Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One VERY large mango - Part 2

Well, it appears that it's not always true that good things come in small packages. In yesterday's post about an extremely large mango, I mentioned that I was waiting for breakfast today to taste the fruit. I know all too well that sometimes a very large piece of fruit (of any type) can be disappointing when tasted. Of course, the classic example of this those enormous strawberries that arrive from Mexico and California in early spring. Looking like a perfect strawberry from the outside, the first cut into the flesh reveals the first deception - the inside is white, cottony and often hollow. The taste is even more disappointing - just as cottony as the texture.

So it was with a bit of reluctance that I cut into the mango early this morning. I sliced off one side of the mango, with the knife parallel to the flat side of the mango's large pit. The inside was a beautiful, sunny orange, and from the pulp came that distinctive sweet and piney aroma of mango - with a very light touch of resin/turpentine in this case. Often that aroma and taste of pine overwhelms in large mangoes - making the mango like a fruit version of a heavy Greek retsina. In this case, the aroma was there, but was in the background, as it should be in the best mangoes.

I scored the flesh with a serrated knife, in parallel and perpendicular lines about 1/2 inch apart. Then I popped the skin inside-out, took a photo for this post, and then cut the cubes free from the skin.

All that remained was to taste the fruit. After the first bite, I knew that this mango was not only the largest mango I had ever seen, it was the best mango I'd ever eaten. To my taste, it was perfectly sweet - sugary, but not overly-so. The resin taste was present, but as in the aroma, remained as a background note. The texture was smooth and almost creamy, and the mango was noticeably non-fibrous. It was juicy, but eating it didn't require a quick shower to clean up after, as sometimes happens with extra-juicy mangoes. Perfection, all the way around.

Now I just have to convince my friend's mother to visit her hometown more often, and to bring back not one, but a whole basket of these fruits of paradise.

Monday, December 28, 2009

One VERY large mango

The mother of a good friend of mine returned yesterday to Fortaleza, where I live, from her hometown, Ibicuã, in the interior of Brazil's Ceará state. She had been there to celebrate Christmas holidays with family and friends. She brought back a basket of mangos, which are in season at this time of year in Northeastern Brazil.

I know that there are a tremendous number of varieties of mango in this part of the world, and I have seen them from the size of a plum to the size of a grapefruit. But nothing had prepared me for the size of the monster-mango that she presented to me this morning. I do not have a kitchen scale in my house, but I'm sure that it weighs at least three pounds (2.2 kgs), and I have measured its length; it's 9 inches (22 cms.) long. Checking online at the excellent Brazilian agricultural site Toda Fruta (in Portuguese only), I've been able to determine that it is of the variety called Coitê. According to Toda Fruta, the Coitê mango is a traditional Brazilian variety, and is widely cultivated in Ceará. It is large, averaging around 650 gr. (1.4 lbs) per fruit. It has a highly resinous flavor, and is sweet. This type of mango tree is capable of bearing fruit all year round.

It appears to be perfectly ripe, and the aroma is enticingly sweet. Tomorrow, I'll have part of it for breakfast, and will report afterwards on its taste. If it tastes as good as it looks, I'm in for a great breakfast!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

RECIPE - Spicy New Year's Sausage (Virada Picante)

New Year's parties in Brazil tend to be buffets, with food available for snacking throughout the evening. Early on, the table might be filled with salty snacks, savory dishes and finger foods. As the evening progresses, sweeter foods and desserts take the place of the snacks and appetizers. This recipe for spicy sausage is a traditional New Year's dish from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, and livens up any buffet or cocktail platter on which is is served. The quantity of peppers can be modified to suit one's taste and capacity for spicy food.
RECIPE - Spicy New Year's Sausage (Virada Picante)

1 lb. (450 gr.) homestyle linguiça (other artesanal sausages with garlic may be substituted)
1 Tbsp. neutral vegetable oil
2 cups red onion, coarsely chopped into cube shapes
1 Tbsp. dried, flaked red pepper (or fresh Thai red peppers)
2 Tbsp. finely chopped Italian parsley
2 Tbsp. finely chopped green onions (green and white parts)
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 loaf baguette or other French or Italian bread, warmed briefly
Prepare the sauce: If using fresh Thai peppers, crush into a paste with mortar and pestle. If using dried peppers, place in mortar. Add olive oil, then parsley and green onion. Crush lightly with pestle, but do not over-mix. Let sit at least four hours for flavors to blend.

Slice the sausage into bite-sized pieces. Fry in the vegetable until thoroughly cooked and browned. Add the red onion, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion is transparent, but still slightly crunchy.

Place the sausage slices and red onion on a serving platter, Drizzle the sauce over. Serve with slices of wam bread.

(Translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora)

The Lucky Foods of New Year's

In many cultures, traditional and modern, there are strong links between food and superstition or magic. Some foods bring good luck, others carry bad luck along with them. Some can be used to entrance a lover, or others can send one on his or her way.

This symbolic connection between food and superstition is very strong in Brazil. It is an important part of the rituals of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, as it is in the celebrations of the Christian churches. Carnaval has its culinary associations, and so do the important religious holidays like Christmas and Easter.

At the turn of the year, Brazilians associate specific foods with the renewal of the calendar, attempting to include some in the menu for New Years, and avoiding others which might bring bad luck in the year to come. Some of these food traditions are indigenous to Brazil, but many have been brought there by the many immigrant groups that populated this country. For example, many Brazilians include lentils (lentilhas in Portuguese) in a New Year's menu, as even a small amount of this legume will increase one's good luck - this tradition comes to Brazil from Italy, though many Brazilians are unaware of this Italian origin.

The ritual eating of pomegranates (romã in Portuguese) is said to bring money in the year to come. One must eat seven seedlets, without swallowing the seeds themselves. These seeds must be dried and carried in one's wallet throughout the year to ensure that the wallet remains full of money.  The fig (figo in Portuguese) also brings prosperity to those who consume it at New Year's.

Because swine use their snouts to root forward in the soil, eating pork is considered lucky by Brazilians, and supposedly ensures that one's pantry will remain full in the New Year. Turkey and crab are unlucky at this time of year, and should be avoided. 

And finally, champagne livens not only the party at which is it served, but the lives of those who imbibe it at New Year's all year long.

Brazilian New Year's Traditions

Brazilians love New Year's Eve and New Year's Day - for many, this holiday period is as important a celebration as are Christmas and Carnaval, the other two major holidays in Brazil. New Year's Eve is usually called "Reveillon" in Brazil, borrowing the term from the French.

Reveillon is a time of celebration, both festive and religious or symbolic. Throughout the country, it is customary to wear only white on New Year's Eve, and the clothes must be new in honor of the new year. In some cities, Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza in particular, the evening includes not only private parties, but huge gatherings on the cities' beaches with fireworks displays at midnight, and free concerts with some of the most important music stars in the country. Rio's beaches are also the scene of an Afro-Brazilian religious ritual, in which white-clad women and men walk to the edge of the sea and there leave offerings for the goddess of the sea, Yemanjá.
At private parties, in homes and in social clubs, New Year's Eve's menu usually consists of a number of appetizers, or other finger food, rather than a full-course sit-down dinner. The symbolic beverage of choice, naturally, is champagne, but many prefer to drink beer, whiskey, or cocktails. The following post has a traditional New Year's recipe from Minas Gerais.

 New Year's parties in Brazil really only begin at midnight, with guests arriving up to the last minute, and continue well past dawn on January 01. For obvious reasons, therefore, New Year's Day itself is a day of rest and recovery, and is considerably quieter than the previous evening.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RECIPE - Cream of Hearts of Palm Soup

Although hearts of palm (palmito) are usually seen on a salad plate or buffet table, the subtle woodsy flavor of this tropical vegetable translates beautifully into more complex dishes, such as this recipe for a cream soup, which has been translated and adapted from the recipe collection of Brazil's popular daytime TV show Mais Você

RECIPE - Cream of Heart of Palm Soup
Serves 6

1 large can or jar hearts of palm, preserved
6 cups light chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 cup whole milk
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, sliced
salt and white pepper to taste

Drain the hearts of palm, then slice into thin rounds. Reserve. Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan, and lightly saute the sliced onion until golden.  Remove the onion, and add the broth. Bring to boil over moderate heat, then reduce heat to simmer. Whisk the cornstarch into cold milk until dissolved, and then slowly pour the mixture into the hot broth. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Continue to cook, continually stirring, until the mixture thickens slightly. Add the slices of hearts of palm and remove from heat. Off heat, stir in the grated cheese and serve immediately. (If a thicker soup is desired, the quantity of cornstarch may be increased slightly, up to 2 Tbsp.)

Heart Of Palm - The Palmito Avoids Extinction (We Hope)

In Brazil, as well as in Europe and North America, hearts of palm (palmito in Portuguese) have long been considered a gourmet delicacy. The flavour of these buds of a number of species of palm trees is subtle, yet distinctive. Hearts of palm are not conducive to transport or storage in a fresh state, and so are universally available only in tins or jars, preserved in a simple brine. They are most commonly served both here in Brazil and abroad as a stand-alone appetizer, drizzled with olive oil, or as part of a salad plate or buffet table.

Hearts of palm have always been an expensive treat, and still are so today. If you live in Europe or North America, transportation is part of that cost, as palm trees only grow in tropical environments. However, the main reason for the expense of hearts of palm is that in order to harvest the bud of the palm tree ("hearts" of palm are in fact buds of palm) the entire tree must be sacrificed. The bud is the growing tip of the tree, and once it is removed, there is no way for the tree to continue to grow. Hearts of palm are harvested from young trees, but it still takes a number of years for a tree to reach maturity. There is no annual harvest when it comes to palm trees.

There are a number of species of palm from which hearts of palm can be harvested. Until the 1990s, the most common species used in commercial production was the içara palm (Euterpe edulis), which grows all along Brazil's southern coastline. However, over-harvesting and poaching of this plant resulted in its becoming endangered, and extinction of the species was a possibility.

Fortunately, most production of hearts of palm in Brazil and in other tropical countries like Costa Rica and Ecuador has switched to other species, notably pupunha and açaí palms. These species are easier to cultivate, and quicker-growing, and thus are not endangered by properly considered harvesting schemes. Interestingly, the açaí palm is the same tree from which the increasingly popular açaí fruit is harvested, thus allowing the cultivation of two distinct food products from one plant. Because of this switch, the içara palm is no longer in danger of exinction, though it does remain endangered, according to it's listing by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). As a long-time lover of hearts of palm, it's "heartening" to know that I can eat this delicacy without a guilty conscience.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

UTENSILS - Soapstone cookware

One of the softest minerals found on Earth, steatite is commonly called soapstone. Because it has a high proportion of talc, steatite often feels "soapy" to the touch, and it is this property which has given it its common name. In Brazil, this stone is known as pedra-sabão which can be exactly translated as soapstone. Steatite is common in the historic mining districts of Minas Gerais state where in the 17th and 18th centuries large amounts of gold and precious stones were mined.

Soapstone is especially common in the hills surrounding Ouro Preto, a beautifully preserved city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the 18th century, stone carvers in Ouro Preto began to use soapstone as a medium for sculpture because it was so easily carved. They also used the same mineral to create useful household objects, in particular for the kitchen. Soapstone pots and pans were first created in Ouro Preto at that time, and in Minas Gerais they are still used in traditional and in modern kitchens.

When soapstone cooking utensils first came into use, cooks quickly discovered that they had one important advantage over metal or clay pots - the stone retains heat much longer than other materials do, and thus soapstone utensils are perfect for stews, for beans, or for soups - anything which is slow-cooked and which benefits from long exposure to low heat.

Soapstone pots and pans can still be found in stores in Ouro Preto and throughout Minas Gerais, and are surprisingly inexpensive considering their utility, durability and beauty. A good soapstone pan will last a lifetime. The only problem with these objects is that they are heavy and somewhat fragile - so taking one home as a souvenir of Minas Gerais is not necessarily an easy thing to do! But if you persevere, you will find a soapstone pan or pot will quickly gain an important place in your kitchen and will be an evocative souvenir of the three-century-old cooking traditions of the baroque mining towns of Minas Gerais.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

INGREDIENTS - Ora-pro-nobis

The name "ora-pro-nobis" is not Portuguese; it's Latin, and means "pray for us" in that language. It refers to a cactus that is much appreciated in the traditional cuisine of Brazil's Minas Gerais state. No one can say for sure where the unusual name came from, although legendarily it was given to this particular plant when it was being harvested in the garden of a Catholic father, and the harvesters overheard the father praying when they were picking the leaves.

The plant itself is also unusual, as it is a climbing cactus, with spiny non-succulent stems, and flavorful leaves. Picking the leaves from the plant is an art, due to the spines on the stems. The plant flowers beautifully, but briefly, as the flowers often last only one or two days. The subsequent fruit is a small, yellow, rounded and waxy berry - from this fruit derives the English common name of this plant, the Barbados Gooseberry.

The leaves are used fresh, or they can be dried for later use. They are used to flavor salads, soups and sauces. In traditional recipes from Minas Gerais, ora-pro-nobis is often combined with chicken or ground meat dishes. In addition to being delicious, ora-pro-nobis is rich in protein, vitamins A, B and C, calcium, phosphorus and iron. Because of this iron, ora-pro-nobis has long been used in Brazil as a folk remedy for anemia.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

RECIPE - Chicken with cachaça and rapadura ( Frango na cachaça e rapadura)

This recipe for boneless chicken breasts in a cream sauce enhanced with cachaça and rapadura is a modern adaptation of a traditional recipe from the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará. It can be made with any brand or type of cachaça, depending on availability, although I like this recipe best with an aged and malted cachaça from Ypioca, one of Brazil's best producers of cachaça, called 160. If you can find Ypioca 160 it is worth the price - it is aged 6 years in oak barrels, and was named the best premium cachaça in the world by the International Cane Spirits society.

This recipe has been adapted and translated from a recipe published by Jocélio Pereira Azevedo. I was served it at the home of a talented amateur cook here in Fortaleza, Eduardo Mendes de Oliveira.
Chicken with cachaça and rapadura
Serves 6

6 half chicken breasts, skinless (boneless optional)
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
2 cups cachaça
2 Tbsp. grated rapadura
flour to coat chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups finely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup light cream (Half and Half)
In a shallow bowl or baking dish large enough to hold the chicken and cachaça, place the chicken breasts, generously seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with aluminum foil. Marinate for at least one hour, refrigerated.
Remove from refrigerator, pour the cachaça over, then sprinkle the rapadura on top. Re-cover with aluminum foil, and marinate overnight, or for at least 8 hours, turning the pieces in the cachaça from time to time.
Remove chicken from bowl or baking dish, reserving marinade.
Put a small amount of flour in a plastic or paper bag, and individually toss chicken pieces in flour, to coat lightly. Shake chicken pieces to remove excess flour.
Heat butter and oil in large, non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces, a few at a time, and cook until nicely browned on all sides. Remove chicken from frying pan and reserve.
Pour out excess fat from frying pan, add onion and garlic, and cook over medium heat until softened and transparent. Do not let onion and garlic brown.
Return chicken to the pan, then pour over the cachaçamarinade. Flame the marinade*, and then cook the mixture over medium heat until liquid is reduced by 3/4 and the chicken is done.
Add the cream slowly, and let cook for approximately 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Check for seasoning, and add salt if required.
Serve immediately.

*To do this, light a match and lower the flame onto the mixtures until it lights then let the flame extinguish itself.

Rapadura - Sugar At Its Most Basic

At one end of the spectrum is white table sugar, which has been cleaned, refined and standardized as far as possible. At the other end of that same spectrum is rapadura, a traditional ingredient in Brazil's northeast, which is as close to sugar cane, the origin of Brazilian sugar, as possible. It's everything white table sugar is not - dark colored, dense, sticky and strongly flavored. It's nibbled whole as a simple pick-me-up or dessert, it's grated to sprinkle on fancy puddings and tortes, and it's melted to add sweetness and complexity to sauces sweet and savory. (For a delicious chicken recipe with a sauce containing rapadura and cachaça, click here)

Rapadura is basically nothing more than unrefined sugar cane juice which has been boiled and evaporated into a solid state. It is almost pure sucrose or fructose. It is an ancient product, and is usually artesanally made, even today. Similar primitive solid sugar products are well-loved in many parts of the world - panela in Colombia, piloncillo in Mexico and jaggery in India. Because these sugars are important in a number of national and regional cuisines, they are not difficult to obtain in ethnic food markets in North America - ask for them by regional name. I have found piloncillo in Latin American markets in a number of North American cities, and jaggery in Indian markets.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On The Road - São Paulo and Brasília

For the next week, until December 01, there won't be any new postings on Flavors of Brazil. I'll be travelling back from Canada to Fortaleza, spending a few days each in  São Paulo and Brasília. Of course, while travelling, I'll be on the lookout for new material for the blog, and will be adding posts about these two cities to Flavors of Brazil when I get to Fortaleza.

I'm looking forward to exploring the exciting culinary scene in São Paulo, and will certainly visit the city's cathedral-like Mercado Municipal, with its magnificent stained-glass windows depicting scenes of Brazilian agriculture and food production. With a population over 20 million, São Paulo is also a vibrant restaurant city, and I'll be sampling as many of these as I can with limited time, budget and endurance.

I know less about Brasília, and my interest in it is less gastronomic than architectural. As a big fan of mid-century modernism in general and of Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer in particular, I'm very much looking forward to my fist visit to the capital of Brazil.

See you in a week!

The Pineapple Harvest Begins

This past week the annual pineapple harvest has begun in the mountains of Brazil's Ceará state, where I live. Mountain-grown pineapples are considered to be of better quality and to be more delicious than the product that comes from the giant agri-business plantations of the lowlands. The mountain-grown pineapples, which are mostly of a hybrid called perola ("pearl" in English), have lower acidity than the lowland varieties, and are significantly sweeter. According to a recent article in Fortaleza's Diario do Nordeste newspaper, this year's harvest is predicted to be larger than normal, with better yields. The projected yield this year in the mountain plantations is 16,000 pineapples per hectare, average (approximately 32,000 pineapples per acre). The price per pineapple at the plantation is expected to be R$1.00 to R$1.50 ($0.60USD to $0.90USD).

The Brazilian market for the perola pineapple is purely domestic, as the nature of this hybrid does not allow long-term storage or long-distance transportation. The perola pineapple is long and cone-shaped, with sharp spines on the leaves, a greenish rather than yellowish skin, and a whiter flesh than some other varieties. The fruit is best eaten fresh - other varieties of pineapple are better suited to juice production or canning. The season is relatively short and there is only one harvest a year. Fortunately, in a country as large and varied as Brazil, there is always fresh pineapple available - maybe not perola, but something almost as juicy, sweet and satisfying.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

RECIPE - Roast Pacú

This delicious traditional Brazilian recipe for roast, stuffed, pacú works equally well with any number of alternative fresh water or salt water fishes. I have made it in Fortaleza with a red snapper variety named pargo, and I'm sure it would work equally well with bass, salmon or other species of fish - which is good news, as it's unlikely one would find pacú available outside Brazil.

The quantities in this recipe are for a fish of approximately 7 lbs. (3 kgs). Cooking times and quantities can be adjusted when cooking a smaller or larger fish.

RECIPE - Roast Pacú

1 whole pacú or other fish, approx. 7 lbs. (3 kgs.), scaled and cleaned
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1 large onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. lime juice
4 cloves garlic
1 cup water

6 Tbsp. neutral vegetable oil
20 leaves of kale (or collard greens), rolled and cut into thin shreds
1 small onion, grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups farinha (manioc flour) - (in unavailable, substitute equal quantity of dried bread crumbs)
salt to taste
Put fish in large, deep roasting pan, cover with water. Add lime juice, and let refresh, refrigerated, for 30 minutes.

Drain the fish and return to pan. Add marinade ingredients and let sit, refrigerated, for one hour.

Meanwhile, make the stuffing. Heat 3 Tbsp. of the oil over high heat in a large, heavy pan. Add kale or collard greens and stir-fry only until color changes to bright green. Remove from heat. In another pan, heat the remaining 3 Tbsp. of oil, then add the onion and garlic and saute until golden. Add the farinha or bread crumbs 1/2 cup at a time, alternating with the kale or collard greens, until all have been added and are thoroughly mixed. Add salt to taste.

Remove fish from refrigerator and stuff with stuffing mixture. Close cavity with kitchen twine or with skewers. Place in roasting pan, and roast in medium oven (350 degrees F) for approximately one hour. or until golden.

Line a platter with lettuce leaves, place fish on bed of lettuce and serve immediately. The platter may be garnished with tomato wedges and slices of onion, if desired.

The Pacú - The Piranha's Delicious Cousin

With its lengthy coastline, Brazil is famous for the quantity and variety of salt-water fishes used in traditional cooking.  Less well known, but no less appreciated locally, are the fresh-water fishes that inhabit the wetlands of Mato Grosso's Pantanal or the rivers and streams of the world's largest river system, the Amazon. Fresh water fish is the primary source of protein for millions of Brazilians living in the tropical rain forest or in wetlands, and some of the dishes prepared with these fish have become part of Brazil's culinary patrimony.

One of the most valued of these fresh water fishes is the pacú, an inhabitant of both pantanal and Amazonian rain forest, and a close cousin of the legendary piranha. This large fish, which can range from 5 to 25 pounds (2 to 10 kgs), is also a favorite of sports fishers, who traditionally catch the fish with bamboo poles, using tropical fruits as bait. The fish can be caught in its natural habitat, or in ponds which are stocked for amateur fishermen who want to catch their own dinner.

One happy and successful pacú fisher.

And another who is showing his catch some love...

A recipe for roast pacú can be found by clicking here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Bean's Birthday - O Feijão Carioca

This year is the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the carioca bean ( feijão carioca), Brazil's most popular bean. Brazil is the largest produce and consumer of beans in the world - each year approximately 3.5 million tons of beans are grown in Brazil. According to Brazil's Agronomic Institute - Centro Apta de Grãos e Fibras do Instituto Agronômico (IAC) - 85% of the beans eaten in Brazil today are of the carioca variety, 10% are black beans, and the all other varieties total 5%.

A recent article in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper commemorated this anniversary in an interview with Sérgio Augusto Morais Carbonell, the director of the Agronomic Institute. According to Dr. Carbonell, prior to the development and introduction of the carioca bean in 1969, Brazilians ate a wide variety of beans, which varied regionally and seasonally. Common varieties included black, white and red beans, along with roxinho, rosinha, jalo, mulatinho and bolinho. Because the new carioca bean had high nutritive and flavor qualities, as well as a 40% greater yield per hectare (which made it cheaper to buy) than other varieties it was quickly accepted by the Brazilian market and became the dominant bean.

Nearly all Brazilians eat beans daily, along with rice. Normally beans are cooked simply, often in a pressure cooker to reduce the time and energy required to put the beans on the table. In the poorest families, rice and beans may constitute the entire meal; those who are richer eat them alongside some form of animal protein, fruits or vegetables, and salad.

It has long been known that beans are an extremely healthy food. The major health benefit of common beans is their rich source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, and they are high in protein and complex hydrocarbons.Beans are also a good source of phosphorus, iron, protein, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.

In a country where poverty and hunger are real concerns, beans are thus an essential part of the nation's diet. So it's only proper that Flavors of Brazil wishes the carioca bean a Happy 40th Birthday!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

RECIPE - Bean Soup (Caldinho de Feijão)

This recipe for a simple and delicious bean soup is typical of the caldo sold by beach vendors throughout Brazil. They carry the hot soup in thermos jars as they walk along the miles of sand looking for hungry customers. This soup can be made with almost any type of dried bean, and in Brazil, regional differences will dictate which bean is most commonly used. In Rio de Janeiro and neighboring states, the black bean is most common. In Brazil's northeast they use pinto beans or kidney beans. Any will make a delicious soup - great to serve on a tropical beach, but equally satisfying when the temperature is below zero and the snow is blowing.

  Bean Soup (Caldinho de Feijão)

2 cups dried beans (see above about types of beans)
8 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 thick slice bacon
1 6-8" linguiça or kielbasa sausage (optional)
1 med. onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
chopped cilantro and green onion to garnish
Either soak beans overnight in cold water, or use quick-boil method* to soften. Put beans in heavy, medium-sized saucepan with water, bay leaves, bacon and optional sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until beans are very tender, 40 minutes to one hour. Let mixture cool in saucepan.

If using sausage, remove from bean mixture, slice thinly, and reserve. Remove bacon from bean mixture, chop into small pieces and reserve.

Heat olive oil in heavy frying pan, add bacon and fry over medium heat until bacon renders most of its fat. Add onion and garlic and saute until softened. Add all to the bean mixture in saucepan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Return saucepan to heat, bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from heat. Let cool for 15 minutes, then carefully blend mixture in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to heat to bring to serving temperature.

If using sausage, place a few slices in the bottom of a cup, then pour bean soup over. Otherwise, serve the soup in cups, garnished with the chopped green onions and/or cilantro. You may also add additional garnishes such as chopped hard-boiled egg or Mexican style pico de gallo.

*Place beans in heavy, medium-sized saucepan, and add cold water to cover by one inch. Over medium-high heat, bring beans to a brisk boil, let boil for one minute, then remove from heat. Cover the pan and let beans soften for one hour. Drain prior to beginning recipe.

Hot Soup on a Hot Beach

If there ever was an example of unfettered capitalism in operation, a typical beach in Brazil might be it. On any beach along the 4654 miles (7491 kms.) of Brazil's coastline those enjoying the sun and surf will be offered the opportunity to purchase an extraordinary variety of goods - foods, drinks (alcoholic and non-), sunglasses, swimsuits, beach towels, folk art, tattoos, kites and balloons, lottery tickets, and jewellry, among others. Fortunately, Brazilian beach vendors are seldom agressive in their sales pitches, and a simple "no, thanks" (não, obrigado in Portuguese) is enough to convince a vendor to move on. However, sometimes they do offer tremendous bargains in clothes and art, and often the food and drink is excellent. When purchasing food at the beach, a bit of common sense in necessary when considering hygiene and food safety - for example, I don't recommend purchasing cooked shrimp or crab which might have been in the hot sun, unrefrigerated, for a long time. However, other foods are perfectly safe to order and eat.

One of the most typical offerings of beach vendors in Brazil is something that would seem not to be appropriate for a hot day in the sun on the beach - soup (caldo or caldinho in Portuguese). Surprisingly though, it is often exactly what is needed. It's not heavy, not too much, yet it sustains and reduces those stomach growls which indicate hunger. Vendors usually bring the soup in the thermos jar, so it's very hot. They serve it in a plastic cup, and garnish each serving individually. It's satisfying, and very cheap - prices range from one to three reais, which is approximately $0.50 to $1.50 per serving.

The most commonly sold soups at the beach are fish, seafood or bean. The seafood is a natural companion to beach life, and bean soup is Brazilian comfort food at its most basic. The vast majority of Brazilians of all economic levels eat some form of dried beans every day (as they do rice). So a nice cup of bean soup at the beach makes gastronomic sense to Brazilians, and should you try it, will do the same for you.

Recipes for some of the typical caldos will follow in future posts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

RECIPE - Ambrosia

The word ambrosia is from ancient Greek mythology and refers to the food of the gods. It was believed to confer immortality to those who ate it. Ever since, in innumerous languages and cuisines, it has been used to refer to any food that is considered so delicious that it is worthy to be eaten by the gods - usually something light and sweet. In my childhood, it was the name of a very unfortunate concoction that was a staple of church-basement suppers and family thanksgivings - a mixture of canned mandarin oranges, canned pineapple, canned fruit salad, shredded sweetened coconut, and mini-marshmallows.

In Brazil the name ambrosia is bestowed on a much more felicitous dessert - made with milk, sugar, cinnamon and eggs. This recipe comes from the state of Minas Gerais, but it has spread throughout Brazil, and is a family favorite from North to South.

Serves 4

Cinnamon stick - 1 inch
peel of one lime - outer green peel only

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups whole milk
4 egg whites
8 egg yolks
powdered cinnamon (optional)


In a medium, heavy saucepan place the cinnamon, lime peel, sugar and water. Place over medium heat, and stir until sugar has completely dissolved. Stop stirring, raise heat to bring liquid to a boil. Continue boiling until the mixture has reached the consistency of maple syrup. Off heat, stir in the milk, then return the mixture to the stove, on medium heat, until it reaches a boil.  Reduce to a simmer.

Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks lightly. With a whisk or egg beater, separately beat the egg whites to stiff peak stage, then fold in the beaten egg yolks. Add this egg mixture to the milk on the stove, without mixing it in. When the eggs begin to set, delicately stir with a fork, separating the cooked egg from the milk syrup. Remove from heat as soon as eggs are set.

Place the cooked eggs in 4 dessert bowls, then pour the milk mixture over. Sprinkle with powdered cinnamon if desired. Serve immediately.

(recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Editora Abril)


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

RECIPE - Rotisserie Pineapple

If you have a charcoal or gas rotisserie, try this absolutely wonderful and extremely simple Brazilian dessert. It's a perfect use of the heat remaining on the grill once you've removed your main course. While you are eating your steaks, or chicken, or fish, your dessert cooks in about 20-30 minutes.


1 large, ripe pineapple, skin and "eyes" removed
sugar and powdered cinnamon to taste
coarse salt to taste (optional)
Combine sugar and cinnamon to taste and spread the mixture on a cookie sheet. Skewer the pineapple on a rotisserie skewer, and secure well to assure that the pineapple will rotate with the skewer. Roll the pineapple in the cinnamon-sugar mixture to coat the fruit.

Place the pineapple over medium hot charcoal, or medium heat propane or gas grill, approximately 12 inches from the source of heat. Set the rotisserie to rotate, and cook the pineapple for 20 to 30 minutes, until the sugar-cinnamon coating has carmelized, and the fruit is hot and juicy.

Remove from heat, and release the fruit from the skewer. Cut into thick slices and serve while still hot. A ball of vanilla ice cream can be added to each slice if desired.

PINEAPPLE - Brazil's royal fruit

The pineapple,one of the most commercially important fruits in the world, likely originated in Southern Brazil or Paraguay, and was already widespread throughout the tropical Americas when Christopher Columbus first tasted one on the Caribbean island of Guadaloupe in 1493.

In Brazil there are two words for pineapple - abacaxi which comes from a Tupi word meaning "stinking fruit"  and ananás, which comes from the Guarani language. Normally abacaxi refers to a variety that is taller, with longer leaves, and ananás refers to a variety that is more rounded and with shorter leaves. Incidentally, the English word pineapple was an earlier name for what it called today a "pine cone".

Brazilians eat a tremendous amount of this fruit, which is widely available year-round and inexpensive. Commercial production in Brazil last year totaled 1.43 million tons. Streetside vendors throughout Brazil sell whole pineapples, peeled and prepared, or slices of the fruit to refresh passers-by. Markets and supermarkets display mountains of pineapples. Juice bars blend fresh pineapple juice, often mixing it with mint. Pineapple ice cream has always been one of Brazil's favorite flavors. And canned pineapples and pineapple juice are exported from Brazil to places around the world.

Pineapple juice is also commonly used in marinades and sauces for meat, due to presence of the enzyme bromelin in the fruit. Bromelin breaks down protein, and thus tenderizes meat during the marinading process.

Pineapple can also be found as a flavoring ingredient in savory dishes, and one of the most spectacular Brazilian party dishes is a hollowed half-pineapple stuffed with shrimp in a pineapple sauce.

PINEAPPLE - Symbol of Hospitality

In Europe, and in the European colonies of the Americas, the pincapple has been a symbol of welcome, and of hospitality. Balustrades of French castles can be adorned with pinapple finials, elaborate silver centerpieces for royal dining tables prominently figure the fruit, and American folk art has long used a simply carved pineapple on a front door to provide a welcoming atmosphere.

The symbolic use of the pineapple dates back to the 17th Century in Europe, according to a fascinating website on the social history of the pineapple.Because pineapples were extraordinarily expensive at the time, a pineapple was often displayed prominently in the centerpiece of a dining table. When the doors of the dining room were opened to receive guests, a pineapple was one of the sights that dazzled their eyes. From this use derives the symbolic connection between the pineapple and a warm and welcoming atmosphere in a home, be it castle or cottage.

PINEAPPLE - "Well, that's another fine mess you've gotten me into!"

The Brazilian Portuguese word for pineapple, abacaxi (pronounced ah-bah-ke-SHEE), not only means the fruit but is also commonly used to describe a situation that is "messed-up", "disastrous", or "totally screwed up." For example, a literal translation of "Ele terminou a noite com um grande abacaxi" would be "He ended the night in a totally messed-up situation."

Linguists suggest that this non-culinary use of the word abacaxi most likely came about because of the notoriously "prickly" nature of the fruit, which can be very difficult to handle. Thus, a situation that is very difficult to handle, or likely to cause damage is an abacaxi.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Brazil's BLT - Sanduiche Bauru

In Brazil, the sandwich called Bauru hold the place of honor that is saved for the BLT in North American cuisine. It's almost universally available in cafes, roadhouses, and lunchspots. It has numerous variations, and has been reinvented numerous times. And it has a similarly long history to the BLT.

Last week the prominent São Paulo newspaper Folha de S.Paulo featured the Bauru in an article celebrating the sandwich's 87th anniversary. It is an interesting bit of Brazilian gastronomic history, and it reveals that today's Bauru is far removed from its progenitor, created in 1922 in São Paulo.

The original Bauru was created by a radio host named Casemiro Pinto Neto who was a frequent customer at a simple restaurant called O Ponto Chic (The Chic Spot) on São Paulo's Largo do Paissandu. The restaurant was a hangout for journalists and politicos, and Casemiro created a sandwich from ingredients already available at the lunch counter. The original recipe called for a crusty french bun, cut open and hollowed out, thin slices of cold roast beef, slices of cucumber pickles and tomatoes, and a combination of three cheeses melted in a double boiler.

Casemiro was born and raised in the small city of Bauru, in the interior of São Paulo State, and his nickname was "Bauru". His sandwich quicly became a favorite with other patrons of O Ponto Chic, who would order one by asking for "Bauru's sandwich." Eventually, it became simply a Bauru.

Over the years, the ingredients of a Bauru changed and simplified, and today's typical Bauru is basically a grilled cheese sandwich with a slice of tomato. Some Baurus are excellent, but most display the lack of care of most fast food kitchens. But it's still one of the most popular and commonly ordered sandwiches in Brazil.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Time for a Quick Snack - Coxinha

I'm heading for the airport soon for the long flight from Fortaleza to Vancouver, where I'll be for the next three weeks. Exchanging the heat and sun of Northeastern Brazil for November's cold and damp in British Columbia. So postings for the next few weeks might be a bit more spotty than usual.

Since my flight is around noon, I won't have time for a full lunch - which is the largest meal of the day here in Brazil. I'll probably only have time for a quick snack. Brazilians love little snacks to tide them over from meal to meal, or to nibble while having drinks at a bar or restaurant with friends. In fact, there is a whole category of food which consists of such snacks - they are called salgados, which literally translates as "salted (things)". Salgados are not all necessarily salty, but they are called such to distinguish them from sweet snacks, like pastries. A less literal translation of the word salgado would probably be "savories."

Probably the most popular salgado throughout Brazil is something called the coxinha (pronounced co-SHEE-nya). The name coxinha means "little thigh". A coxinha is basically a small, teardrop-shaped chicken croquette. Shredded chicken mixed with a bit of cream cheese and seasonings is surrounded with dough, shaped into what is meant to look like chicken thighs, breaded and then deep-fried. Coxinhas come in all sizes, from miniscule cocktail-platter sizes to large ones, which can make a whole lunch when combined with a draft beer or a fruit-juice. The average coxinha, though, is about one to two inches long.

Just as the size of a coxinha can vary, so can the quality. A well-made, fresh, hot coxinha, though it never will be a healthy food, can be delicious. On the other hand, a bad coxinha is very bad indeed. It is stodgy, heavy and greasy. By all means, do try a coxinha in Brazil, or in a Brazilian shop in your city, but order one only at first, just to make sure that your coxinha is "uma delicia."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Artisanal Products - Mamão com Coco

The local, seasonal and sustainable food philosophy of the Slow Food Movement is not as developed in Brazil as it might be in Europe, North America or Australia, but Slow Food, and its philosophy, are present and expanding in the Brazilian consciousness. Slow Food Brasil has a number of local chapters throughout Brazil, and its website is a good guide to its activities and pursuits.

In Fortaleza, where I live, supermarkets are filled with industrially-manufactured foods, just as they are in most of the rest of the world. In some smaller food shops and markets, however, I'm beginning to notice that artisanal products are starting to become available. As I'm a long-time subscriber to the philosophy of Slow Food, and was an active member for many years in Canada, I search out these products, and purchase them - first, because I'm always curious to try out new foods and food products, and second, because I want to support the local food producing community by purchasing its products.

Today, while I was out doing some food shopping, I discovered a local food producer that was unknown to me. I was immediately attracted to it, as it was from a line of jams and preserves called "Sabores", which if you look at the title banner of this blog, means "Flavors" as in "Flavors of Brazil." I purchased a jar of a fruit compote labelled "Mamão com Coco" which translates to English as "Papaya with Coconut." The label indicates that the product only has three ingredients - papaya, coconut and sugar. It was made without any sort of preservative on August 21, 2009 and has a shelf life of 6 months. It claims to be 100% artisanal. The name of the producer is Joacy Lima Sales, and she lives at Rancho Dourado (Golden Ranch) in the city of Horizonte, about 40 kms. outside Fortaleza. With that sort of information on the label, I don't think any product could be more Slow Food than Sra. Lima Sales' Mamão com Coco.

After taking the photos in this post, I opened the jar just to sample the conserve. It's marvelous. The consistency is like a soft fruit spread, without pectin, and the taste combines the buttery tones of ripe papaya with the tropical creaminess of cocunut. Softened flakes of dried coconut give the spread some textural variety. It would be perfect as a flavoring agent for plain yogurt, served with white cheese for dessert, or spread between layers of a sponge cake. I'm looking forward to the remainder of the jar, and to more products from my neighbor at Sabores.

Fresh Fruit-Juice Sensation - Pineapple/Mint Juice

Brazil is blessed with an enormous quantity and variety of fresh fruits. The fruits are eaten fresh, cooked, preserved, and often made into fresh juice. Every Brazilian city has a number of juice bars - downtown, in neighborhoods, and in shopping malls. These bars make juice to order, and a quick juice is a typical flavor- and energy-pick-me-up for Brazilians of every stripe.

Most fruit juice bars have a menu of twenty or thirty available juices. Some are always made from fresh fruit - orange juice, for example - and others from frozen, unsweetened fruit pulp. The available fruits can also be combined to create an infinite number of juice drinks.

One of the most popular juice combinations throughout Brazil is pineapple (Portuguese: abacaxi, pronounced a-bah-cah-SHEE) and fresh mint (Portuguese: hortelã). Somehow the acidic, floral taste of fresh pineapple combines magically with the spicy snap of fresh mint to become something uniquely refreshing. When it's hot and sticky outside, as it can be in Brazil, nothing refreshes like a glass of pineapple-mint juice.

Fortunately, this drink is easy to make in North America. Unlike some exotic Brazilian fruits, which cannot be found in the USA, Canada or Europe, both fresh pineapple and mint are widely available north of the Equator. Here's all you need to do to make Brazil-in-a-glass at home.

Pineapple/Mint Juice
2 thick slices fresh pineapple, peeled and cored, in 1 inch chunks
1 tall glass fresh cold water
handful of mint leaves
3/4 ice cubes
sugar to taste (I don't use any, but some might prefer a sweeter drink. Brazilians definitely do!)
Put everything except sugar into blender. Blend until thoroughly amalgamated. Check sweetness, add sugar if desired, and blend again to dissolve sugar. Serve immediately.

Monday, November 2, 2009

RECIPE - Bori-Bori

The images of Brazil that most foreigners carry in their heads come primarily from Brazil's coastal regions - Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, the Northeast Coast. Although it is true that the bulk of Brazil's population lives on or near the 4650 miles (7491 km.) of coastline, the interior of Brazil is enormous and ranges from Amazonian jungle in the North to California-like climatic conditions in the South.

The large interior states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul are in the region called the Central-West of Brazil. The adjacent map shows their location. They are home to the world's largest wetlands, the Pantanal, which teem with animal and bird life. Large amounts of land in these two states is agricultural - primarily ranching and culture of soy beans. Life here is not easy, and culturally the inhabitants often have more in common with locals in nearby Paraguay and Bolivia than they do with the sophisticated residents of Rio or São Paulo.

One of the most typical dishes of this region is known and loved equally in Paraguay, and demonstrates the cultural links across national boundaries in the center of South America. It's basically a variation on chicken and dumplings, but with local twists, and it's called bori-bori. Corn-maize (Portuguese: milho) is extensively cultivated in Mato Grosso, and the dumplings in bori-bori are made with a local cornmeal called fubá. Nourishing, simple and made with local ingredients - bori-bori is a truly-traditional dish from Brazil's Central-West.

For the complete recipe, click on "read more" below...