Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Brazil's Most Popular Sausage Family - Meet the Linguiças

Brazilian inherited their love of sausages from their European ancestors, whether those ancestors were Portuguese, Italian, German, Polish or any number of other nationalities. Most churrascos (barbeque parties) include a course of grilled sausages and in any self-respecting churrascaria with its constant parade of sword-bearing waiters passing by the table, one of those waiter's swords will be laden with sausage. One of the most popular bar snacks in the country is a plate of sliced sausages, fried with rings of onions and sparked up with squirts of fresh lime juice.

Many European styles of sausages and cold cuts are represented in Brazilian cuisine - from hot dogs, to bratwurst and on to pepperoni. But the most popular sausages of all must be the group that goes under the Portuguese name linguiça (pronounced lin-GWEE-sa). The name itself comes from Portugal and attests to the antiquity of this style of sausage - linguiça is related to the Italian word luganega, a style of Italian sausage. That Italian word is derived from an ancient tribe in the Italian peninsula, the Lucanians. Recipes for linguiça-style sausages can be found in cookbooks from classical Rome.

In 21st century Brazil, the linguiça family includes at least a dozen different styles of sausage. Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture regulations  define linguiça as:
A processed meat product, containing meat, with or without the addition of animal fat, and seasonings, stuffed into a natural or artificial sausage casing.

That definition is very broad and could fit any number of styles of sausages. However, the regulation goes on to define with greater precision, by name, the most popular types of linguiça:
Linguiça Calabresa - A product that contains exclusively pork meat and which must have the spicy flavor characteristic of the use of calabresa peppers, stuffed into sausage casings or not, dried and/or cooked, and smoked or unsmoked.
Linguiça Portuguesa - A product that contains exclusively pork meat and seasoning ingredients, processed by hot smoking. The traditional presentation is in the shape of a horseshoe and the seasonings include a large amount of garlic.
Linguiça Toscana - A product that contains exclusively pork meat, raw or cured, with or without additional pork fat, and seasoning.
Paio - A product that contains a mixture of pork and beef (maximum 20% beef), stuffed into natural or artificial sausage casings, seasoned and cured, and subject to hot smoking.

In addition to these traditional styles, Agriculture Ministry regulations permit the sale of the other sausages in the linguiça category: beef linguiça , pork linguiça , pork loin linguiça ,pork loin and fresh ham linguiça, and smoked pork linguiça.

For Brazilians, what type of linguiça to use in a particular dish varies from recipe to recipe. For example, feijoada recipes generally call for linguiça toscana and paio, the preferred topping for pizzas is linguiça calabresa, and garlicky linguiça portuguesa is popular at churrascos.

In the next few days, we'll offer up some Brazilian recipes for linguiça, as well as a recipe for making Brazilian linguiça at home.

Monday, July 30, 2012

RECIPE - Dona Zena's Meatballs (Bola da Carne da Dona Zena)

First place winner in Fortaleza in the 2012 edition of Brazil's largest national gastronomic competition, Comida di Buteco, Dona Zena's meatballs have been a favorite on Dona Zena's eponymous restaurant in downtown Fortaleza for more than 20 years. They're no flash in the pan - some of the dish's biggest fans grew up on these meatballs, and are now passing their love onto their children and grandchildren.

Previous posts on Flavors of Brazil have highlighted the restaurant and the prize-winning chef, so it's entirely appropriate that we end our series of posts on Dona Zena with her authentic recipe, courtesy of Brazilian food website Receitas & Dietas (Recipes and Diets).

This recipe is very simple, and maybe it's the simplicity itself which makes it appeal to so many people. There are no ingredients that are difficult to source or very expensive. True Brazilian comfort food that deserves a place in your repertory.
RECIPE - Dona Zena's Meatballs (Bola da Carne da Dona Zena)
Makes 12 large meatballs

2 1/4 lb (1 kg) good quality ground meat - ground chuck is best
1/2 cup ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup  onion, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped

1 Tbsp garlic, minced
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste
neutral vegetable oil for frying

In a large mixing bowl combine all the ingredients, mixing them together with your moistened hands. Try not to press or compact the mixture.

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper or cooking parchment. With moistened hands divide the meat mixture into twelve portions and form each portion into balls by rolling it between your palms. Don't over-compact the mixture - it should be pressed together only enough to make it keep its shape.

In a large deep frying pan, heat a small amount of oil, then fry the meatballs, in batchesof 4, turning them over frequently until they are cooked through and nicely brown on all sides. Remove each batch, reserving and keeping warm, before continuing with another batch, until all the meatballs are done.

Serve 3 or 4 meatballs per person, accompanied by a lettuce and sliced tomato salad and white rice.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Zenilda Lopes Bezerra or Dona Zena or Zeninha - Your Choice

In yesterday's post on Flavors of Brazil, we highlighted the recent coronation of a dish of meatballs as Fortaleza's favorite casual dining dish in the annual national competition known in Brazil as Comida di Buteco. Among the 16 bars, botecos and restaurants that entered dishes in the competition, which is voted on by diners themselves, not by professional judges, Dona Zena was the clear winner with her recipe for meatballs, perfectly seasoned and simply fried.

As mentioned in the earlier post, Dona Zena's triumph in the Comida di Buteco competition wasn't the first recognition this hard-working woman has received. She recently shared her recipe for meatballs with a national television audience in Brazil, and at that time, an extensive interview with Dona Zena was published in Fortaleza's best daily newspaper, O Povo.

Dona Zena with happy customers
Though her full name is Zenilda Lopes Bezerra, she's known to most of her customers as Dona Zena, and that is the name her restaurant has had in all the years of her existence. To her family, and close friends (including many faithful customers of the restaurant) she's simple Zeninha (an affectionate diminuitive meaning "little Zena"). Now 65 years old, she's still at the restaurant every day, where she's assisted by her only daughter, Paula. She's been married for more than 30 years, and tells all that she is "a daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and only then a cook."

In the interview Dona Zena spoke of her joys and sorrows during her life, and what the restaurante means to her and to her customers. Here are some excerpts from that interview (translation by Flavors of Brazil):

On her childhood and upbringing:
I was born in Quixadá (a small town in the interior) in 1947. My story is difficult, we were a humble family. I was the backbone of my family. I am the daughter of parents who separated, and as the oldest child, it was I who raised the younger children. Including me, we were eight children.
When my mother brought the children to live in Fortaleza, my father stayed in the interior, he never took much care of us. He found another woman there and my mother remarried here. Now both of my parents are dead, but of my father nothing remains but the name.

How her restaurant got its name:
[At the beginning] it had no name, it was just a corner bar... Then its name became Zen. One day a man stormed into the restaurant shouting, "Look, didn't you know there's a restaurant named Zen on Barão de Studart Avenue?" It turned out even though my restaurant was older than the other Zen, he had registered the name and I hadn't. I was so sad, but a customer of mine said to me, "Just put an -a on the end of the name and turn Zen into Zena." So I did, and now we've had this name for 20 years.

Her recipe for meatballs:
It was a gift from God, really. One my customers, pregnant at the time, worked nearby at Teleceará. One day she said to me, "Zeninha, I had a dream that you made meatballs for me made this way..." and told me the recipe. I replied, "Woman, I've never made anything like that in my life. Are you crazy? I only know how to make steak. I've never tried anything like that recipe." But then Chica, my assistant in the kitchen, picked up some ground meat and finely chopped up the vegetables just like in the dream. Man, it was pure love on a plate. If you put your trust in God, it'll work out. Making meatballs without eggs, without breadcrumbs, nobody cooks that way. Just here at Dona Zena.

Her hopes:
For peace, no? For my daughter to be happy. I don't ask for anything for myself, no. I live through and for my daughter. Everything I have belongs to her. Money is good, for sure, but it's not everything. I know how to make money. My only worry is being the best at what I do.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Unadorned Jewel - Dona Zena Restaurant in Fortaleza, CE

Restaurants that become beloved local institutions aren't always the most luxurious, the most creative or the most expensive restaurants in town. In fact, they're likely to be exactly the opposite - comfortable and homey rather than luxurious, traditional and non-changing rather than creative and avant-garde, and a bargain rather than expensive. These are the restaurants that stay open for 30-40 year or more, often without ownership changing hands. These are the restaurants that locals began frequenting as children with their parents and now continue to frequent with their grandchildren. These are the restaurants that neighbors point to with pride and say, "I've known the owner of that restaurant for twenty-five years and I've never come here and not seen her (or him)".

In Fortaleza, Flavors of Brazil;s hometown, most people would tell you that Dona Zena, a small lunchtime-only restaurant located downtown, is exactly that kind of institution. Since Dona Zena opened more than 20 years ago, in a distinctly down-market street located between the commercial and university districts in the center of Fortaleza, the restaurant has filled to the rafters daily with diners eager to eat one of Dona Zena's PF's (PF = prato feito = blue plate special) or if it's a Friday or Saturday, her feijoada, generally conceded in Fortaleza to be among the city's best.

Owned, managed and operated by a 65-year old woman named (as you might guess) Dona Zena, the restaurant has recently begun to be noticed outside the neighborhood and indeed outside Fortaleza. In the 2012 edition of Comida di Buteco, a Brazil-wide celebration of boteco culture, one of Dona Zena's signature dishes, her meatballs, was voted the best dish in Fortaleza, beating out candidates from more than 15 other boteco-style restaurants. The same dish was featured on a national daytime TV show, Mais Você, hosted by Ana Maria Braga, Brazil's nearest equivalent to Martha Stewart. Dona Zena herself was flown to Rio de Janeiro to appear on Mais Você, where she shared her recipe with TV viewers from across the country.

Her new-found fame hasn't changed Dona Zena - the restaurant or the person. The restaurant's menu is unchanged, the prices are unchanged, and the loyalty of its customers is unchanged. As for Dona Zena herself, she's unchanged too. In a recent interview in one of Fortaleza's daily newspapers O Povo, Dona Zena talked about the difficult times of her childhood, the hard work that went into the creation and operation of her restaurant, and about her three loves - her family, her restaurant and her customers.

Tomorrow, we'll publish some highlights from that interview.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Contradiction in Terms? Vegetarian, Organic Feijoada Arrives

Properly made, a plate of feijoada, Brazil's most popular candidate for the status of "national dish", is a vegetarian's nightmare. Centered around a bubbling pot of black beans laden with chunks of all the fattest, greasiest parts of the pig, feijoada must seem like the devil's dish itself to someone who eschews animal-derived food. The cauldron that is the centerpiece of a feijoada table is likely to contain, hidden under the glossy, pitch-black surface of the beans, things like fat links of sausage, racks of smoked ribs, salted pig's tails, ears and feet - anything and everything that's full of animal flesh and fat.

But the love of feijoada runs deep indeed in Brazil, and even vegetarians and veganBrazilians can't imagine living a feijoada-less existence. In São Paulo, at least, they no longer have to. A small enterprise called  Comida & Consciência (Food and Consciousness in English), in the city's upmarket Higienópolis neighborhood, has come to their rescue. Every Saturday (the traditional day for eating feijoada) the owners of Comida & Consciência make organic, vegetarian feijoada for their loyal customers, thus allowing those folks to share in Brazil's weekend ritual of feijoada.

Comida & Consciência is in the business of making and delivering home-cooked ready-to-eat vegetarian meals to their customers' apartments, houses or offices. Because many of their customers get their meals delivered every day from the shop, there are no repetitions on the monthly menu - except for feijoada, that is. It, by popular demand, is available every Saturday. Originally started by two friends who shared a common interest in healthy, organic eating and who began sharing their vegetarian dishes with likeminded friends, Comida & Consciência has become a way for the two women to share not only their philosophy of food, but also, as they say, their "consciousness of life."

Comida & Consciência's feijoada contains black beans, of course, but instead of cooking the legume with smoked pork products, their vegetarian version uses smoked tofu, soya cutlets, zucchini, parsley stalks, beets and strips of dried coconut to give the beans depth and richness. The beans are accompanied by traditional accompaniments - rice, sauteed kale and toasted oat flour, which stands in for the traditional toasted manioc flour. All the ingredients are organic, and the dish is completely vegan. Each serving of feijoada costs R$20,00, or just USD $10 at current exchange rates, plus a small delivery charge which varies depending on distance.

Lighter, less heavy and much healthier than traditional feijoada, Comida & Consciência's feijoada might just be the proof (literal in this case) of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

With material from the food section of Estado de S. Paulo newspaper,

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Word Is Getting Out - Brazilian Food in the English Press

Last week the highly-respected British newspaper, The Guardian, published a lengthy article on Brazil's new place at the forefront of the world's gastronomy. The article, entitled Brazil: nuts about food was wWritten by Susan Smillie following a trip she made to Brazil, the article covers suchs topics as celebrity chef Alex Atala and his 4th-ranked in the world São Paulo restaurant D.O.M., Brazil's ongoing love affair with the boteco, a bar where you can find good beer, good snack food, and often great live music. She also discusses how the country's leading and most-creative chefs are turning their focus from imitating "continental" cuisine to explore the bounty of native ingredients, techniques and dishes.

Many of these topics, we're proud to say, have been extensively covered in the three years of Flavors of Brazil's existence. We're also very happy that Ms. Smillie used Flavors of Brazil as a reference source for her article, and included several links to posts on this blog in the online edition of her article. Click here to be taken to the Guardian's website and the article.

Monday, July 23, 2012

RECIPE - Peanut Paçoca (Paçoca de Amendoim)

These sweet and nutty dessert or snack bars are extremely versatile - they are great as part of a dessert buffet, they can be served as a late-afternoon pick-me-up with a cup of coffee, or they can be wrapped in wax paper or plastic film to become part of a lunchbox lunch.

Called paçoca de amendoim, meaning peanut paçoca in Portuguese, this treat is one of two very different Brazilian dishes that share the paçoca moniker. (Click here to read about the two paçocas and here to get the recipe for the "other" paçoca.)

Unlike the dried-meat paçoca, this sweet one is easy to make and requires no special Brazilian ingredients or long preparation time. You'll just need a food processor. If you know anyone with a predilection for peanut butter treats of any type, including Reece's, they will love you forever if you serve them paçoca de amendoim. 100% guaranteed.
RECIPE - Peanut Paçoca (Paçoca de Amendoim)

2 cups peanuts, roasted, unsalted, without skins
2 cups white granulated sugar
2 cups dried bread crumbs
pinch of salt
1/2 cup whole milk
additional roasted, unsalted peanuts for garnish.
Using a full-sized food processor, process the peanuts until they are finely ground. Do not overprocess them. You want very finely ground peanuts, but not peanut butter. Stop processing at the point that the ground peanuts beging to release their oil.

Put the ground peanuts in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, the bread crumbs and salt with a wooden spoon. Continue to mix with the spoon until you have a homogenous mix. Using buttered hands knead the mixture until it is pliable and consistent.

Put the mixture in a pre-buttered rectangular baking or loaf pan. Tamp it down well, then using your fingertips, or the back of a spoon, smooth out the surface.

Refrigerate for at least three hours. Cut into two inch squares and, if desired, press one peanut into the top of each square to decorate.

Serve cold or at room temperature.

Recipe translated and adapted from Receitas da Tia Dete.

Friday, July 20, 2012

RECIPE - Backlands-style Paçoca (Paçoca Sertaneja)

This recipe is a very typical one for northeastern-style paçoca. It comes from the semi-arid interior of the state of Alagoas though similar recipes can be found throughout the region known as the sertão which extends for thousands of mile in a number of northeastern states. An area that is castigated periodically by harsh droughts, it's a region of cattle ranching, subsistence farming and little more.

Historically, the cowherds who wrangled the hers of cattle in the sertão were often out on the land for weeks or months at a time. They needed a food that was nutritious, filling and which didn't spoil in the intense heat of the stony plains. Paçoca fit the bill perfectly - it was nutrious, combining as it did dried and shredded beef and manioc flour; it was filling, with it's large carbohydrate component; and it didn't spoil, as the beef was salted and sun-dried prior to being shredded. All that a cowboy needed to do do reconstitute paçoca was add some hot water to the dry mix to moisten the ingredients and eat it. Perfect cowboy food.

What was once eaten as a necessity by long-ago cowherds has become a favorite food of northeastern Brazilians, in the large coastal metropolises as well as on the cattle ranches that still dot the sertão . To make paçoca outside Brazil can be a challenge, as the recipe requires carne de sol (sun-dried beef) and farinha (manioc flour.). Making acceptable carne de sol is quite easy as long as you have access to a freezer (click here to read how to make carne de sol at home), but you'll need to source farinha somewhere. Other flours, like wheat or ground corn, are not acceptable substitutes. Farinha can be found at Brazilian and Latin American markets in cities that have a Brazilian immigrant community.
RECIPE - Backlands-style Paçoca (Paçoca Sertaneja)
Serves 8

2 lb (1 kg) carne de sol, desalted
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 Tbsp butter
1 lb (1/ kg) fine manioc flour (farinha)
finely chopped green onion and cilantro to garnish (optional)
Cut the carne de sol into small cubes. Put the cubes in a medium saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, then cook at a slow boil for 15 minutes. Taste one cube for salt. If the meat seems overly-salty, drain the cubes, cover again with fresh water and repeat the process. Reserve.

In a large frying pan, heat the butter, then add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is tender and transparent. Do not let them brown. Add the cubes of meat and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is nicely browned on all sides. Remove the cubes, reserving the butter they were cooked in.

Put the cubes of meat in a blender or food processor and pulse until the meat is shredded (do not over-process. You want shreds of meat, not ground meat). Alternatively, and more traditionally, you can shred the meat by pounding with a mortar and pestle.

Return the shredded meat to the frying pan with the reserved butter. Reheat the meat then add the manioc flour in handfuls, mixing each in completely. Stop when the mixture is still slightly moist - it should not be completely dry.

Put into a decorative serving bowl. Garnish with chopped green onion and cilantro if desired. Serve immediately.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

One Name, Two Dishes - Paçoca

It's natural that in a country as large as Brazil there would be regional variations in traditional dishes. One region might add tomatoes to a dish and another leave them out. One region might use cream to thicken and enrich a sauce while somewhere else they might use coconut milk for the same purpose.

But regional variations in Brazilian gastronomy go farther than swapping ingredients in a recipe. It's not uncommon to find that in distantly-separated regions one name can be applied to dishes that have absolutely nothing to do with each other - no common ingredients, no common technique, no common heritage.

Knowing a bit of Brazilian history helps to explain why this might be so. In colonial times in Brazil each of the various regions that were settled by Europeans, primarily Portuguese, were separate colonies and had very little contact with each other. Often inter-colony contact was only through Lisbon, the capital of the Portuguese empire. Each region had its own separate administration, an entirely separate economy and a unique culture not shared with other colonies. It was only at the time of independence that the various colonies united to create Brazil, and even then it was not without significant bloodshed.

A good example of this process is paçoca (pronouned pah-SO-ka). The word itself is indigenous in origin, coming from the Tupi word posok meaning smashed or shattered, but in Portuguese it has come to mean one of two very different dishes depending on where one is located.
paçoca nordestina (with carne de sol)

In the northeastern states of Brazil, particularly in Ceará, and Rio Grande do Norte, paçoca is a dish made of shredded carne de sol (sun-dried beef), farinha (manioc flour) and chopped red onion, traditionally all pulverized together with a mortar and pestle (that's the smashing or shattering part by which the dish got its name). In southeast Brazil,  paçoca has nothing to do with beef, manioc or onions - it's a candy very much like peanut brittle. Peanuts are crushed (smashed or shattered) then mixed with sugar and formed into bars. It was a traditional home-made candy in earlier times in Brazil, but now it's usually commercially made and sold in corner markets, candy shops and by streetside vendors.

paçoca with peanuts
In the next posts on Flavors of Brazil, we'll publish recipes for both versions of  - readers can try them both out and find out which they prefer. And if you should find your self in Brazil one day, remember what region you're in when you ask for paçoca. You could be in for a unwanted surprise if your in the wrong part of the country.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Saveur Magazine visits Marajó

Although the article appeared last month in the print edition of Saveur magazine, an American food and wine publication, Saveur's online edition has only recently been updated to include a wonderful article by noted Brazilian food writer Neide Rigo on the gastronomy of Marajó Island, the Switzerland-sized island that is sits right at the mouth of the Amazon River.

Neide Rigo is a perfect host for a journey to Marajó. Based in São Paulo, she has traveled the length and breadth of Brazil is search of exotic fruits, interesting grains and traditional recipes that are on the verge of extinction. Her blog Come-Se is probably the most highly-regarded and one of the most well-read food blogs in Brazil, and she has made regular appearances at gastronomic trade shows and expositions, on TV and radio and contributed to magazines and reviews.

For the Saveur article, she took the magazine's editor, James Olesand, on an exedition to discover the foodways of Marajó. A sample from the article:

Invariably, such visits become meals. On this part of the island, fishing and cattle ranching drive the local economy, and my hosts pull together extravagant dishes that speak to the bounty of Marajó's rivers or ranches, or both: casquinha de caranguejo, stuffed crabs strewn with butter-fried cassava flour; filé Marajoara, meltingly tender fillets of buffalo steak seared in a skillet and topped with slabs of queijo do Marajó, sweet, soft buffalo milk cheese that melt luxuriously over the meat; sombremesa de banana com queijo, a layered, luscious dessert of sliced banana and queijo do Marajó drenched in sweetened condensed milk and sprinkled with cinnamon. The Amazon forest harbors ingredients that just don't exist elsewhere in Brazil, and I savor the impossible-seeming flavors that the island gives in abundance. There's a tree, cipó-d'álho (garlic bush), growing outside of the Britos' kitchen that smells of garlic and, interestingly, bacon; the leaves bring a smoky-savory depth to everything from soups to grilled foods. Another morning, at the market in Soure, I'm served a bowl of pork stew that's been simmered with aromatics and jambú, a wild cress that gently, pleasantly numbs the mouth in much the same way that Sichuan peppercorn does. I eat it with rice and beans, noting its layers upon layers of flavor. The tingling sensation of the jambú stays with me after I've drained the bowl.

The article is accompanied by photos taken by James Olesand and is well worth the short time it takes to read. You can find the whole article by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Brazil Hosts the Salon du Chocolat for the First Time

The 20120 edition of the world's largest and most prestigious trade far and exposition dedicated to chocolate, the Salon du Chocolat, took place two weeks ago in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. Previously, the exposition had been held in Europe, Asia and in North America, but this year was the first time it was held in the Southern Hemisphere and the first time it was held in South America. From July 02 to July 09, Salvador was the center of the chocolate world and the city's trade and convention center was chocolate heaven.

It was appropriate that of all the major Brazilian cities, Salvador was chosen to host the event. Bahia state historically and presently has always been the center of cacau cultivation in Brazil. Today Brazil ranks 4th in the world in chocolate consumption and 5th in the world in chocolate cultivation, and a good percentage of Brazilian chocoate originates in the cacau-growing region in the southern part of Bahia.

This edition of the Salon du Chocolat fittingly included a homage/tribute to Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado. 2012 marks the centennial of the Bahian writer's birth, and throughout the year his literary legacy is being commemorated in Brazil. Amado himself was the son of a cacau planter, and many of his novels, including his most famous, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, were set in southern Bahia in the golden age of cacau production.

The exposition included a trade show, lectures, demonstrations, a symposium and a special kids' section. There were also tours to the region of cacau-production in southern Bahia prior to the events in the capital.

At a time when the industry is undergoing a renaissance and when the image of Brazilian chocolate is improving worldwide, hosting this prestigious event is a shot in the arm for Brazilian cacau agriculture. And a very sweet experience for participants in the event.

Monday, July 16, 2012

RECIPE - Quince Paste (Marmelada)

Even though this recipe isn't from a Brazilian cookbook it's the best online recipe we've found for marmelada, a extra-thickened quince puree that has been a favorite of Brazilians for nearly 500 years. (Click here to read more about the history of quinces in Brazil).

The quince tree grows well in tropical Brazil, but it also adapts quite happily to temperate climates - climates like those to be found in most of North America and Europe. Quinces were a favorite fruit in the 18th and 19th centuries in these regions, but then fell out of favor for inexplicable reasons, as they are one of the most delicious fruits on Earth. Recently, however, the quince seems to be having a bit of a renaissance, and during late summer and autumn quinces can frequently be found in farmers markets throughout the USA and Canada.

If you're not familiar with quinces, do yourself a favor and make friends with this marvelous fruit. It'll be a long-lasting friendship, guaranteed. A good place to start with the quince (which cannot be eaten raw, unlike most fruits) is this recipe. Once made, this paste can stay in your refrigerator for a very long time (well-wrapped) - just the thing you need when you need a dessert at the last minute. Cut a thick slice of the marmelada, an equal-sized slice of almost any cheese and you're ready to go.
 RECIPE -  Quince Paste (Marmelada)

4 lbs (2 kgs) ripe quinces, washed, peeled cored like an apple, and roughly chopped)
1 vanilla pod, split (optional)
2 - 2 inch by 1.5 inch strips, lemon peel, yellow zest only
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 cups granulated white sugar (approximate - amount to be determined during cooking)
In a large sauce pan combine the chopped quince, the vanilla, if using, and the lemon zest. Add cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover the pan and simmer the fruit until tender enough to be eaily pierced with a fork, about 30-40 minutes.

Drain the contents of the pan into a colander. Discard the vanilla pod, but leave the lemon zest with the quince. Using a food mill, a blender or a food processor puree the quince and lemon peel into a homogenous pulp, in batches if necessary. When all the fruit is pureed, measure the quantity with a large measuring cup. Whatever quantity you have equals the quantity of sugar you will need.

Put the puree into a large saucepan, preferably non-stick or enameled. Heat to medium-low, then stir in the sugar with a wooden or silicone spoon. Continue to heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon juice and stir it in.

Cook over low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the puree is very thick and has turned a deep rich  orange-pink.

Preheat the oven to a very low 125F (50C) - if necessary use an oven thermometer and leave the door open a crack to ensure the low temperature. Meanwhile, line an 8x8 inch (20x20cm) glass baking pan with parchment paper, lightly greased with butter. Pour the puree into the baking pan carefully, using a spatula to spread it around and smooth the top. Place in the warm oven for about an hour, or until the paste becomes quite dry and can be cut with a knife. Remove from the oven and let cool.

To serve, cut into thick slices or wedges and serve with cheese. To store, wrap in fresh parchment paper, then plastic film and store in the refrigerator.

Recipe adapted from simplyrecipes.com

Friday, July 13, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Quince (Marmelo)

Although the quince tree (Cydonia oblonga) is not native to the Americas, but rather to the Balkans and Asia Minor, it arrived in Brazil very soon after the first Europeans set foot on the shores of the New World. The first Portuguese explorer to land in Brazil, Pedro Cabral, landed in what is now Brazil in 1500, and it is believed that the quince tree arrived here only thirty years later (1530) on board one of the ships of Martim Afonso de Sousa, commander of the first official Portuguese expedition to mainland Brazil.

The quince (marmelo in Portuguese) was well suited to Brazil's soil and climate, and quince trees began to reproduce and expand spontaneously. Today, most of Brazil's quinces are grown in the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. It's in Minas Gerais where the bulk of the present-day commercial crop of quince is harvested.

Quices are a relatively unusual fruit in that they are rarely, if ever, eaten raw. They are very tart and tannic, making them unpleasant to eat in their natural state. During cooking, these tannins mellow (and change color, giving cooked quince it's lovely pink color). In Brazil most marmelos are boiled, sweetened and then reduced to a thick jelly-like paste called marmelada. (The word marmelada is the root of the English word marmalade, although now marmalade usually refers to a jam or jelly made from citrus fruits.)

Marmelada has been a feature of Brazilian cooking since colonial times as marmelada can be preserved for a long time at room temperature, allowing the fruit harvest to last through the whole year. It was extremely popular in the first half of the twentieth century, with its peak occurring during the 1930s, but recently has lost ground to goiabada, a similar paste made from guavas (goiabas in Portuguese). One of Brazil's best-known deserts, poetically called Romeu e Julieta, is a thick slice of marmelada or goiabada served alongside a slice of queijo coalho cheese. Simple to serve as it requires no cooking,  is a marvelous, homey dessert, each bite combining the sweet, floral acidity of the fruit paste, and the cheese's salty tang.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

RECIPE - Alagoas-style Lobster Tail with Amaranth (Casquinha de Lagosta ao Bredo de Alagoas)

Yesterday we posted a very down-home recipe for green amaranth (bredo in Portuguese) in a creamy coconut-milk sauce. Although there's no proof, it's likely that the dish, or something very similar to it, has been cooked in the kitchens of Northeast Brazil for centuries.

Today, we're taking a look at a very contemporary take on that simple but delicious recipe, a creation of chef Odair Silva of the Hotel Radisson in Maceió, the capital of the almost-but-not-quite smallest Brazilian state of Alagoas. It was recently published in an article featuring the cuisine of  Maceió in Brazilian food and wine magazine Prazeres da Mesa.

Chef Silva combines the distinctly downmarket green with luxurious lobster tail, an ingredient as prized, and expensive, in Brazil as it is in other corners of the world. Brazilian lobster is a type of rock lobster, similar to lobsters found in tropical waters around the world. It is different from its cold-water cousin, the clawed, or New England lobster, though either kind of lobster can be used in this dish.
RECIPE - Alagoas-style Lobster Tail with Amaranth  (Casquinha de Lagosta ao Bredo de Alagoas)
Serves 2

2 lobster tails
1 bunch green amaranth (can substitute spinach or collard greens)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 small green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 green onion, green part only, minced
1/3 cup bechamel sauce
1/3 cup coconut milk
grated parmesan cheese, to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Slice open the lobster tails on the ventral side. Extract the meat and cut into small strips. Reserve the meat in the refrigerator. Bring plenty of water to the boil in a medium sauce pan, add the shells and cook at a slow boil for 30-25 minutes. Drain and when cool, cut away the ventral part of the shells, leaving only the dorsal portion. Reserve.

In a medium frying pan, heat the olive oil, then fry half of the onion plus the garlic until the onion is just softened. Add the chopped green and red peppers, fry for a minute more, then stir in the bechamel sauce. Reduce heat, then add the strips of lobster meat and cook for about 15 minutes. Add parmesan, then salt and pepper to taste. Reserve, keeping warm.

Wash the leaves, then boil in plenty of salted water for 15 minutes. Drain and reserve. In a frying pan melt the unsalted butter. Fry the remaining onion for a few minutes, then add the cooked amaranth. Cook for a minute or two, then add the coconut milk, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Reheat the lobster briefly if required. Divide the lobster between the two shells. Divide the creamed amaranth between two ramekins or small coconut shells. Put one lobster tail and one portion of amaranth on each of two plates. Sprinkle the chopped green onion over all and serve hot.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

RECIPE - Amaranth in Coconut Milk (Bredo do Coco)

Are you a fan of creamed spinach? We here at Flavors of Brazil are, bigtime, even though we know that creaming the spinach reduces its nutritional value significantly and piles on the calories. But it's sooo delicious.

This Brazilian recipe for the green known as bredo or caruru in Portuguese and green amaranth in English is in the creamed spinach family of recipes - greens cooked for a longish time in a creamy, fatty liquid. It's just as delicious as its steakhouse sidedish from the USA.

It's well-loved in northeastern Brazil, wherever African culinary traditions predominate, and in the state of Pernambuco, it's intimately associated with the Good Friday meal. Pernabucanans don't consider the Good Friday buffet table complete without a big bowl of amaranth in coconut milk, or bredo do coco as they call it.

Unless you live in the tropics, you'll not likely find a good source of green amaranth leaves. However, this dish is wonderful, maybe just as wonderful, made with spinach or any other substantial green, like collard greens, beet greens or mustard greens. The substitution of coconut milk for the cream used in creamed spinach also means that the dish can be served to vegans.
RECIPE - Amaranth in Coconut Milk (Bredo do Coco)
Serves 6

2 large bunches amaranth (or other substantial green)
1 cup (250 ml) coconut milk
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
handful chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
Wash the green thorough, then remove thick stems if present. Put into a large bowl, then pour boiling water over to scald and remove sap. Drain and rinse. Reserve.

In a large deep frying pan heat the olive oil, then saute the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is soft and transparent but not browned. Add the tomatoes, cook at medium temperature until the tomato breaks up and a sauce forms. Add the cilantro, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the reserved greens and cook, stirring frequently for about ten minutes, or until the greens are very soft. Add the coconut milk, raise heat and bring just to a boil.

Remove from heat, pour into decorative serving bowl and serve immediately.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

VEGETABLES OF BRAZIL - Green Amaranth (Caruru or Bredo)

This plant, which yields delicious green leaves that are often compared to spinach and often prepared in similar ways to spinach, is in the gastronomic sense very peripatetic - its history as a comestible has taken it back and forth across the oceans several times, obscuring its origins and engendering a confusing babel of names.

The scientific name of the plant is Amaranthus viridis, which tells us that it's a member of the large botanical family known as the amaranths. The amaranths are thought to have originated in the highlands of tropical North America, where they were a food source for Amerindians native to that region, such as the Maya. After Cortes' conquest of Mexico, Spaniards returning from the New World to the Old carried with them, among their treasures, newly discovered foods native to the Western Hemisphere. Chocolate, chili peppers, tomatoes and the domestic turkey were among Mexico's gifts to the kitchens of Spain, but so were plants like amaranth. Spanish and Portuguese explorers, colonists and slavers then carried amaranth on to Africa where it flourished and became part of the native diet.

When African slaves were forcefully brought to Brazil to work on sugar plantations and in gold mines, they brought their food traditions and their foods with them. Thus, amaranth recrossed the Atlantic ocean back to Brazil, where it became an integral part of the slaves' diet in colonial times. The route by which amaranth became part of Brazil's gastronomy, therefore, is a long one - Mexico to the Iberian Peninsula, to West Africa and finally back across the ocean to Brazil.

Because amaranth came to Brazil from Africa, not directly from Mexico, it is most strongly associated with the Afro-Brazilian cuisines of Northeastern Brazil, specifically in the state of Bahia where the African influence on cooking is strongest. In Bahia and neighboring states, the plant is normally called bredo in Portuguese. In other regions of Brazil it's better known as caruru. Confusingly, in the region where the term bredo prevails, there is a stew-type dish called caruru, made primarily with okra (quiabo) another vegetable import from Africa.

The plant's journey from Mexico to Brazil is not the only one it's made. From its Mexican origins, it has spread to India, particularly in South India, to Greece, and to the Caribbean, where the Jamaicans know it as callaloo. It has even become part of the Indian tradition of medicine known as Ayurvedic, where it is used as a medicinal herb.
Urbanized caruru/bredo

Even though the plant has significant food value, it has adapted itself so well to soil and climate conditions in Brazil that many farmers consider it invasive - a weed. It has even successfully urbanized itself and knowing foragers often spot it growing in abandoned inner city lots or even in cracks in the pavement. The smartest of these foragers have discovered this bounty and are helping themselves to a free supply of the green.

Monday, July 9, 2012

RECIPE - Some Sandubas

If Brazil has a Mecca for the extra-large, extra-delicious sandwich that Brazilians love to call sanduba (click here to read more about the sanduba), it has to be São Paulo's Municipal Market. Specifically the mezzanine with its line-up of restaurants open at lunchtime only to serve the thousands of vendors and shoppers who flock to the market in search of the best of the city's foodstuffs.

Downstairs at the market you'll find the usual selection of individual vendors selling fruits, vegetables, grains, spices, oils and pickles, meat, cheese, poultry and seafood. But if you head upstairs at the back of the market just before the lunch hours, you'll find an assortment of open-air restaurants on the mezzanine, all ready to sate that appetite you gained while grazining through the stalls below.

Each restaurant has its regulars, often strongly partisan and extremely loyal. Some of that loyalty even extends to particular items on the menu, and there are stories of customers who have eaten the same lunch daily for umpteen years. What makes or breaks the reputation of these restaurants, often, is the quality (and dimension) of their sandwiches (the sandubas). All the sandwiches are made on a crusty French bun, all have prodigious amounts of stuffing, and all are tremendously filling. But they succeed in their purpose - keep the customer happy and coming back for more.

Here are three recipes for sandubas from the Municipal Market, courtesy of UOL's Gastronomia & Negocios website.
Salt Cod Sandwich
RECIPE - Salt-cod sandwich (Sanduíche de Bacalhau)

1 large French bun (or Kaiser bun or similar)
5 oz (150 gr) de-salted salt cod
1/4 cup (50 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
red wine vinegar to taste
Boil the salt cod for two minutes in plenty of water. Drain, reserve.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, then fry the salt cod until it is golden on all sides, using two forks to shred the fish as it fries - remove any bones or skin. When the fish is golden, add the onion and garlic and heat briefly, but do not cook them.

Remove from heat, sprinkle additional olive oil and red wine vinegar over to taste. Do not season with salt.

Cut the bun in two, pack with the filling, cut the sandwich in half and serve hot.
Escabeche Sandwich

RECIPE - Escabeche sandwich (Sanduíche de Escabeche)

1 large French bun (or Kaiser bun or similar)

Two large fresh sardines, cleaned and deboned
1/4 cup (50 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
red wine vinegar to taste
salt and black pepper to taste
sprig fresh thyme
--------------------------------------------------------------------------  Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the sardines, plus the chopped onion and garlic. Pour red wine vinegar over, but don't drown the sardines. Cook at medium-low temperature until the onions are soft and the fish is cooked.

Remove from heat, sprinkle with additional olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add fresh thyme (leaves only) if desired.

Cut the bun in two, pack with the sardines and vegetables, cut the sandwich in half and serve hot.
Fresh Ham Sandwich

RECIPE - Fresh Ham Sandwich (Sanduíche de Pernil)

1 large French bun (or Kaiser bun or similar)

6 oz. fresh, (not smoked or cured) ham

2 thick slices large tomato
4 slices medium red or white onion
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh oregano chopped
3 bay leaves
salt to taste

Twenty-four hours in advance, combine the wine, the oregano and bay leaf in a medium Zip-loc type bag. Add the ham and let marinate in the refrigerator until the next day.

Remove the ham from the marinade and drain thorough. Put the ham in a small roasting pan and cover with aluminum foil. Roast the ham in a preheated 375F (200C) over,for about 20 - 30 minutes, or until the juices run clear. If desired, you can baste once or twice with the left over marinade.

Remove the ham from the oven, place on a cutting board and cover with the aluminum foil. Let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small frying pan. Add the tomatoes, onions and green peppers and cook until the tomato is breaking up and the onion and peppers are softened. Season with salt.

Slice the ham. Cut the bun in half, fill with the sliced ham, then top with the tomato/onion/pepper sauce. Serve hot.

Friday, July 6, 2012


In the English-speaking world there seems to be extremely diverse reactions to the term "sammich", meaning sandwich. On websites like Yahoo Answers internauts debate the origins, the appropriateness and the coolness of the term, using such language as "[People] say sammich rather than sandwich because they have never been taught to speak or enunciate correctly," or "Just try saying it, it makes me laugh". Some people love the word, others hate it.

On the "authoritative" website Urban Dictionary, you'll find a number of definitions for sammich. All of them, of course, note that sammich means sandwich, but most of the definitions also restrict the use of the word sammich to particularly elaborate, large or extra-delicious sandwiches. For example, "A sammich is not just a sandwich, it is not just a meal. Sammich is a term reserved for only the holiest and mightiest of all sandwiches. A sammich is a true work of culinary art; a feast on a bun, if you will," or "Sex in sandwich form. An orgy of flavor. A god among sandwiches."

We here at Flavors of Brazil deny ever having used the term sammich, and don't find it particularly cute. But the word comes in very useful when trying to translate the Brazilian Portuguese word sanduba into English. Sanduba is a Brazilian slang term for sandwich, but like sammich it carries connotations of being an extra-special sandwich, something above and beyond the norm. It's likely to be big, have a number of ingredients and is likely to have engendered enthusiastic reactions among those who've eaten it.

As is often the case with trying to use slang in a second or third language, if you're not Brazilian it's probably best to leave the word sanduba to the locals. Slang often carries connotations that unknown to foreign speakers and it's very possible that you might use the word in the wrong context, or with the wrong people, or at the wrong time. So, just to be on the safe side, if you're a tourist in Brazil, stick to the word sanduíche (pronounced san-du-EESH-ee). You'll be understood and you won't make Brazilians laugh at your or think you're rude.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Murici (Nance)

When it comes to meat, some folks love beef but can't abide lamb, some love pork and others hate it. We've even heard that there are some meat-eaters that detest chicken, though we've never met one. Same thing with vegetables - there are broccoliphiles and broccoliphobes, there are those who think eggplant/aubergine is the best thing in the universe and those that won't go near anything with the slightest hint of eggplant. The members of the allium genus (onion, garlic, etc.) are particularly notorious in this regard. Many love nothing better than lavish amounts of garlic, for example, while others (and not just vampires) recoil from even the odor of the plant.

For the most part, fruits don't seem to engender such strong and contrasting reactions. Maybe it's because they're normally sweet, which is a flavor predilection built into human DNA, but whatever the reason most people like most fruits. It's not universal, and there are some fruits which fall into the love-or-hate category, like SE Asia's durian. But most fruits appeal generally.

We here at Flavors of Brazil have recently come across a previously-unknown Brazilian fruit called murici which is the exception that proves the rule. We tried it in several forms over several days during our recent expedition to Belém and no matter how it was served to us it tasted just awful. We tried murici juice at the hotel's breakfast buffet, sampled murici ice cream, and even took a nibble of the fruit itself at the Ver-o-Peso market. All horrible. When we asked local residents about the fruit, some claimed to love it, but many admitted that the flavor caused negative reactions in a lot of people. Describing flavor is notoriously difficult, but for us the flavor was unpleasantly herbaceous, almost grassy, quite acidic, oily, and the fruit is only nominally sweet, if at all. We tried doctoring the juice with sugar, but that didn't really help. In Julia Morton's classic book Fruits of Warm Climates, murici is described as "peculiarly odorous" and "varying in flavor from insipid to sweet, acid, or cheese-like."

The murici (most commonly known in English, particularly in the Caribbean, as nance) is native to Central and Northern South America, and has been eaten by natives since long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. The murici tree (Byrsonima crassifolia) prefers open forest and savanna habitats and is very drought-tolerant. In Brazil the fruit is grown primarily in the north and the northeast of the country. The fruit itself is of smallish size, yellow-green on the outside with a whitish pulp and a single large stone.

In Brazil, murici are used mostly in the preparation of juices, sweets, and ice creams, but in other tropical American countries it is used to flavor mezcal (in Mexico) or fermented to make an alcoholic beverage called chicha in the Andes. In Colombia, the fruit is boiled to extract its edible oil.

Our normal practice at Flavors of Brazil is to follow up a post about a Brazilian fruit or vegetable with some Brazilian recipes employing the ingredient. As a favor to our readers, we'll make an exception in this case, and our next post will NOT contain a recipe for murici.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

RECIPE - Drayman's/Maria-Isabel's Rice (Arroz de Carreteiro/Maria-Isabel)

We'll leave it up to the cook how he or she wants to baptize this dish when presenting it at the dinner table or on the buffet. As mentioned in yesterday's post on Flavors of Brazil, in the south of Brazil the dish has one name and in the northeast an entirely different one. The choice is yours. Either name, though, will yield the same delicious result.

More than a traditional side dish (because of the presence of the dried/salted meat) and less than a main course, arroz de carreteiro/arroz Maria-Isabel is nonetheless considered to be a side dish in Brazil, where meals tend to be large and dependent on abundant quantities of protein. If you want to serve it Brazilian style but don't want overkill, it pairs well with a small, thin grilled steak of any kind and a green salad.

The dish requires carne de sol, which is Brazil's traditional salt-preserved beef. It's available in butcher shops and supermarkets everywhere in Brazil, but normally not outside the country. Click here for an earlier article on Flavors of Brazil on how to make a good version of carne de sol in your freezer.

This recipe is for a very traditional, basic dish - very similar to how it might have originally been served. Some modern versions add sausage, other meats and additional seasonings, but this recipe is the stripped-down original.
RECIPE - Drayman's/Maria-Isabel's Rice (Arroz de Carreteiro/Maria-Isabel)
Serves 6

2 lbs (1 kg) carne de sol (or charque)
4 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves, garlic
2 cups long-grain white rice
boiling water
3 Tbsp finely chopped parsley

24 hours befor cooking, cut the meat into small cubes, place in a bowl or ban, cover with cold water at soak in the refrigerator, changing the water at least 3 or 4 times, to desalt the meat. When ready to cook, drain and reserve.

In a heavy deep pan, heat the oil, and then fry the onion and garlic until the onion just begins to brown. Add the meat and continue to cook, stirring very frequently, until the meat is nicely browned.

Add the rice and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until all the rice is coated with the oil and is turning transparent. Pour in boiling water to cover the rice and to reach two fingers' height above the top of the rice. Reduce heat, tightly cover the pan and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the water and is tender. This dish shouldn't be too dry, so if it seems to be so, add a small amount of water at the end of the cooking process, just enough to moisten the grains. Remove from the heat and let stand for ten minutes before serving.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

One Dish, Two Names - Drayman's or Maria-Isabel's Rice

Gauchos with drayman's cart
From the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, bordering Uruguay and Argentina, all the way to Brazil's semi-arid northeast is a distance of around 2000 miles (3200 km) as the crow flies and significantly farther by road. So it's not entirely unreasonable that there are large differences between the two regions - economic, racial, meteorological and cultural differences among others.

But there are also similarities shared by these regions at opposite ends of the country. They are united by language, by religion, by politics and by the media. Although they are miles apart, Rio Grande do Sul and the northeast are in many ways more similar than Rio Grande do Sul and either of its next-door neighbors, Uruguay or Argentina.

The proof of this is in the pudding. Or at least, if not in the pudding itself, somewhere in the kitchen. Many dishes, foodstuffs and techniques can be found both in Brazil's south and in its north, yet are absent just across the border in neighboring countries. Sometimes this is evident - a dish is known and loved across Brazil but totally unknown in neighbouring countries - but sometimes it's not. Although Brazilians in different regions might be sitting down to identical dishes at the family dinner table, they might not be aware of that, as they each call the dish something different.
arroz carreteiro

An prime example of this is a very traditional Brazilian dish of rice cooked with salted-dried meat. In southern Brazil it's known as Drayman's Rice (arroz de carreteiro) but in the northeast it's called Maria-Isabel's Rice (arroz Maria-Isabel). Same dish, different names. In fact, even the regional name for the salted-dried meat that is essential to this dish varies - in the south it's called charque (a Portuguese word related to English jerky) and in the north carne de sol (meat of the sun).

History makes it easy to see how southern Brazilians came to call the dish Drayman's Rice or Carter's Rice. This region was originally settled by ranchers who raised vast herds of cattle on the open plains of the region. The cowherds who tended the cattle often spent months out on the plains, far from the nearest ranch. A network of draymen, using ox-driven carts, serviced these remote locations, carrying anything that the cowherds needed that wasn't available locally. These draymen spent months on the trail following the herds, and they needed to be self-sufficient in everything, including food. Charque doesn't require refrigeration, nor does rice. All that's needed to prepare these ingredients is water and heat. Combining the two ingredients into one dish made sense, and once the practice of cooking rice and charque together became established, the dish was baptized Drayman's Rice.

In colonial times, the dry interior or northeast Brazil was also an area of cattle ranching, with the same settlement patterns as in the south. Here, presumably, draymen also travelled the trails of the backland bringing goods to the cowboys and ranchers, and presumably they ate the same dish of rice and dried meat. But for some unkown reason, in this region they chose to honor a certain, unknown Maria-Isabel when it came to naming the dish, ignoring drayman entirely. Who Maria-Isabel was, or what her association with the dish was, is lost to history and likely will never be known. But her name lingers on in the kitchens of northeastern Brazil.

Call it Drayman's Rice or Maria-Isabel's, Brazilians love the dish and it's a standard of traditional Brazilian gastronomy. Not fancy, but filling, nutritionally balanced, and comforting, it's an essential dish in the Brazilian culinary pantheon.

Next post, we'll provide a recipe for the dish.

Monday, July 2, 2012

RECIPE - Rice Pudding with Caramel and Fleur du Sel (Arroz Doce ao Caramelo com Flor de Sal)

Lucas Corazza
Yesterday's recipe for Brazilian rice pudding was the homemade original - today's is the downtown, day-after-tomorrow chef's showcase recipe. It is the creation of São Paulo chef/patissier Lucas Corazza, chef-in-command of the kitchen at the city's Bar.bar Gastronomia. In an article in May's issue of Brazilian food and wine magazine Prazeres da Mesa, Corazza advocates for the inclusion of rice as a legitimate ingredient in the sweet kitchen, and explains how he finds the grain useful in the creation of new pastries, desserts and sweets.

His recipe for rice pudding combines a fairly standard rice pudding preparation with a refined salty-sweet topping of cream-caramel and fleur du sel. Best served in a tumbler, or even better, a stemless wine glass this sophisticated dessert dresses up sometimes-dull rice pudding for a night on the town, São Paulo-style.
RECIPE - Rice Pudding with Caramel and Fleur du Sel (Arroz Doce ao Caramelo com Flor de Sal)
Serves 10

For the rice pudding:
4 cups water
2 cups long-grain white rice
2 cups whole milk
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
2 vanilla beans
powdered cinnamon to taste

For the topping:
1 cup creme de leite (see note above)
1 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 tsp fleur du sel

Rice pudding:
Combine the rice, the water, the vanilla beans, opened with seeds scraped out, and the whole milk in a pressure cooker. Seal the pressure cooker, heat over medium high heat and cook for six minutes from the time the cooker takes pressure. Remove from heat, let cool to release pressure, then pour the mixture into a mixing bowl.

Stir in the sweetened condensed milk, the cover the mixture with plastic film and refrigerate.

Heat the creme de leite over low heat, but do not let it boil. Put half of the sugar into a heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until it caramelizes. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the creme de leite very slowly, stirring all the while, until you have a homogenous mixture. Return the pan to the heat and bring it briefly to the boil. Remove from heat, stir in the fleur du sel, let cool to room temperature and reserve.

Mounting the dish:
Using cups or glasses as above, fill them half full with the chilled rice pudding. With a spoon, carefully pour a layer of caramel on top, then serve immediately.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

RECIPE - Traditional Rice Pudding (Arroz Doce Tradicional)

Contemporary chefs around the world, no matter how avant-garde they may be, are also rooted in time and place to the culture which they inhabit. Ferran Adrià , considered by many to be the demi-god of molecular gastronomy, is intensely Catalonian and his dishes, no matter how unworldly they may appear, exhibit influences, ingredients and techniques that have been part of Catalan cuisine for more than a thousand years. Brazil's most inventive present-day chefs, at the same time that they are looking at food in entirely new ways and through 21st century lenses, still want their cuisine to be Brazilian - not European, not Asian, not even South American. Brazilian.

It's interesting and instructive, therefore, to "compare and contrast" (as our 7th grade English teacher loved to ask us to do) traditional Brazilian recipes with their contemporary re-imaginings. To see what's remained and what's been left behind. And to see what's been added, and how it's used.

To this end, we're going to publish today a very simple, very traditional and utterly lovely Brazilian rice pudding (arroz doce) recipe. Back in October of 2011, we posted a regional rice pudding recipe from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul (click here to go to that page) and in that post we discussed Brazilian rice pudding and its relationship to egg and milk based sweets from the Portuguese culinary repertory. That recipe, however, varied from the most basic recipe with the addition of lime peels and the absence of egg. The recipe below, taken from the website of Deli Art Cake Creations, a São Paulo sweet shop and caterer, is simplicity itself - nothing but rice, milk, sugar and egg yolks, spiced with a  cinnamon stick.

Tomorrow, we'll head to the other end of the Brazilian culinary spectrum with a recipe for rice pudding that could only come from the 21st century.
RECIPE - Traditional Rice Pudding (Arroz Doce Tradicional)
Serves 4

1 cup long-grain white rice
4 cups whole milk
1 cup granulated white sugar
4 egg yolks - free-range if possible - lightly beaten
2 inch stick of cinnamon
The day before cooking, combine the rice with 2 cups of the milk in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Before beginning to cook, combine the remaining 2 cups of rice and the beaten egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Reserve.

Put the rice and the milk in which it soaked into a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently. When the milk reaches the boiling point, reduce the heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the rice absorbs most of the liquid. When the rice is almost dry add the additional milk/egg yolk mixture, mix thoroughly, then add the sugar and the stick of cinnamon. Bring to the boil again, then reduce heat and cook, stirring constantly until the milk has thickened and the rice is just beginning to dry out - the rice should have the consistency of risotto. Remove the cinnamon stick and discard.

Remove from the heat and let cool. You can serve it once it reaches room temperature, or refrigerate at that point and serve cold.