Friday, October 30, 2009

If It's Thursday, This must be a Crab-fest

In Fortaleza, Thursday night means crabs (Portuguese: caranguejo). The weekend starts officially on Thursday evenings on the city's most popular beach, Praia do Futuro, when throngs of hungry and thirsty locals descend on any one of a number of beachfront bar/restaurants for a caranguejada. This word can be tanslated as a crab-fest, a crab-orgy or a crab-blowout depending on how many crabs one consumes. It's not gourmet food, but it's authentic, local and delicious. (And a bargain - last night two of us shared four crabs. Each one costs R$2.70 - Brazilian reais - which works out to approximately $1.50 USD per crab).

Fortaleza's beach is lined with establishments called barracas. They provide all the services one might need for a day, or evening, at the beach. There's always bar and food service, bathrooms and fresh-water showers, music (often live), and palm-thatched sun shelters on the beach itself. Last night we visited one called America do Sol for our crab tasting. Under a high thatched ceiling, open to the sea-breeze and night air, tables were set up simply for the crab-fest. There were no tableclothes for reasons that soon became obvious - eating crabs Fortaleza-style is a messy business! A group of about ten musicians sat in a circle in the middle of the restaurant playing traditional acoustic samba music. The crowd consisted of young singles, family groups, tourists, couples - a real mix.

We quickly ordered four crabs, and a bottle of Brazilian beer. In Brazil, the beer is mostly light lager-style and it's served extremely cold (-3 to -4 degrees Celsius). In normally comes in a large bottle, 600 ml. (20 oz.) in a thermal cooler-container. With crabs, beer is considered a necessity, not merely an option. The crabs came to the table in two plastic containers. One with the crabs themselves, very hot, and in a flavorful broth of crab nectar, coconut milk, onion, chilis and cilantro. The other container had two small pieces of granite, two hammers, and small cups of hot sauce and farinha, the ubitious Brazilian ground manioc accompaniment.

The technique for eating these crabs is simplicity itself. The piece of granite is used to hold the crab. Legs and claws are pulled off and pulled apart, using the hammers when necessary. Each bit is dipped into the broth, then slurped and sucked to extract the meat and the flavor. Some continue on with the body of the crab, but most people limit themselves to the limbs. Two crabs satiate a large appetite, but there are some people who eat three or four.

The coast of Ceará state is lined with beaches and with mangrove swamps, and it`s in the swamps where crabs are harvested. There is no commercial farming of crabs in Ceará, and all the crabs are wild. They, apparently, are not endangered, and thrive, even with a Thursday night crab-fest to supply every week.

Visiting Fortaleza without experiencing a Thursday night crab-fest is unthinkable. Choose from a number of barracas, order crabs and beer, and dig-in!

For a video on the Thursday crab-fest, including some wonderful samba music, click on this post (coming soon).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

RECIPE - Caipifruta de cajá

Brazil's most famous cocktail is, of course, the caipirinha, made with pulped limes and their juice, ice and cachaça, a sugar-cane distilled liquor. It's a ritual for tourists from around the world to sit on a beach in Brazil, or in a corner bar, and slowly "become" more Brazilian as they imbibe these powerful cocktails.

The basic caipirinha has developed into a whole family of drinks. When another tropical fruit is substitute for limes, the resulting drink is usually known as a caipifruta. Here's the recipe for a Caipifruta de cajá made with Brazil's cajá fruit. Saúde! (that's "cheers" in Portuguese)
RECIPE - Caipifruta de cajá
Makes 1 drink

2 oz. cachaça
2 oz.  cajá juice
slice of lime (optional)
Combine cachaça and the fruit juice is a lowball cocktail glass. Add ice cubes to fill the glass. Garnish with a slice of lime (optional). Serve.

Everything you wanted to know about the cajá...

In the Flavors of Brazil video tour of Fortaleza's central market many exotic tropical fruits were featured, including one called cajá. One of this blog's readers was intrigued by this apparently unknown fruit, and asked me to describe its taste. Trying to formulate a verbal description of any taste is a formidable task, but I thought I'd give it a try. Which led me to doing some research on this fruit, which led me to this post. Everything you wanted to know about the cajá, but were afraid to ask.

When I'd checked the internet casually for an English name for the cajá recently, I didn't find one, and so assumed that one didn't exist. Bad assumption! In doing more detailed research, I found the botanical name of the tree on which the cajá grows - Spondias mombin. Checking the botanical literature for this tree, I discovered that there is indeed an English name for this fruit, though not a very pretty one, I fear. Throughout most of the English-speaking Caribbean and West Africa, it's called the "hog plum". For what reason, I do not know.

The cajá is a tree-fruit, and one of the problems in commercial cultivation is the height of the tree - often more than 100 ft. (30 m). Nonetheless, it's extensively cultivated and highly appreciated in Brazil, particularly in the Northeast and in the state of Bahia. The fruit itself is about 5 cm. (2 in.) in length, and has a leathery skin, a thin layer of pulp, and a large, hard pit. Cajá is most often processed than eaten raw, and is valued as juice, jelly, and flavoring for ice cream, yogurt, etc. One of the most delicious ways to sample cajá is in a caipifruta, an alcoholic drink derived from the caipirinha. A recipe can be found in this post.

The only remaining task for this post now is the description of the taste of cajá. I've struggled mightly to try to think of how to describe it, and the best that I've been able to come up with is this - it's like a combination of apricot and mango (with a slightly resiny taste), but with jacked-up acidity, like a mild passionfruit. Don't know if that is sufficient, but I do know that even typing the description has made my mouth water. Cajá is exquisite, and any description beggars the task. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

RECIPE - Sautéed Shrimp with Sauce Rose

This simple and uncomplicated recipe can be made with any fresh shrimp of your choice - large, medium or small. Because the shrimp is served simply and unadorned, I find this dish works best with fresh shrimp. Save frozen shrimp for other uses where they are masked by cream sauces, or breaded.

Sautéed Shrimp with Sauce Rose
Serves 4

1 lb. (500 gr.) fresh shrimp, deheaded, deveined and peeled
1 Tbsp. neutral vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 cloves finely-chopped garlic
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 cup canned tomato sauce (plain)
2 Tbsp. plain cream cheese, Philadelphia-style
1 cup light cream (half and half)
1 Tbsp. brandy or cognac
1 Tbsp. flour
Salt to taste
Sauce Rose:
Put the tomato sauce, the cream cheese and the light cream in a medium saucepan. In a small bowl cream 1 Tbsp. butter with the flour until a smooth paste as formed. Stir the paste into the ingredients in the saucepan, and continue stirring until well amalgamated, and there are no lumps. Cook over low heat until the sauce thickens and there is no taste of raw flour. Add salt to taste. Heat the cognac carefully in a small container; remove from heat, and light with small match. Let flame until flames extinguish. Add cognac to sauce. Set aside and keep warm.

Sautéed shrimp:
In medium to large saucepan, bring 1 quart (1 litre) of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt, then shrimp. Reduce heat to simmering. Cook shrimp for 2 minutes, then drain, and immediately refresh in cold water. Add 1 Tbsp. oil and remaining Tbsp. butter to heavy frying pan or saute pan, and heat until butter melts and begins to bubble. Add garlic and onion, and cook until transparent but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add shrimp, and saute, tossing regularly, until thoroughly heated, and until the shimp lightly browns, about 5 minutes.

Serve the shrimp and sauce in separate bowls (see photo) with plain white rice.

(Adapted and translated from a recipe in Na Cozinha, com Lurdinha!)

Shrimp Farming in Ceará- a controversy

In Ceará, the state in which I live in Brazil, there is a rapidly growing shrimp-farming industry, and a just as rapidly growing controversy over the environmental and health impact of this practice. The market is principally an export-driven one, with the bulk of exported shrimp destined for Europe, the USA and Japan. It is an economically important industry in this area, and shrimp are the 14th highest value export product from Ceará.

Having lived for a long time in British Columbia, Canada where salmon farming practices have contributed to the decline of natural stocks and wreaked environmental damage wherever they have started, I have been very wary of farmed shrimp here in Ceara. It hasn't been proved to me that shrimp farming is harmful to the ecology of Ceará, but at the same time, it hasn't been proven to me that it isn't harmful. Fortunately, Ceará also has an artisanal shrimp fishery, and at the portside fish market near my house, I can buy caught-at-sea shrimp, at a decent price, and with excellent quality and freshness. I think I'll stick to these shrimps when I'm cooking at home for the foreseeable future.

For a simple, quick and delicious shrimp main course from Brazil, see the recipe in this post.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

VIDEO GUIDE - Fruits and vegetables in video tour

The previous post in this blog was Flavors of Brazil's video tour of Fortaleza's central food market, São Sebastião.
Here is a quick guide to some of the tropical fruits and vegetables seen in the video.

  • 0:43 - Sapodilla (Portuguese: sapoti)
  • 0:53 - Cashew (Portuguese: caju)
  • 1:15 - Hog Plum (Portuguese: cajá)
  • 1:27 - Black-eyed peas (Portuguese: feijão verde)
  • 1:47 - Passionfruit (Portuguese: maracujá)
  • 1:57 - Dried coconuts (Portuguese: coco seco)
If you look carefully at the cashew fruit, you'll see the true fruit, containing the nut we know as a cocktail snack, hanging off the apple-shaped pseudofruit.

The black-eyed pea vendor is shucking fresh pea-pods before selling the peas. Black-eyed peas are sold both fresh and dried in Brazil.

VIDEO - Tour of Fortaleza's central market - Mercado São Sebastião

RECIPE - Home-made chili-pepper sauce (pimenta)

This is really more a how-to post, than a true recipe. The ingredients and quantities vary so much that it's impossible to write a traditional-style recipe. However, it's very easy to explain, and extremely easy to make. The resulting sauce, pimenta, can be used on the stove to spice up food as it's being cooked, or it can stand on the table to allow diners to add to their own taste. It's inexpensive, and it lasts forever without spoiling.

First, you need to collect the ingredients and materials. You'll need about 1/2 lb. (500 gr.) of one or more varieties of small, hot chili peppers. What's available to you will depend on your own market sources in your city. For the sauce in the photos in this post, I used two chili peppers available locally here in Fortaleza - malagueta and camurim. The vendor I bought the chilis from at Fortaleza's central market, Sao Sebastiao, recommended combining these two, as the malagueta would provide the heat, and the camurim would provide the aroma and flavor. You'll also need some small glass bottles, suitable for the size of the chilis. I used recycled Worcestershire sauce bottles, but almost any kind will work. And last, you'll need some liquid to cover the chilis in the bottle. The liquids used most commonly in Brazil are vinegar (white or wine) or cachaça, Brazil's sugar-cane based liquor. I chose cachaça.

In preparing the pimenta, it's best to use rubber gloves whenever handling the chilis. Wash the chilis thoroughly, then pull off the stems, leaving the chilis whole. Pack them into the bottle, filling it completely. Then add the liquid to cover, and cap the bottle. Let stand at least 3 days for flavor to develop before using. As the pimenta is used at the stove or table, the liquid can be replenished.

Incidentally, pimenta makes an excellent gift for a holiday, or as a host/hostess present at a dinner party.

Pimentas and Pimenta

The Portuguese word pimenta is used to refer both to the family of plants that are called chilis or chili peppers in English, and to the table-top sauce made from the fruits of these plants. It's a bit like the situation in English where tabasco is the name of a particular species of chili pepper AND the name of the sauce made from this pepper.

Brazilian food, contrary to what many people believe, is not necessarily spicy and hot. Certain regional cuisines, indeed, are very spicy - Bahian food, or Amazonian food. In other regions in Brazil food normally comes to the table unspiced. However, whether in a restaurant or at home, a bottle of pimenta stands in the middle of the table, like salt and pepper might in North America, ready to be used by any one who wants to spice up a dish on their plate. If it's not on the table at a restaurant, it can always be obtained on demand.

A tremendous number of different chilis are grown in Brazil, and the taxonomic confusion is enormous. The same pepper might have two different names in different regions - or two totally unrelated peppers might share a single name. To add to the confusion, some common Brazilian chilis are also used in other national cuisines, but with different names.

For instance, one of the most common hot chilis in Brazil is called the malagueta. In Portugal, and in Portuguese-speaking Africa, it's called peri-peri or piri-piri. In Asia, it's known as the birdseye pepper or the Thai chili, and in North America it's our familiar Tabasco.

There are literally hundreds of other common names for chilis in Brazil. We'll be exploring some of them in this blog.

If you would like to make a Brazilian-style pimenta at home, it's very easy. The instructions are in the following post.

Monday, October 26, 2009

RECIPE - Kale Mineira

This dish, known as "couve mineira" in Brazil, is one of Minas Gerais' most well-loved culinary exports to the rest of Brazil. A simple side-dish, it has become an essential component of feijoada, which is originally from Rio de Janeiro, but is considered Brazil's national dish.

The kale used in Brazil is flat-leafed, unlike the curly kale normally found in North American markets. However, this dish can very successfully be made with curly-leafed kale, or even with collard greens or escarole. Any green that provides the required bitterness would be a successful substitute.

Click on "read more..." below for the recipe

The Other Brazil: Minas Gerais

The New York Times Travel Magazine published yesterday an all-Latin American edition of their Travel Magazine. Included in the issue was a very interesting and informative article by Seth Kugel on travel to the historic mining towns of the the Brazilian state called Minas Gerais (English: General Mines). I've travelled to many of the places mentioned in the article, and towns like Ouro Preto and Tiradentes are colonial gems - baroque art and architecture in a stunning mountain landscape. The complete article can be found by clicking here.

Besides art, architecture, history and landscape, Brazilians consider gastronomy to be one of Minas Gerais' gifts to the nation. As a landlocked state, but an incredibly lush and fertile one, Minas Gerais' food is substantial, homey and comforting - based on meats, stews, baking and sweets. It's not sophisticated, it's simple and full of concentrated flavors.

One of the most well-known and well-loved dishes from this state is Kale Mineira (Portuguese: couve mineira). Mineira means "in the style of Minas Gerais" A recipe follows, in the next post.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

RECIPE - Custard-Apple Mousse

(Adapted from Cyber-cook at
Serves 6

10 atas (fruta-do-conde, fruta-pinha, custard-apples)
1 can sweetened evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
2 envelopes, unflavored gelatin
3 Tbsp. warm water
6 small fresh mint leaves (optional)

Open the fruits, and separate out the segments, discarding the skin and central core. Put the segments into a blender and blend at lowest speed only to separate the seeds from the pulp, taking care not to crack the seeds open.
Put the pulp through a sieve to separate the seeds. Soften the gelatin in the warm water, and add to the pulp along with the evaporated milk and the condensed milk. Whisk the mixture to combine ingredients thoroughly.

Put the mixture into one glass dessert bowl, or six stemmed dessert glasses. Refrigerate for a minimum of four hours. Serve garnished with a mint leaf.

Sampling A Mystery - an ata tasting

Once I had determined what my mystery fruit was, I was ready to give it the "taste test."  From it's rather prickly appearance, the first obstacle was getting  it open. (click photos to enlarge)

Fortunately, a Brazilian friend who's well familiar with the ata told me that it actually comes apart easily in segments if you put your fingers gently into a fissure between segments, and slowly pull the fruit apart. So I gave it a try, and it opened easily.

As you can see from the photos below, the interior of the ata consists of a number of segments closely packed together. Each segment consists of  a capsule of smooth and soft whitish flesh surrounding a shiny, dark-brown oval seed. The size of each capsule is no more than 1 inch long.

I found the best way to eat the ata was to pop a segment into my mouth, and then the seed is easily removed from the flesh and discarded. (Incidentally, the interior of the seed is said to be poisonous, so it's best not to bite on them). The flesh is incredibly sweet, with very low acidity, and flavors of pear, apple, and tutti-frutti. The texture is creamy, with a slight hint of the pear's grit. It's immediately evident why one of the English names for this fruit is custard-apple! There is not a strong aroma to the fruit.

Anyone who has eaten related tropical fruits like cherimoya, jackfruit, or even durian will be able to note both the visual similarity in the the fruits' structures, and the similar flavor profiles.

The ata is very high in caloric content, and I found that half an at provided a complete dessert. A whole one would be overfilling, I think.

Mystery Solved - It's a Bird...It's a Plane....It's an ?????????????

Yesterday, I went shopping in Fortaleza's central food market, called Mercado São Sebastião. I took some photos, and a also shot a couple of short videos - I hope to have those in the blog early next week. In the meantime, here's a little mystery about a exotic fruit called the "ata."

When I was walking through the aisles of fruit and vegetable vendors, I noticed a fruit for sale that I hadn't seen before in Fortaleza. It looked familiar, but it wasn't quite right. I asked a vendor what the name was, and he replied ata. It looked like this:
I was intrigued, because it reminded me of a fruit I had known from Mexico and Guatemala called cherimoya, but somehow it was different. Since I didn't have a cherimoya in front of me to compare, I couldn't recall what was different, but I knew something was wrong. So, naturally, I bought a couple - first, to taste and sample, and second, to try to identify correctly for this blog.

A little internet research was all it took to identify this unknown fruit. I first checked Google images for photos of cherimoyas to make sure it wasn't a cherimoya. Here's a sample cherimoya photo:

It clearly wasn't a cherimoya, thourgh there did seem to be some sort of family resemblance. I decided next to check the internet for this mystery fruit under the name the vendor had given me - ata. Searching the English web revealed nothing, nor did searching ata in the Portuguese Wikipedia. I looked for ata on the Brazilian site Toda Fruta, which has a list of all cultivated fruits in Brazil - nothing there. Then I limited my search to Brazilian and Portuguese language sites and found something. On the Brazilian equivalent of "Yahoo answers" I found this question: "Ata, Fruta-do-Conde, Nona - which is the correct name for this fruit?" Someone answered that all three names refer to the same fruit, but each is used in a different partsof Brazil. Fruta-do-conde is used in the south of Brazil, ata in the Northeast (where I live), and in Sao Paulo, they call the fruit pinha.

For the solution to the mystery, click on "read more" below...

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Brazilian Way with Avocado - Smoothies and Ice Cream

Drinking a smoothie (Portuguese: vitamina) for breakfast is very popular in Brazil. And it's no wonder with the spectrum of tropical fruits available to choose from. The recipe for a Brazilian smoothie is quite similar to the North American one - milk or yogurt, fruit, sugar or honey, and possibly oats, all blended in a blender. Very simple.

One of the most common and delicious Brazilian smoothies is made with an ingredient that Brazilians consider a fruit and most North Americans consider a vegetable - the avocado (Portuguese: abacate, pronounced a-ba-KA-chee). Botanically, it is a fruit, of course, so the Brazilians win on that account. Until I came to know the Brazilian way with avocado, I always considered it a savory ingredient - in guacamole, for example. One of my favorite ways to eat a perfectly ripe avocado was to mash it on a piece of buttered toast, liberally salted of course. Brazilians, to the contrary, think of avocado as a fruit, albeit one that must be sweetened to be appreciated. Avocado mousse, avocado ice cream, and of course, avocado smoothie, all typical Brazilian dishes containing avocado.

Brazilian avocados are larger than North American ones, and a quarter to a half a Brazilian avocado is plenty for a single-serving smoothie. I would add one whole North American avocado to achieve the desired level of intensity of avocado flavor.Since avocados are widely available in North America, an avocado smoothie is something that is easy to try at home. You'll be surprised by how well the flavor of avocado works as a sweet, rather than as a salty, ingredient.

Click on "read more" below for avocado ice cream...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Nitty-gritty on Buchada

In preparation for Flavors of Brazil's upcoming encounter with the traditional dish of Ceara, buchada, (see previous post) I've been doing some online research into the dish - looking at photos, recipes, and articles. It's not been exactly what I'd call enticing. However, I'm determined to carry on....

First, there's the issue of the visual aspects of this dish as it sits on the plate. There seems to be many styles of buchada, but they all have in common this greyish football-shaped stomach perched in the middle of the plate or platter. Sometimes, there's sauce, sometimes not. Sometimes the stomach has been pre-opened, sometimes not. Here is a random sampling from the internet: (click each photo to enlarge)

But that's not the end of it.  Looking at a number of recipes, I found the typical list of ingredients less than appetizing. Here's one list, also from the internet:

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid!! - Facing up to Buchada

As I said in the introductory post to this blog, I intend Flavors Of Brazil to be about all types of Brazilian cooking and food - traditional and modern, regional and national, expensive and cheap. I exclude nothing about food in Brazil from this blog.

Which leads directly to buchada. I live in the Brazilian state of Ceara, on Brazil's Northeast Coast, and so naturally I'm very interested in local food traditions. And one of the most popular and traditional dishes from Ceara is buchada.

The word buchada comes from the Portuguese word bucho, meaning animal's stomach. And what buchada turns out to be is nothing but a Brazilian variant on Scottish haggis - a lamb's (or goat's) stomach stuffing with various types of offal.

I do try to be an adventurous eater, but I have to confess that offal and I really don't get along all that well. In fact, we don't get along at all. Offal, awful - to me they're just variant spellings. But I can't really write with any authority about buchada in this blog without tasting it. And there's the rub...

So, I've determined to let my prejudices fall to the wayside, and I'm going to confront buchada face-to-face. I have a good friend, Antonio Carlos, who makes the best buchada in Fortaleza, according to those who have sampled it. I'm going to ask him to cook a buchada in my apartment, and I will photograph the process and the results. I will also do my best to critique the final product, assuming that I'm able to keep my gag reflexes under control.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Whole Lotta Beef!

One of the first things I noticed about Brazilian eating traditions when I began travelling here was that the majority of Brazilians were confirmed and enthusiastic carnivores. Brazilian churrascarias (buffet restaurantss with armies of waiters who pass tableside carrying enormous skewers of every cut of meat imaginable - and who slice the meat directly from the skewer onto your plate) are to be found throughout the country, and are becoming popular outside Brazil. They are temples to meat, particularly beef.

Brazil's beef industry is one of the largest in the world, and with a beef-hungry domestic market of almost 200 million persons, it doesn't require exports to sustain itself, although Brazil does export a large amount of beef. Unlike American grain-fed feedlot beef, the majority of Brazilian beef is grass-fed, and only 4% of beef cattle spend time in feedlots prior to slaughter. Significantly, BSE is unknown in Brazilian cattle due to the vegetarian diet of Brazilian cattle.

Because of my impression that Brazilians eat a tremendous amount of beef, I decided to find out where Brazilians stand in per capita beef consumption. I found data on the site of the USA Census, which compares per capita consumption of beef worldwide. The data dates from 2000, but I don't imagine that comparative rankings have changed significantly since. Brazilians eat 32.3 kgs (70.84 lbs) of beef annually per capita, less than Americans at 45.3 kgs. (99.66 lbs), but almost the same as Canadians at 32.1kgs. (70.62 lbs). However, nobody eats beef like the Argentinians, the world champion beef eaters, not surprisingly. The per capita consumption in that beef-crazy country is an enormous 70.2 kgs (154.44 lbs)!

Monday, October 19, 2009

RECIPE - Caruru

Caruru, made with okra, dried shrimps, dendê oil, and ground cashews is a staple of Bahian cuisine. The cooking of Bahia derives many of its dishes from the African tradition, and caruru, or very similar dishes, can be found in West Africa, the Caribbean and the Southern US.

Caruru is a ritual food of the Candomblé religion, and is used as filling in the typical Bahian street-food acarajé. It also makes a delicious and substantial side-dish to any Bahian meal.

Click on "read more" for the recipe...

Embracing the slime - the Brazilian way with okra

There is a reason why the lovely butter-yellow okra flower at the right looks like a hibiscus. Okra and hibiscus are both members of the  botanical family Malvaceae, as are cotton ,cacao and the dreadful-smelling durian.

Okra (Portuguese: quiabo) is one of those love-it-or-hate-it foods about which few people are neutral. For those in the hate-it camp, the problem is often more about texture than taste. Okra exudes a mucilaginous substance, which gives many okra dishes a more-or-less slippery or slimy texture. Most North American okra recipes go to great lengths to try to reduce or eliminate the texture, often by preliminarily stir-frying the okra, or by the addition of slightly acidic ingredients, like citrus or tomatoes.

Okra is extremely popular in Brazil, as it grows well in Brazil's tropical climate. It was first brought there from West Africa by slaves imported to work in the sugar cane plantations and mines of colonial Brazil. Many familiar Brazilian dishes containing okra come from the African tradition. Some are used as traditional offerings to the orixas, or gods, in the rituals of the Afro-Brazilian religion, Candomblé. Some of these dishes, including perhaps the most well-known, caruru, enhance rather than try to eliminate the slippery, or slimy, texture. If okra itself is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition, Brazil's traditional okra dishes are even more so.

I love caruru and other okra dishes, and seem to have evolved beyond my earlier aversion to its texture. A recipe for caruru can be found in this post.

How do you say "Chuck Eye Roast" in Portuguese?

Part of the learning curve involved in cooking in a new country and culture is that the cuts of beef, pork or lamb that you know cannot be translated ino the language of your new home. Animals are butchered differently in different cultures, and so it's impossible to translate many familiar names from one language to another. There is no name in Portuguese for the "chuck eye roast" for instance, as that cut doesn't exist when a Brazilian steer is butchered. Nor is there an English name that correctly translates the steak that is most Brazilians' favorite - picanha, because that steak cannot be found in North American butcher shops and supermarkets.

If I'm cooking from a Brazilian recipe, there is no problem, as the recipe will indicate the proper cut of meat. The difficulty arises when I try to duplicate a favorite dish from North America. For example, what should I use in a beef pot roast or in a London Broil? I don't want to be reduced to pointing out various regions of my body to my local butcher a la Julia Child. Luckily, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Institute - EMBRAPA - has a very detailed guide to cuts of beef on its website. By comparing the charts there to a standard North American chart of beef cuts, you can easily find the nearest Brazilian equivalent to your favourite cut, and can confidently order it in Portuguese at the butcher's or find it in the supermarket meat section

Sunday, October 18, 2009

RECIPE - Italo-Bahian Shrimp Risotto

The one indispensible ingredient of this dish is the vivid red-orange palm oil called dendê (pronounced: den-DAY). Other oils, like annatto oil may be substituted for color, but there is no acceptable substite for the flavor of dendê. In North America's larger cities, I have found dendê in Latin American or African food stores, although name dendê will only be used in Latin American stores, the African name being merely palm oil. It can also be purchased online in the USA at

Click on "read more" for the recipe...

New Fusion Cuisine! ITALO-BAHIAN

One of Brazil's most distinctive and well-known regional cuisines comes from the Brazilian state of Bahia, on the country's Northeast coast. Bahia's cooking is heavily influenced by African traditions, as historically the state was one of the centers of sugar cane production, which required intensive slave labor. Some of the signal ingredients of this spicy cuisine are shrimps, both fresh and dried, black-eyed peas, coconut milk, cilantro and the oil of the dendezeiro palm tree, called dendê.

I love making risotto, and am able to source authentic Italian arborio rice here in Fortaleza.  I visited Fortaleza's seaside fish market yesterday, and found some wonderful fresh wild shrimp. I bought a kilo of them, headless but still in their shells for approx. $4.00 a pound. After deciding to use them in a shrimp risotto, I thought of finishing off the risotto with some of the flavors of Bahia, to create an Italo-Bahian shrimp risotto. I used cilantro, coconut milk and dendê. The result was delicious, and though not completely Brazilian in inspiration, the flavors (and colors) of Brazil enhanced the dish. The recipe can be found in the post to follow.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

RECIPE - Passion Fruit Mousse (Mousse de Maracujá)

If Brazil declared a national dessert, it would most likely be passion fruit mousse. Easily and quickly made, it is served at dinner parties at home, it's a staple in the dessert counters of delicatessens and bakeries, and it appears front and center on many restaurant menus.

When made at home in Brazil, passion fruit mousse calls for fresh passions fruits (about 6 large), sweetened condensed milk, and a dairy product called creme de leite, which is somewhat similar to evaporated milk. Since the fresh fruit and the creme de leite can be difficult to obtain outside Brazil, here is a recipe which can easily be made in most North American cities (and probably European, Asian, and African too, for that matter).

Click on "read more" for the recipe...

What color is a passion fruit?

If you can buy fresh passion fruit in your local supermarket, what color is it? And what shape and size? Large, smooth and yellow, or small, wrinkled, and dark purple? The answer to this question most likely depends on the country in which you are shopping, or if you are buying imported fruit, which country produced the passionfruit. There are two distinctive varieties of the edible passion fruit; one is bright yellow, about the size of a small grapefruit, glossy and smooth, and quite light for its size. The other is much smaller, typically about the size of a large lemon, dark purple, less glossy, and often wrinkled in appearance. Here in Brazil, only the yellow variety is available, and in Australia the purple variety is the one that is consumed. I've tasted both varieties and can't distinguish one from the other by taste or aroma. According to botanical sources, however, the two colors are separate species, occur in distinct geographical territores, and bloom at different times of day.

Passionate about Passion Fruit

Why is it that some people love strawberries obsessively, and others would kill for a sweet, freshly-picked ear of corn? Could it be memories connecting the taste with long-past pleasant times and experiences? Or is there a chemical disposition in one's taste and smell receptors that causes one to love this food and hate that one? I don't know the answer; however, I do know that whatever the reason, I adore passion fruit. I must have first tasted passion fruit in my 20s or 30s, so it can't be a case of a Proustian response to some long-lost childhood paradise. I guess I'll just have to put it down to chemistry then.

In any case, for a passion fruit addict like me, living in Brazil is a junkie's paradise. Passion fruit (Portuguese: Maracujá) (Bot: Passiflora edulis) is cheaply and readily available all year round, and is used in a large number of dishes and drinks. There's passion fruit juice, which Brazilians will tell you has a tranquilizing and sedative effect, and there's the juice's stronger cousin, the caipifruta de maracujá, which is basically a caipirinha made with passion fruit juice rather than lime juice.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mercado dos Pinhões - The Friday Market

This morning, like most Friday mornings, I went "to market" just after breakfast, before the heat of the day becomes oppressive, and while the selection of produce, dairy and meat is still abundant. The market opens around 7 am, and is over before noon. Today I was looking for produce for a dinner party, and for the weekend ahead. It took me only 15 or 20 minutes (and the equivalent of $4.00) to fill my shopping bag. I spent a few more minutes taking photos of the products available, which can be found by clicking "read more..."  I'll be discussing these products in more detail soon on the blog; in this post, I'm more interested in showing the variety and quality available at the market.

Fortaleza's Mercado dos Pinhões - The Structure

In nearly every Brazilian city, small or large, traditional open-air food markets co-exist with supermarkets and hypermarkets. In any particular locale, only one day a week is "market-day". In my neighbourhood in Fortaleza, on Brazil's Northeast coast, Friday is market day, and it's held in front of a historic iron market structure from the end of the 19th Century. The actual iron market, called Mercado dos Pinhões (the word pinhões means "pine nuts" in Portuguese, but I've been unable to discover why the market is so called), is now a municipal arts and culture centre, and the Friday market has moved into the plaza in front.

The iron market structure was constructed in Orleans, France, shipped to Brazil, and assembled in Fortaleza. It opened on April 17, 1897, and was double the present-day size. The open iron-work structure was perfect for Fortaleza's tropical heat, as it allowed the breeze to flow freely through the market. The iron work was highly ornamented in the style of the period, and art-nouveau stained glass was employed under the iron roof.

Today, the Mercado dos Pinhões is a protected historical structure. It no longer serves its original purpose, but its presence gives the Friday market a beauty and gravity it would not have in the absence of the iron lace of the old market sitting squarely on its plaza.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tropical Fruits - Just How Many Are There in Brazil?

Since the days when Carmen Miranda first arrived in Hollywood with a basket laden with tropical fruits atop her head, North American's have associated fruits such as pineapples, limes, papayas, and guavas with Brazil. Tourists in Rio fall in love not only with Sugar Loaf and Ipanema Beach, but also with the delicious cocktail called the caipirinha, made from limes and a sugar cane-based liquor called cachaça. Every morning, these same tourists marvel at the bounty of fruit served at their hotel's breakfast buffet. Brazilian food, and Brazilian cuisine, is unthinkable without fruit. It is eaten fresh, it is drunk as juice, it flavours desserts, and it is a primary ingredient in many sweet and savory dishes.

All the tropical fruits available in North America can be found in Brazil. But they are only a small portion of the enormous number of fruits that can be, and should be, enjoyed by visitors to this country. In every region, and every season, fruits can be found that are never exported, and have limited distribution even in Brazil. Some have familiar flavors, and some have flavors unlike any other fruit in the world. They all beg to be tried, and tourists with adventuresome palates will be well-rewarded for taking that first bite into the unknown.

I recently came across a Brazilian website, Toda Fruta, which has an alphabetical list of all the commercially-grown fruits in Brazil.  The site in in Portuguese, but after the jump, I've copied just the list. Take a look - and count how many you've heard of. I'll be discussing individual fruits later in this blog, but I know I'll never make it through this entire list!

Brazil's Felicitous Mixtures - Races, Cultures (and Cuisines)

The fact that most Brazilians are descended from a complicated mixture of races is one of the most important determining factors in the creation of culture of today’s Brazil, and is reflected in Brazilian language, customs, religion, mythology, music, dance and festivals. This cultural and racial mixture also informs the food and cooking of Brazil, in terms of ingredients, techniques and tastes. Brazilian cuisine combines Amerindian, African and European traditions to create a new mix which derives from these three traditions, and from them creates something wholly new.