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...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Saturday churrasco - Part 2 PICANHA

In my previous post, I mentioned how a typical Brazilian family churrasco consists of a series of grilled meats served directly from the grill and served in small bite-size pieces. There's often chicken or pork at a churrasco and sometimes even grilled coalho cheese but there is always beef of some sort. The majority of Brazilians are confirmed carnivores, and I'm sure a large majority would say that beef is their favorite type of meat. And if asked what cut of beef is their favorite, the same majority would loudly acclaim picanha as the best, most noble cut of beef.

I've previously posted about the differences between Brazilian and North American cuts of beef, and how differing styles of butchering means that it's impossible to directly relate a Brazilian cut to a North American one. The cut known as picanha is probably the most famous example of this - Brazilians consider it the best cut, and in North America it doesn't exist. Or at least almost doesn't exist. The picanha is part of what's called "top sirloin" in North America, and it's not usually separated from the rest of that cut. On the odd occasion when it might be cut separately, the correct name is "rump cover." With that name, it's no wonder the cut hasn't become popular in North America - somehow the name lacks gustatory appeal. "I'm dying for a nice rump cover for dinner tonight" or "I think I'll have the rump cover" bring rather unfortunately visual images to mind (or at least to my mind!)

Call it picanha or rump cover, it's a delicious cut of meat, either way. A fairly thick layer of fat covers a tender and lean nugget of meat, and in grilling, this layer of fat moistens and flavors the meat. Picanha is served with the fat attached, and although most people cut the fat away, some consider it the jewel in the crown, and eat it alongside the lean center cut.

 In typical churrasco style, picanha is simply grilled, seasoned only by salt. However, salting a picanha or other cut of meat for grilling is done in a unique was in Brazil. The salt used is very coarse rock salt, and it's applied very liberally to both sides of the picanha before it goes on the grill. Here's how a piece of picanha was salted yesterday by my friend Marcos César:

Interestingly, this enormous quantity of salt doesn't mean over-salted meat. By using coarse salt and by totally covering the surface of the meat, a crust is formed during cooking, which keeps the meat inside juicy and tender. When the picanha is removed from the grill, the salt crust is knocked off, and only then is it sliced and served. I've done something similar with a whole fish - roasting it in a bed of coarse salt, and then knocking away the salt crust to reveal the juicy fish inside. In Brazil, the same technique serves to ensure a juicy and properly seasoned steak - give it a try next time you fire up your grill and serve your steaks Brazilian churrasco style.

Saturday churrasco - Part 1 PORK RIBS

This weekend is a long weekend in Brazil - Monday, November 02 is the holiday called Dia dos Finados. The name means "Day of the Dead" and it's the same holiday that's celebrated in Mexico as Dia de los Muertos (although without the laughing skeleton cookies etc.). On Dia dos Finados many families visit the tombs or graves of departed family members to celebrate their remembrance. There's a strong family-bond connection to the whole weekend. Yesterday, Saturday, I was invited to a poolside BBQ (churrasco) at the home of a good friend, Fátima Dantas Lima. There were grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, children and grandkids. There was beer and soft drinks. And there was meat, lots of it!

Rather than being a sit-down meal, the typical Brazilian churrasco is more like a multi-hour-long snacking festival. Meat is grilled in small quantities, and then served in bite-size pieces for nibbling, accompanied only by farinha, a crunchy manioc flour, and vinaigrete, a simple sauce of chopped tomato, onion and green pepper in vinegar.

Often a churrasco will start with one meat, then move on to another, and another, and another. At yesterday's party, the guests were first served pork ribs, then steaks, then spicy sausage.

In Brazil, it's very common to have an outdoor brick barbeque for cooking churrasco. The meat is grilled over natural charcoal. I've not seen briquets nor a propane barbecue since arriving in Brazil. The meat is seasoned only with rock salt and grilled. It's not common to marinade the meat, nor to apply barbeque sauces during cooking.

First up on the menu were two racks of pork back ribs. They were salted, grilled, and served unsauced.  The high heat of the charcoal and the quick cooking time insured that much of the fat was rendered, leaving crunchy bits of fat, a equally crunchy crust, and tender and juicy meat inside. Nothing could be simpler, and I'm sure meat has been cooked just like this since the beginning of time. It was superb, and a great start to the party, washed down with icy Brazilian beer (Portuguese: cerveja).

For the main course, check the following post, found here.