Thursday, July 1, 2010


Cuxá is the most well-known and emblematic dish from the Northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão and combines influences from the four cultures that were most important in the formation of the state: black African, native American Indian, Portuguese, and Arabian (Syrio-Lebanese). This cultural mix is particular to Maranhão and gives the state a very distinct and unique feel, quite unlike the rest of the country. The basic ingredient of cuxá is vinagreira leaves (click here to learn more about vinagreira) which came to Brazil from Africa. A second leafy green, variously known as joão-gomes, carurú, lingua-de-vaca (cow's tongue) or bunda-mole (soft bum), was much appreciated by native Indians and plays an important part in cuxá's mix of flavors. From the Arabs comes the presence of sesame seeds, and from the Portuguese comes the method of preparation itself, which involves pounding or macerating the cooked greens and sesame seeds into a paste.

Cuxá is usually served as a side-dish to accompany fish, chicken or shrimp main courses, or is combined with rice to create arroz de cuxá.


10 bunches vinagreira leaves
1 bunch lingua-de-vaca leaves
1/2 lb (200 gr) toasted white sesame seeds
1/4 lb (100 gr) toasted manioc flour (farinha)
1/2 lb (200 gr) small dried shrimp, soaked in several changes cold water to remove salt)
1 bunch green onions
1 bunch cilantro
1 fresh thai chile pepper, deseeded
Wash the vinagreira and lingua-de-vaca leaves, remove stems and then place into a large pot of boiling water. Cook until the greens are limp and have lost their bright color. Remove the leaves from the pot, using a strainer-spoon, and reserve both the leaves and the cooking water.

In a large mortar-and-pestle, crush the toasted sesame seeds until coarsely consistent texture has been reached. Add the manioc flour and continue to crush until both ingredients are reduced to a paste. (This step may be done in a food processor, but the texture will quickly become overly-consistent).

In a food processor or blender, combine the cooked greens, the sesame-manioc paste, the shrimp, green onions, cilantro and chile. Add a small amount of the water in which the greens were cooked. Pulse the mixture two or three times, making sure not to over-process. The result should be a coarse paste.

Put the mixture into a large heavy pan. Heat over medium-low heat and add small amounts of cooking water if needed to obtain the proper consistency, which should be like creamed spinach or Indian saag.

Serve immediately as a side dish for any spicy main course, accompanied by steamed white rice.

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