waters, primarily in Brazil, but if you want to make this soup at home, you can use any variety of mussel available. Be warned though - there may be no aphrodisiac effect! The recipe also calls for the tropical palm oil known as dendê. There is no acceptable substitute for dendê but you may leave it out entirely if you wish as it's more of a garnish than an ingredient. Outside Brazil dendê can often be found in Latin American or Brazilian grocery stores, or in African grocery stores, where it's called palm oil.
RECIPE - Brazilian Mussel Chowder (Caldo de Sururu)
Serves 10

1 lb. thoroughly washed mussels, meat only, no shells
2 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
4 cups (1l) water
salt and black pepper to taste
3/4 cup cooked, mashed manioc or potatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
 dendê oil to drizzle
lime wedges
Put the tomatoes, chopped onion and garlic in a blender and liquidize thoroughly. Pour into a large saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes over medium-high heat.

When the liquid is just at the boiling point, add the mussels, the mashed potatoes or manioc and half the water. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes only, or until the mussels are just firm. Add additional water if needed to reach a rich but pourable soup consistency. Bring just to a boil, then remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into small bowls, cups or drinking glasses. Sprinkle chopped cilantro on top and drizzle a bit of dendê oil over, if desired. Serve immediately accompanied by wedges of fresh lime.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sururu - Brazil's Homegrown Aphrodiasiac

What foods do you consider aphrodisiacs? The way you answer this question probably depends on your native culture. We all belong to one (or more) cultures, the most common of which are regional and/or ethnic but which can be national, religious or political too. The dictionary defines culture as "the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively" and food and cooking are one of the most important components of any culture.

Almost every culture assigns aphrodisiac quality to certain foods; that is, cultures ascribe the power to increase sexual desire or potency to some foods. Human nature being what it is, foods that are considered to be aphrodisiac are eagerly sought out by those who wish to increase their sexual drive and power (or those of their sexual object.) Such varied foods as arugula, avocado, chocolate, deer penis or antlers, doce de leite, ginseng, oysters, saffron and watermelon are considered to be aphrodisiacs by one or more cultures.

Although Western medical science ascribes no proven aphrodisiac powers to any food, the notion that, say, oysters or ginseng increase one's sexual desire is strong and even the most sceptical diners may choose to eat these foods in the hopes of feeling their aphrodisiac effect.

The folk traditions of northeast Brazil all along the Atlantic coast that stretches thousands of miles from southern Bahia state almost to the mouth of the Amazon, share a belief in the aphrodisiac powers of a small member of the mussel family that bears the scientific name Mytella charruana. This miniature mollusk is called sururu in Brazil, and in northeastern Brazilian culture it is believed to pack a powerful aphrodisiac punch. The small bivalve is native to the lagoons and mangrove swamps of the northeastern coast of Brazil and all along the coast, it's cooked into soups, added to coconut-milk based stews called moquecas, even fried up in omelettes. If the aphrodisiac powers ascribed to the sururu are even a tiny bit true, the people of Brazil's northeast are sure to be among the world's horniest inhabitants as collectively they eat a whole lot of the little mussel.

Another mollusk often considered to be an aphrodisiac, the oyster, does contain high levels of zinc, a chemical which aids in the production of the male hormone testosterone. Our research department here at Flavors of Brazil has been unable to determine if sururu also contains zinc, but if it does, that might be a clue as to why it's considered an aphrodisiac in Brazil.

One note of caution - eaten in large quantities, sururu have been shown to have a powerful laxative effect. So if you're looking to increase sexual desire by eating sururu exercise caution, as the effect of an "overdose" might just minimize your sexual desirability at the same time that it increases your desire.You have been warned!

Coming up, we'll publish some traditional northeastern Brazilian recipes for sururu.