Thursday, March 31, 2011

RECIPE - Cappelleti alla Romanesca

This recipe for cappelleti in a cream-based sauce with ham, mushrooms and peas, was made invented in the 1950s in São Paulo, Brazil - not in Rome as the name would lead you to believe. But whether it was born in the Old World or the New World makes little difference to most Brazilians, who've taken this recipe to their collective hearts. Especially kids - this is a tremendously kid-friendly dish.

It's also a recipe that's very easy to make and requires little time or technical skill. Perfect for a quick supper.

One note - the recipe calls for creme de leite, a type of cream that, though common in Brazil, isn't available in many parts of the world. (click here for information about creme de leite).The dish can be very successfully made with sour cream or crème fraîche , or a mixture of the two.
RECIPE - Cappelleti alla Romanesca
Serves 5
10 oz (300 gr) fresh, meat- or cheese-filled cappelleti
1 pint (500 ml) creme de leite (see above)
1/4 lb (100 gr) cooked ham, cut into small cubes
1/4 lb (100 gr) fresh white button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 lb (100 gr) fresh or frozen small peas, cooked
butter to taste
salt to taste
fresh-grated parmesan cheese
In a large pan of boiling water, cook the cappelleti as directed. When cook to the al dente stage, drain, refresh in plenty of running water, then reserve.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan melt the butter, then sauté the mushrooms until they are softened. Then add the ham and peas and cook for an additional minute or two. Add the creme de leite, season for salt, then increase the heat to reduce the sauce slightly. When reduced, add the reserved cappelleti and cook, stirring carefully, until the cappelleti are heated through.

Remove from heat, place in a large serving platter, and pass at the table, with grated parmesan in a small bowl at the side.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cappelleti alla Romanesca - A Fake-Italian Brazilian Specialty

Brazil is full of Italian restaurants, like the rest of the world. Brazilians are, on the whole, not terribly adventurous eaters, and even in the big cities of Brazil you'll not find the huge range of ethnic restaurants that you'd find in New York, Paris, London or Vancouver. But two foreign cuisines have won a place in Brazilians' hearts - Italian and Japanese. Both cuisines are ubiquitous in Brazil - a fact that largely stems from immigration patterns - and both find their purest Brazilian expression in São Paulo - also due to those same immigration patterns.

The typical Brazilo-Italian restaurant - the casual, trattoria-style, not the upmarket contemporary style - boasts a menu which is heavy on pizza, pasta and standard Italian-inspired meat and fish dishes. Not all that different from the New Jersey red-checked tablecloth version. Nor are the choices of pastas all that different from what folks in the northern hemisphere know and love - the pastas are spaghetti, linguine, penne, rigatoni, lasagne etc. and the sauces are bolognese, pesto, amatriciana, arrabiata and puttanesca.

There's one pasta dish that's almost always found on the menu in these establishments, cappelletti alla romanesca, and it hadn't dawned on me until this morning that I'd never seen it offered outside Brazil. In today's Estado de S. Paulo newspaper I read an article on Italian foods found in Brazilian restaurants that really aren't Italian at all - they were invented in Brazil. And there it was as the prime example - cappelletti alla romanesca.

This dish, which basically consists of a plate of meat-filled cappelleti sauced with a combination of chopped ham, peas and mushrooms in a cream sauce, turns out not to have traveled across the Atlantic in the collective memory of Italian immigrants to Brazil, but rather to have been created by a Brazilian chef, Giovanni Bruno, in the 1950s.

In the 50s, Bruno was the chef at a famous restaurant in Bela Vista, São Paulo's Little Italy of that time. The restaurant itself, Gigetto, had opened in the 1930s and is still open, and perpetually packed, today. During chef Bruno's time at Gigetto, the restaurant was a hangout for artists, musicians, actors and assorted hangers-on. Today, it's mostly populated by tourists.

Giovanni Bruno
From the day that cappelleti alla romanesca first earned its place on Gigetto's menu it has never been removed. It's still the most popular menu choice there, and in the years since it's debut it has spread around the country and can be found from Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil to Boa Vista in the far north and everywhere in between. Sr. Bruno himself has long since moved on from Gigetto and now owns Il Sogno di Anarello, another São Paulo Italian restaurant, where he continues to serve - you guessed it - cappelleti alla romanesca. In 2011, Sr. Bruno celebrated his 74th birthday, and his 60th anniversary in the restaurant business.

Now that I'm aware of the story of this dish of pasta, I'm going to look out for it on Italian menus outside Brazil. I'm curious - it's conquered Brazil, but has it traveled beyond Brazil's borders? I don't know, but intend to find out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

RECIPE - Minas-style Cattleman's Beans (Feijão-Tropeiro Mineiro)

The Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, and even more so the states to the west, such as São Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, Goiás, are in many ways the Brazilian equivalent of the American "Wild West". In early colonial times there were considered empty lands notwithstanding their substantial native populations and were seen to be ripe for colonization and for raising cattle on the vast tracts of scrubland, known as cerrado in Portuguese, found there.

Like in the American west, these lands were often "opened up" by troops of cattlemen and cattle rangers (called tropeiros in Portuguese) who traveled great distances in search of suitable territory for raising cattle, often banishing or slaughtering the native people who had the misfortune to inhabit good cattle range country. On their long expeditions the tropeiros couldn't rely on local sources of food, so their carried most of their food with them. Beans, salted or dried meat and manioc flour were the three cornerstones of their diet, and all three were often combined into one dish. This dish eventually became known as cattleman's beans (feijão-tropeiro) and while today no one needs to carry their food with them on horseback, the dish continues to be an important part of local cuisine.

There are unnumerable variations to feijão-tropeiro - the type of bean can vary as can the meat. Often the dish includes bacon, or carne de sol, Brazilian sun-dried meat, or it may contain charque, which is similar but drier and saltier. The animal protein content of the dish in enhanced by adding crunchy fried pork rinds, torresmo, at the last minute. But the three principal ingredients - beans, meat and manioc flour - must all be present in true feijão-tropeiro.

This recipe, for Minas Gerais-style feijão-tropeiro gives a good general idea of what the dish consists of. Everybody makes feijão-tropeiro their own way, or rather their mother's or grandmother's way, and nobody agrees on how it should be done. So take this recipe as a template only and vary it to your heart's content - unless you have a recipe that comes down from your mother or grandmother. Then, vary it at your own risk!
RECIPE - Minas-style Cattleman's Beans (Feijão-Tropeiro Mineiro)
Serves 10

1 lb (500 gr) dried beans of any type
1/2 lb (250 gr) smoked bacon, cubed
1/4 lb (125 gr) fried pork rind (torresmo), crumbled
5 whole eggs
2 Tbsp lard (neutral vegetable oil can be substituted
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/3 lb (200 gr) manioc flour (farinha de mandioca)
Chopped parsley and green onion to taste
Black pepper to taste
Soak the dried beans overnight, then cook in plenty of water until just tender. Drain and reserve.

In a large heavy pan, fry the bacon until crispy, then remove it from the pan and reserve. In the same pan, using the bacon grease, fry the eggs over hard. Remove them, break them up and reserve.

Add the lard or vegetable oil to the bacon grease remaining in the pan and if using lard, heat it to melt. When hot, add the garlic and onion and fry until transparent but not browned. Add the drained beans and cook for about five minutes. Add the manioc flour, one handful at a time, stirring constantly.

When all the manioc flour has been added, remove the pan from the heat. Add the crumbled pork rinds and stir thoroughly to mix completely. Add the eggs, the parsley and green onion and fold in gently. Serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora

Monday, March 28, 2011

RECIPE - Pork Rinds (Torresmo)

I'm posting this recipe for make-at-home pork rinds in the interests of completeness and gastronomic history, as torresmo is an important Brazilian dish on its own, and also a component of other traditional dishes, including Brazil's "national" dish feijoada.

I cannot vouch for this recipe, as I've never prepared it myself and am unlikely to do so in the future. I have a feeling that deep-frying pork skin in one's own kitchen would generate an odor that might last just a bit longer than one would want - a week or two perhaps? So, if any of Flavors of Brazil's readers actually does try this recipe, please leave a comment to let me and other readers of blog know how it worked out. I'm very curious - just not curious enough to try it myself.
RECIPE - Pork Rinds (Torresmo)
10 portions

2 lbs (1 kg) unsalted pork belly, skin attached
salt to taste
pinch of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil
Cut the pork belly into strips about 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 inch (1cm x 3 cm).Wash the pork well, drain and let dry completely. Combine salt to taste and baking soda, then season the pork (traditionally, it should be quite salty).

Heat a deep heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil and the pork and cook, watching carefully for overheating, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the pork skin is lightly golden. Remove the pork skins with a wire strainger, then drain completely on paper towels. Let cool, reserve.

Meanwhile, let the lard remaining in the saucepan cool slightly - it should remain liquid. Strain it through several layers of cheesecloth in a sieve into a large mixing bowl.

Place the strained liquid lard into a clean heavy saucepan and heat until hot but not smoking. In batches, return the pork skins to the fat, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Let the pork skins fry for 3 or 4 minutes until they become a rich golden color. Remove them with a wire strainer before they darken, and drain as before on a paper towel.

Once drained, they can be served immediately, while still warm. Alternatively, let them cool completely, then store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


The ice-cold beer and salty-snack bar culture of Brazil is an important part of that nation's food culture - something any tourist returning from Brazil can tell you, and something that faithful readers of this blog have heard before in a number of posts. Whether the bar be a few rustic tables covered by a palm-thatched roof on a deserted beach in Brazil's northeast, or a concept-laden ultra-chic lounge in Leblon or Jardins, there will be plenty of sub-zero lager beer and crunchy snacks with a high levels of sodium and fat. It's inevitable and unavoidable (even if one might want to avoid it). When Brazilians go to a bar most of them want beer to drink, and most of those beer drinkers want to wash their beer down with something crunchy, fatty and salty.

This combination isn't something the Brazilians invented, or something unique to Brazil. As one of my oldest friends philosophized way back in our university days, at the end of a long afternoon sitting at a bar in Burlington, Washington, contemplating the the free popcorn in front of him, "Where there's beer, there's salt." Absolutely true. Popcorn, unshelled peanuts, potato chips, nachos, fries, onion rings - they all fit the bill.

In Brazil, and particularly in the state of Minas Gerais, the most common bar snack is likely to be something called torresmo. Torresmo is the Portuguese word for pork skin that has been fried at high temperature to melt away the fat, then salted and dried. In other words - at least American words - pork rinds. I say American words because in the UK they're generally known as cracklings or scratchings. This snack, in fact, seems to have a huge number of colorful regional names. In Newfoundland they have a lovely onomatopoeic word for them - scrunchions. In Quebec they've been baptized, colloquially, as oreilles de chrisse - Christ's ears. In Mexico and the US Southwest they're called chicharrón. And in case you'd been wondering, the Hungarians known them as either tepertő or töpörtyű . Personally, when in Budapest, I always call them töpörtyű  - wouldn't you?

Torresmo is part of the Portuguese contribution to Brazilian food culture, with a few seasoning touches contributed by African slaves. Originally, pork skin and the fatty subcutaneous layer beneath it were cooked to melt the fat and obtain lard - the only way that this cooking fat could be obtained. Somewhere, sometime a clever devil decided to sample the crunchy bits of pork skin that remained once the fat had been drained off - probably with a salt shaker in his or her hand - and the torresmo, the crackling or the pork rind was born.

In Brazil, torresmo is primarily considered a snack to eat with drinks - most likely a beer or a shot of cachaça. In mineiro cooking (the cooking of the state of Minas Gerais) torresmo is an essential part of the panoply of dishes that all together constitute feijoada and it's also served with the bean and manioc dish feijão-tropeiro.

For those adventurous enough, or crazy enough to want to make their own torresmo at home, the next post here at Flavors of Brazil will provide a typical Brazilian recipe.

Friday, March 25, 2011

RECIPE - Chayote Frittata (Torta de Chuchu)

In Portuguese, this dish is called torta de chuchu which literally means chayote pie. It really isn't a pie though except in shape. It's not even a quiche as it lacks the pastry crust a quiche requires.

It really is closest to what the Italians call a frittata - basically an open-faced omelet enriched with added ingredients. In this case, these ingredients are chayote (chuchu), red onion, parsley and grated Parmesan cheese.

This dish is perfect as a main course for a lunch, or for a light supper. It needs only a green salad, or a sliced-tomato salad, plus a fruit-based dessert to complement it.
RECIPE - Chayote Frittata (Torta de Chuchu)
Serves 6

2 chayotes, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley
3 whole free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp butter, softened
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, fresh-grated if possible
Preheat oven to 350F (180C).  Using the softened butter, generously grease a glass or non-stick metal pie pan.

In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups (1 liter) salted water to a boil. Add the chayote cubes and boil for about one minute. Drain the chayote in a colander, refresh in cold water and drain again. Reserve.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and flour with a mixer or wire whisk. Add the reserved chayote, the onion and parsley. Finally add the grated cheese, reserving about 1 Tbsp.

Pour the egg mixture into the pie pan, sprinkle the Tbsp of grated cheese on top, then place in the preheated oven. Cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is lightly browned. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes.

Cut into 6 wedges and serve immediately.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

RECIPE - Spicy Chayote Salad (Salada de Chuchu Picante)

This very-easy and quick-to-prepare salad of baby chayotes (mini chuchus in Portuguese), from the Brazilian website Receitas e Dicas,  can be served warm or at room temperature. It's best not to chill it, as refrigeration diminishes the already-subtle flavor of chayote and will result in a very bland salad experience. The spiciness of the salad can be adjusted up or down by regulating the quantity of garlic and red pepper flakes. In Brazil this salad would be quite spicy but the heat of the peppers shouldn't overwhelm the chayote itself.
RECIPE - Spicy Chayote Salad (Salada de Chuchu Picante)
Serves 4

3 medium chayotes
1 medium yellow onion, not-too-finely chopped
1 clove garlic, very thinly sliced
1 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar
hot red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive oil
Peel the chayotes using a vegetable peeler, cut them in half in the wider direction, then using a spoon scoop out the large seed. Cut the chayote flesh into 1/4 in (1 cm) slices.

Bring a large quantity of water to a boil in a large pan. Add the chayote slices and cook until just softened. Do not overcook. Drain into a colander, then refresh in running cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain again, reserve.

In a small sauté pan heat some olive oil, then add the garlic slices. Cook until brown and crispy, adding the desired quantity of red pepper flakes about halfway through the cooking process. Reserve.

In a large frying pan, heat additional oil then add the chopped onion. Cook until transparent but not browned. Add the vinegar and cook briefly. Add the chayote slices, and with a wooden spoon mix them with the dressing carefully, making sure not to break up the slices. Remove from heat, then add the garlic/red pepper/oil mixture from the sauté pan. Stir again, carefully.

Let rest a few minutes if you wish to serve the salad warm, or reserve until cooled to room temperature and then serve.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

INGREDIENTS - Chayote (Chuchu)

Of all the edible plant families, the Cucurbitaceae clan has to be one of the most varied and also one of the most ubiquitous. The family name itself probably means nothing to 99.99% of the world's population, but there are very few people wandering the earth who haven't eaten one or another of the family members at some time - a cucumber, a cantaloupe, a watermelon, a pumpkin, a zucchini or a honeydew melon.

One member of this family, scientifically known as Sechium edule, has a long history as an important food crop in Meso-American and South America, but it's only within the past decade or so that it has become an established menu item in North America and Europe - excepting in Cajun cuisine where it's always been an integral part of the culinary larder. In Louisiana they call it a mirliton, but most of the rest of North America calls it by its Mexican name, chayote. In the English-speaking Caribbean, it's a christophene and in India it's a chow chow. In Brazil, where it is a common ingredient in salads, stews and mixed vegetable preparations, it's a chuchu.

Chuchu is almost always available in vegetable markets and supermarkets in Brazil, without a definite season and it's always inexpensive. Yesterday, in Fortaleza, I bought some for R$0.75/ kg or about USD$0.20/lb. It's particularly associated in Brazil with the cooking of the northeastern region, but grows almost anywhere in this warm-weather country and is eaten in just about every region.

Chuchu can be cooked like almost any other summer squash, such as zucchini or patty-pan, and benefits from shorter cooking period. The flavor is somewhat bland, but combines well with other ingredients in soups or stews. Its uses in the kitchen, however, aren't restricted to cooked dishes - chuchu can also be eaten raw, and makes a great addition to a fresh salad. It also takes very well to pickling.

The next posts on Flavors of Brazil will include some typical Brazilian recipes that feature this versatile vegetable.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

From the Rivers of the Rain Forest - Aviú

The Amazon, the world's largest river by all counts, is in fact not a river but instead a system of rivers. For most of its length, the main stream - one of literally thousands of rivers in the basin - isn't even called the Amazon in Portuguese, it's the Rio Solimões. Only when the Rio Solimões merges with the Rio Negro just below Manaus at the famous Meeting of the Waters is the name Amazon (Amazonas in Portuguese) applied to the river.

Some of the rivers that are tributaries of the main stream are among the greatest rivers on the planet in their own right. The Rio Negro, which flows into the Amazon from the north, is by volume the second largest river on Earth, superceded only by the Amazon itself. Its length exceeds 1500 miles. The longest tributary, the Tocantins, is more than 2250 miles long and it only enters the Amazon when that river has almost reached the sea.

One of the major Amazon tributaries, called the Tapajós - a relatively small tributary at only 1200 miles long - is home to one of the most exotic and interesting ingredients in the Brazilian culinary larder. It's a freshwater micro-shrimp called aviú whose natural habitat is in the shallow quiet reaches of the Tapajós River. The miniscule aviú's size ranges from 1/2 inch (1 cm) to about 1 inch (2 cm) and it has long been a favorite food of local Indian tribes. When caught aviú may be eaten fresh or dried for storage and later consumption. One of the most common ways to eat aviú is in an omelet, and it can be added to rice to provide flavor and protein to that dish.

Clearly, aviú is an ingredient that can only be described as exotic - it's impossible to find outside its geographical boundaries, and the territory which in inhabits is near the South American pole of inaccessability - that is, the geographical point on the entire continent that most challenging to reach due to its remoteness and lack of accessibility.

Needless to say, here at Flavors of Brazil we haven't yet had the opportunity to taste aviú. Though it's on our to-be-tried list, I think it'll be quite some time before I make my way to the headwaters of the Tapajós in search of an elusive aviú omelet.

Monday, March 21, 2011

RECIPE - Sopa Paraguaia

This non-soup soup from Brazil's state of Mato Grosso do Sul - a recipe the local inhabitants learned from their neighbors across the line in Paraguay - is a close relative of American cornbread or johnnycake. And of the firmer varieties of Italian polenta. It is a savory cake made from cornmeal and is typically served as a side dish as part of a meal focused on some sort of stewed meat. The sopa is used to sop up the juices from the main dish and provide some carbohydrate balance to the meal.

Sopa paraguaia is real campfire food, and traces its origins back to the early days of exploration in this once-remote corner of South America. The explorers carried dried cornmeal with them on their expeditions as reliable sources of fresh food were scarce. Mixed with water and cooked in a Dutch oven over a campfire, the cornmeal became sopa paraguaia. Today it is enjoyed for its flavor quality rather than being a food of necessity and has been enriched with the additional of milk and cheese. A simple dish from simpler times - Brazilian/Paraguayan comfort food.
RECIPE - Sopa Paraguaia
Serves 10

2 Tbsp butter
3 small onions, thinly sliced
4 cups whole milk
2 cups water
salt to taste
1 lb (500 gr) coarsely grated white cheese - mozzarella or Jack
4 cups yellow cornmeal (polenta)
4 eggs, separated
1 Tbsp baking soda
Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

In a large saucepan, melt the butter then add the onion slices and fry until they are just lightly golden. Add the milk and water. Season for salt. Bring to a boil and cook until the onion is completely softened. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl combine the cornmeal and the grated cheese. Add the milk/water mixture and, using a wooden spoon, mix completely to form a batter. Add the egg yolks and baking soda and mix completely.

Beat the egg whites into soft peaks and then fold them gently into the cornmeal mixture. Do not over-mix. Spread the batter in a casserole or lasagne pan, place it in the preheated oven, and cook for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpic inserted into the center of the sopa comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let let cool slightly before cutting into serving squares.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sopa Paraguaia - Brazil's Soup-Thats-Not-A-Soup

In casual spoken Brazilian Portuguese the adjective paraguaio (which literally means "from Paraguay") has come to mean fake/pirated/smuggled/fraudulent. For example "Olha aquele cara, com o relógio Rolex paraguaio" can be translated into English as "Check out that guy with the fake Rolex watch." Brazil has an extended border with Paraguay, much of it unpatrolled wilderness and Paraguay has a reputation in Brazil of being the source of imitation goods, drugs and arms smuggled across that porous frontier. At famed Iguaçu Falls, the city of Ciudad del Este on the Paraguayan side of the Friendship Bridge brims with shops and stalls selling less-than-legitimate goods which Brazilians often buy, smuggle back to more-expensive Brazil, and then complain about the quality or authenticity.

Much of the frontier between Brazil and Paraguay runs through the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul and historically there has always been trade in goods, people and cultures between that state and Paraguay. It is is Mato Grosso do Sul where one is likely to find a dish called Sopa Paraguaia, and it's anything but a soup. It's a savory dish made from corn meal, similar in many ways to cornbread, or even polenta. In the case of this dish, however, the name comes not from the fact that the dish is a "fake" soup but from the fact that the recipe has Paraguayan roots and is a common dish even today on the Paraguayan side of the border.

I'm not sure why the name for this substantial dish is sopa, whether in Paraguay or Brazil. The English word soup (and the Portuguese word sopa) both come from the Low Latin word suppa which means "bread soaked in broth." Perhaps in Paraguay, they preferred their bread to be corn bread and their soup to be more bread and less broth. Who can be sure? Certainly not Flavors of Brazil. But soup or not, the dish is delicious and satisfying. The next post on this blog will contain a recipe for this intriguing "fake" soup.

Friday, March 18, 2011

São Paulo's Municipal Market - A Mountainous Mortadela Sandwich

The mezzanine floor of São Paulo's Municipal Market houses a number of restaurants, open only for lunch, whose clientele ranges from shoppers in the market to market employees to discerning diners who come to the market solely because of the quality of the food. They all share a large open space and their tables extend in front of their bar/counter and are easily identified by color, table linen or by ropes dividing the space. All of the restaurants have menus posted and available to peruse, so it's easy to pick the restaurant that suits your mood, your appetite and your budget.

One of the most well-known dining establishments in the market isn't on the mezzanine, however. It's on the main floor and is called Bar do Mané.  Its fame rests largely (and I do mean largely) on one particular menu item - a mortadela sandwich. Mortadela is the Brazilian version of the Italian cold cut mortadella which dates back to the romans, and which Italian emigrants have carried around the world. A specialty of Bologna, mortadella evolved in the USA into the famous American bologna (or baloney) sausage. In Brazil, where it's hugely popular, it has remained basically unchanged from its original Italian recipe.

What makes the mortadela sandwich at Bar do Mané such a culinary celebrity is its bulk. The sandwich, served in a French roll, packs 250 gr - over half a pound - of thinly-sliced mortadela between its two halves, guarnished with tomato and lettuce. The mortadela is folded and stacked in the roll, making a mountainous mouthful.

Legend has it that the sandwich was created one day when a regular customer complained that his mortadela sandwich was somewhat lacking in mortadela. Someone in the kitchen staff decided to call the diner's bluff and loaded the sandwich to the ceiling with mortadela. When the diner was served his sandwich his eyes popped out of his head, but within a short time he'd finished the sandwich. The next day he returned and ordered a sandwich "just like yesterday's." Other diners saw this beast of a sandwich passing by and asked for the same thing. Eventually the bar had to put the sandwich on the menu, and it remains their most popular menu item to this day.

Other Municipal Market restaurants now offer the same sandwich, but when something is as closely identified as the mortadela sandwich is with the Bar do Mané, go for the original. See if you can polish one off. Depending on the options chosen (like cheese) the price for the mortadela sandwich ranges from R$11 to R$15. That's about USD $7.00 to $9.50. It won't break the bank, but it just might ruin your diet!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

São Paulo's Municipal Market - Some Statistics

Some interesting statistics about São Paulo's Municipal Market -

  • 1600 - The number of persons employed by the market and its vendors
  • 1000 - tons of merchandise sold per day (wholesale and retail
  • 298 - number of stands and individual vendors in the market
  • 20,000 - average number of visitors per day
  • 90 - number of truckload deliveries per day to the market
  • 1,200,000 - number of liters of water used per month by the market and its vendors
  • 780 - kilowatt/hours of electricity used per month by the market and its vendors

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

São Paulo's Magnificent Municipal Market

If the Grecian Revival banks of Wall Street in New York or in the City in London are the world's true temples of finance, certainly the large central markets of the world's great cities are its temples of gastronomy. They are the shrines in which all the basics of a culture's cuisine can be found, and the source of all of the constituent ingredients of a country's, a region's, or a city's gastronomy. Think of La Merced market in Mexico City, spreading over several city blocks and bursting at the seams with mountains of chiles and moles, acres of corn and squashes, and redolent of the aroma of Mexican cooking. Or La Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona, situated just off Las Ramblas, where butcher shops display transparent slices of serrano ham, the fish stalls present the bounty of the Mediterranean on ice, and pyramids of lemons, oranges and tangerines tower over the fruit vendors' stalls. Vancouver's Granville Island Public Market doesn't have the lengthy history of its cousins in Mexico or Spain but it encapsulates what current Pacific Northwest gastronomy is all about - wild sockeye salmon, fresh cherries and berries, locally-sourced, organic pork and beef and in August and September the world's best peaches and apricots.

The Mercado Municipal da Cantareira in São Paulo is worthy of a prominent place in this pantheon of great markets. Known affectionately by Paulistanos as the Mercadão, meaning "big market', the Mercado Municipal in its vast space illuminated by stained-glass windows houses not only stands selling fruits, vegetables, spices, meat, poultry and seafood, but also a mezzanine lined with restaurants overlooking the action below and offering everything from simple snacks and home-cooking to up-to-the-minute, avant-garde contemporary gastronomy.

Built in a somewhat eclectic classical style designed by architect Francisco Ramos de Azevedo, the Market's opening, scheduled for the early 1930s was delayed by the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932, during which time the still-unfinished building served as headquarters for the military and as a warehouse for arms and munition. It was only on January 25, 1933, the birthday of the city of São Paulo, that the market finally opened for its original purpose.

The huge central space of the Mercado Municipal is light and airy thanks to the high clerestory windows which allow abundant daylight to reach even into the center aisles of the market. Along the front facade ranges a series of enormous stained-glass windows which are the work of Germano-Brazilian artist Conrado Sorgenicht Filho and which celebrate the daily lives of agricultural workers during the golden age of São Paulo's coffee economy.

The market is located just at the edge of São Paulo's central business district, near the incredible bustle of the city's 25 de Março Street, an open-air market selling everything imaginable from pirated CDs and DVDs through appliances and washing machines to high-end designer goods (real and knock-offs). Plan a visit to the Mercado Municipal in the morning, making your way on foot from the nearest Metro station, São Bento, along 25 de Março and plan to arrive at the market by 11 a.m. This will give you time to explore the stalls and stands on the main floor, and then, when your appetite has been thoroughly aroused, ascend to the mezzanine between noon and 1 p.m. to choose between the dozens of options for lunch. When you depart after lunch, satiated and satisfied, you'll have gained an insight into São Paulo and its food culture better and will carry among memories this great market in one of the world's largest megalopolises.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

RECIPE - Cheesecake Romeu e Julieta

Brazil's dessert combination of guava paste (goiabada) and fresh white cheese called Romeu e Julieta (click here for more on Romeu e Julieta) has inspired Brazilian pastry chefs and home cooks to create numerous variations on the theme. Some are close to the original and others are flights of fancy that retain little of the original humble dessert but the Shakespearean name.

One of the most common and best elaborations of Romeu e Julieta is a Brazilian homage to New York-style cheesecake (which is translated, surprisingly, into Portuguese as cheesecake). That's not all that surprising as New York cheesecake also combines fresh cheese, in this case cream cheese, with a fruit topping.

This recipe, from the Brazilian culinary website Cybercook, can easily be made outside Brazil. Most Latin American markets carry the guava paste (goiabada) needed for the fruit topping, and any number of white, fresh cheeses can be used - cheeses like ricotta salata or Mexican queso fresco or blanco.
RECIPE - Cheesecake Romeu e Julieta
Serves 10

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. granulated white sugar
2/3 cup (150 gr) unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. freshly grated lime peel

1 lb (500 gr) queijo minas or other fresh white cheese (see above), chopped or cubed
1 can sweetened condensed milk
3 whole eggs
1 tsp. vanilla essence
1/2 tsp. freshly grated lime peel

10 oz (300 gr) gioabada paste, chopped or cubed
1/3 cup (80 ml) water
2 Tbsp. rum, dark or amber preferred
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Prepare the crust. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients with a fork, then with your fingers. Do not over-combine. Using a cheesecake form with removable sides, lightly and quickly spread the dough over the bottom of the form, covering it completely, and slightly up the sides.

Prepare the filling. Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend or process until light, smooth and consistent. Pour the filling into the cheesecake form, then place in the preheated oven. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the filling comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the form.

Prepare the topping. In a saucepan combine the goiabada and water over low heat and, stirring constantly, melt the goiabada. When melted, remove from the heat and stir in the rum. Let cool slightly then pour the topping over the baked cheesecake in the form. Let cool completely to room temperature, then place the cheesecake in the refrigerator overnight.

Remove the sides of the form, then cut the cheesecake into 10 or 12 serving pieces and serve immediately.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Romeu e Julieta - Brazil's Traditional Quick Dessert

Despite some fairly intense research on the internet and in various reference books in the house, I have no idea why the Brazilian dessert Romeu e Julieta is named after Shakespeare's famously doomed lovers. But Romeu e Julieta is what this simple dish of cheese and a sweet fruit paste is universally called in Brazil.

Romeu e Julieta in its most basic form is one of the most traditional desserts and the simplest to prepare in the Brazilian culinary repertoire. It consists of a fairly thick slice of fresh white cheese (in Brazil, mostly often queijo minas from the state of Minas Gerais) and an equally thick slice of a fruit paste made from guava (goiaba) called goiabada. Gioabada is merely pulped fresh guava, water and sugar cooked down to a consistency halfway between a fruit butter, like apple butter, and fruit leather. It has a uniform but slightly gritty texture, due to the texture of the guava fruit itself and is quite sweet.

The dish plays off the sweetness of the fruit combined with the saltiness of the cheese. Most Brazilians will cut a small piece of cheese and a small piece of goiabada then combine them on the fork in a single bite.

Goiabada dates back to the early days of Portuguese colonization of Brazil as a way to preserve fresh fruit, and under refrigeration it has a very long shelf life. Cheese, of course, also keeps well. That's why when Brazilian cooks don't have the time or inclination to prepare a fancy or elaborate dessert they often fall back on Romeu e Julieta - the ingredients are likely to be in the fridge already, and all it takes to prepare the dessert is to slice the cheese and the goiabada then plate them. Its ease of preparation isn't Romeu e Julieta's only virtue though - it's delicious and satisfies that craving for something sweet to finish a meal without being heavy or too rich.

Goiabada can be found in Latin American markets in North America, and its name in Spanish is the same as it is in Portuguese. I've most often seen it under the Goya brand. Other fresh cheeses from Latin America or even Italian ricotta salata can be substituted for Brazilian queijo minas. If you come across goiabada when haunting ethnic markets, pick some up and pop it in the refrigerator. It may be a lifesaver sometime when you find yourself needing a quick dessert.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Airline Treat - Mousse de Maracujá Caramels

Airline travel has become increasingly standardized around the world in the past decades, and the formerly-glamorous world of air travel has almost totally disappeared in most places, including Brazil where airline travel has grown tremendously in recent years. On Thursday night I returned to Fortaleza from Rio de Janeiro on a flight by TAM, Brazil's largest airline and was reminded of gentler times and the small touches of service that one seldom finds these days on board a plane when the stewardess passed down the aisle handing out candies prior to take-off.

When I first began flying, the practice of handing out candies or chewing gum prior to departure was nearly universal - ostensibly to help passengers adjust to changes in cabin air pressure. Outside of Brazil, I can't remember the last time I've seen it though.

On TAM, on the other hand, I can't remember a flight when the candies weren't offered, so I assume that it's part of the standard service practice on board. I don't always take the candies, but on this last flight I did, and I'm very happy that I did so. TAM seems to have a new flavor caramel now, and the flavor is my favorite - passion fruit (maracujá). I'm only sorry that I didn't grab a handful when they were passed out.

It turns out that maracujá is a new flavor for the candy's manufacturer, Arcor, too. According to the industry website Gastrononia & Negócios, this newest flavor was only recently launched and is the latest addition to Arcor's line of toffees and caramels.

I think that TAM was very clever in switching their candies to this flavor, which is very closely identified with Brazil. Now if they'd only start serving caipirinhas!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Brazilian Cookbook wins Gourmand World Cookbook Award

On March 03 in Paris the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for 2010 were handed out, and a Brazilian cookbook took first place in the fundraising category. These prizes, awarded in 53 separate categories have, since 1995, honored the best cookbooks worldwide, in any language. This year there were entries from 154 separate countries competing for honors.

In the category of fundraising cookbooks, a social-inclusion project from São Paulo called Gastronomia Solidária won first place for their cookbook, entitled Gastronomia Solidária and published by Editora Melhoramentos. The book consists of recipes from many of São Paulo's best-known chefs and food professionals, and all profits from the book are to benefit the work of Gastronomia Solidária.

This group, based in the district of Perdizes in São Paulo works with unemployed and homeless people of the district, teaching them the social, technical and professional skills they need to leave the streets and gain a career in the restaurant industry. The chefs who contributed recipes to the book have all given classes or worked on a volunteer basis at Gastronomia Solidária. The group has had great success with their project, and through their efforts the people with whom they work have had an amazing success rate in reinventing their lives and leaving the streets.

The noble work of this group, as well as the book itself, were recognized by the committee that chose this year's awards. Congratulations to Gastronomia Solidária on their success in Paris, and on their continuing work in São Paulo.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

RECIPE - Cuzcuz Paulista

Of all the regional forms and varieties of the Brazilian dish cuzcuz, cuzcuz Paulista is the most elaborate and also the most well-known. Adapting a simple dish of moistened grains, the cooks of the 19th century Brazilian aristocracy tarted up the presentation and pumped up the flavor with expensive and exotic ingredients like canned sardines (!), olives, fresh shrimp, and canned peas (!!).

Today the dish remains popular and still is considered appropriate as the centerpiece of a grand buffet table, or at a family feast. It has a huge number of ingredients and takes some time to prepare, but it really isn't all that difficult and it handily serves a crowd. Serve it with a light first course, a simple salad and a rich dessert - all you need for a grand dinner or formal luncheon.
RECIPE - Cuzcuz Paulista
Serves 16

2 cups yellow cornmeal (polenta)
1 cup manioc flour
6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cubed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cubed
1 can palm hearts, chopped
1 14 oz. can tomato sauce
1 lb. headless, peeled and deveined shrimp
2 cups chicken broth
1 small package frozen peas (retain 1/2 cup for decoration)
1/2 cup chopped green olives
1 tsp. annatto powder (sweet paprika can be substitutes
1/2 tsp. powdered bay leaf
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion, green part only
3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced (reserve 8 slices for decoration)
salt and pepper to taste

for the decoration:
10 large shrimp, headless, peeled and deveined, with tails left on
1 5-inch piece palm heart
1 tin sardines in olive oil
1/2 cup frozen peas (see above)
8 slices hard-cooked egg (see above)
Mix the corn and manioc flours in a large mixing bowl. Reserve.

Heat a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and when it's hot, add the garlic and onion and fry until the onion is transparent but not browned. Add the bell peppers, the palm heart, the tomato sauce, the shrimps and the 2 cups of chicken broth.

Coarsely chop the hard-cooked egg slices that won't be used for decoration, Stir them into the mixture along with the chopped olive, the annatto or paprika, the bay leaf, the parsley and green onion, and salt and pepper to taste.

When everything is mixed and hot, begin to add the flour mixture, bit by bit, stirring constantly. Continue to add flour until it has a smooth, soft and moist consistency. Do not add too much flour, which will make the cuzcuz overly dry.

Generously grease the entire inside of a tube-shaped 3-quart cake pan with olive oil, wiping away excess. Using the decorative ingredients, carefully place them symmetrically along the bottom and sides of the pan. (See photo)

Using a large spoon, carefully add the cuzcuz mixture to the cake pan, making sure not to move the decorations. Fill to within 2 inches of rim, then with the back of the spoon, lightly press the mixture and smooth out the surface. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.

Carefully unmold the cuzcuz onto a large plate, and serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Viagem Gastronômica através do Brasil by Caloca Fernandes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cuzcuz - Brazil's Couscous But-Not-Quite

packaged cuzcuz
Cuzcuz is one of the most traditional of all Brazilian dishes, or rather I should say family of dishes as there are numerous regional, local and even familial variations. Though the Portuguese word cuzcuz certainly looks a lot like the English word couscous - which isn't really an English word at all but a borrowing of a French word, which in turn is a Europeanization of a Berber word from North Africa - cuzcuz and couscous are two different things entirely. Well, not entirely as both words refer to a mixture of a grain semolina and a liquid - other than that they're quite distinctive.

In English and in most European tongues, couscous refers to wheat semolina which has been steamed until moist and soft and which is served as an accompaniment to meat, poultry, fish or vegetarian main dishes, usually with some sort of a sauce. This wheat-semolina couscous does exist in Brazil, but it's distinguished from "garden variety" cuzcuz by being called cuzcuz marroquino (Morrocan couscous).

Brazilian cuzcuz is made from grains like European or North African couscous, but the grain is most often corn (maize) although sometimes it is manioc, or a mixture of maize and manioc. Both of these grains are New World in origin, unlike wheat, yet Brazilian cuzcuz is very much a product of the Portuguese colonization of this part of the Americas. The Portuguese learned of couscous in North Africa and brought it to Portugal a very long time ago. The name is mentioned in a play published by  Portuguese playwright Gil Vicente in 1525. It was brought to Brazil by Portuguese explorers and "americanized" by substituting local grains corn and manioc for European wheat.

plain cuzcuz
The tradition of cooking cuzcuz became associated with the settlement of what is now the state of São Paulo in southeastern Brazil, and in particular with the historic towns and village of the Vale do Paraíba, the Paraíba river valley. The original cuzcuz from this region, according to Brazilian food historians, consisted simply of corn or manioc semolina, salt and pepper, steamed over water. Unlike North African or European couscous, the mixture was steamed until it became quite moist and moldable, almost like a cake (think of polenta). Later additions included onion and garlic and paste (annattourucum) to give it some color.

In the 10th century, cuzcuz moved upmarket, and in the hands of the cooks of the local aristocracy, became more elaborate and opulent - new and sophisticated ingredients like canned sardines, fresh shrimp, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, peas and tomatoes were added to the molded dish. The result was what has come to be known as cuzcuz Paulista - that is cuzcuz in the manner of São Paulo state.

Other regions of Brazil have different ways of elaborating this simple dish. In the northeast, coconut milk is added to the grain to give it a richness of flavor. In Minas Gerais, they substitute chicken for the shrimp. There are even sweet versions made into desserts. But the most iconic of all cuzcuz dishes is cuzcuz Paulista - a staple of buffet tables, wedding suppers and sunday family lunches that somehow encapsulates the culinary history of  São Paulo.

Tomorrow's post on Flavors of Brazil will include a recipe for cuzcuz Paulista.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Carnaval 2011 - The Last Day

Today is the last day of Brazil's annual orgy of celebration, Carnaval. For the past four or five days (or longer, depending on where in Brazil one is celebrating) all the cares of the world have been shoved aside for the celebration of worldly joy that is Carnaval in Brazil. Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, the pentitential season of Lent begins. But until then, Brazilians everywhere - in Brazil and overseas - don't want to hear about cares, woes or problems. The word on everyone's tongue is "alegria", which means joy, pure joy.

Flavors of Brazil will be in Rio de Janeiro throughout the Carnaval season, and in posts to come will try to provide some insight into the celebration. Frankly, however, Carnaval has very little to do with food, and less with gastronomy. Food, during Carnaval at least, is seen only as fuel to keep the body awake, alert and dancing. Drink, on the other hand, is an essential part of what Carnaval's about, and it's mostly beer.

For those who are curious about what Carnaval in Brazil is and isn't (there are many misconceptions about Carnaval), I recommend taking a few minutes to watch the YouTube video embedded below. Taken in Rio de Janeiro's Sambodromo, where for four nights during Carnaval the city's samba schools vie for the honor of being named the best of the year, the video gives a hint, though only a hint, of the flavor of Rio's Carnaval. The video shows the parade of one of the most famous and oldest of Rio's samba schools, Beija Flor. Beija Flor literally means "flower kisser" and is the Portuguese word for the hummingbird.

No matter where in the world you are today, or whether you're celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Fasching in Germany, Carnivale in Venice, or just another Tuesday in many corners of the world - Flavors of Brazil wishes all it's readers a Feliz Carnaval!

Monday, March 7, 2011

RECIPE - Açaí with Coffee (Açaí com Café)

Want to make a high-energy drink even higher-energy? The Brazilian fruit, açaí, which comes from an Amazonian palm tree, was relatively unknown outside Brazil until recently, when its beneficial properties were noticed by nutrition and healthfood experts in North America and Europe and they began to extol its merits.

Normally, açaí is eaten in the form of frozen pulp blended into slushy consistency in a blender and served in a cup or bowl. As healthful and delicious as that is, inventive cooks in Brazil are looking at new ways to serve açaí and new combinations featuring this super-fruit. Consulting chef Elena Relvas recently published her recipe for a hot drink combining açaí and strong espresso coffee - a double-whammy energy boost that some Brazilian wags have taken to calling Healthfood Red Bull.

Frozen açaí pulp is relatively easy to find in healthfood stores these days, and so this drink is an easy one to make at home. Just be sure not to make it less than about 8 hours before you want to go to bed - you'll be counting sheep all night!
RECIPE - Açaí with Coffee (Açaí com Café)
Makes 1 drink

1/3 cup (70 gr) frozen açaí pulp, thawed
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1-3 tsp. granulated sugar, as desired
1 shot strong espresso coffee
granulated sugar and powdered cinnamon for rimming glass if desired
If rimming glass, combine sugar and cinnamon (about 4 parts to 1) in a small plate or saucer. Dip the rim of serving glass or mug in water, then dip the wet glass in the cinnamon sugar. Allow to dry completely.

In a blender combine the açaí, the cream, the sugar and coffee and blend for about 15 seconds. Carefully open the blender, as hot liquids can splash. Fill the prepared cup with mixture and serve immediately.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

RECIPE - Alligator in Coconut Milk (Jacaré com Leite de Coco)

Since the past few posts here on Flavors of Brazil have concerned themselves with coconuts and alligators, when I spotted this recipe for alligator with coconut milk I knew it was perfect for inclusion in the blog. It is an adaptation of a recipe I found on a Brazilian food blog called Marido Sanduiche.

Alligator (or jacaré as it's called in Portuguese) is increasingly available fresh or frozen in supermarkets and butcher shops in Brazil. Most of it comes from the Pantanal, the world's largest wetlands sytem, and the majority of it is farmed. In North America it can be purchased fresh the southeastern USA and frozen in most metropolitan areas of the USA and Canada. Whether it's available at all in Europe or elsewhere, I'm afraid I can't say.

Alligator is an extremely healthy meat, and very adaptable to a large variety of cooking methods. It can successfully be substituted for other meats, particularly chicken or pork. Give it a try, you might just be surprised how much you like it.
RECIPE - Alligator in Coconut Milk (Jacaré com Leite de Coco)

1 1/2 lb (750 gr) alligator meat, boneless
2 large limes
1 lb (450 gr) boiling potatoes, peeled and halved or quartered depending on size
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup loosely-packed, chopped cilantro
1 cup (200 ml) coconut milk, home-made or canned
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the alligator meat into 2 inch chunks or cubes. Place the meat in a large bowl with ice water to cover. Add the juice of one lime,and let sit for 30 minutes.

Drain the alligator meat. In another large bowl, combine the meat, the garlic, salt and pepper to taste, the juice of the other lemon and the olive oil. Toss thoroughly to coat all the meat with marinade. Refrigerate the meat in the marinade for two hours.

Heat a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the meat and the marinade and the chopped onion and stir-fry until the meat is lightly browned. Add the chopped tomato, half the coconut milk, then mix completely. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover the pan. Cook for 15 minutes, then add the potatoes and the other half of the coconut milk. Continue to cook for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the alligator is tender. If the sauce is too thin, reduce quickly over high heat. Remove from heat.

Place in large serving bowl, sprinkling the chopped cilantro on top of the alligator and potato. Serve immediately, accompanied by white rice.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Eating Jacaré - Brazil's Farmed Alligator Meat

The swampy wetlands of southwestern Brazil known as the Pantanal are home to the world's largest single crocodilian population. These reptiles are called jacaré (pronounced zha-ka-RAY) in Portuguese, and it's estimated that there are up to 10 million of them living in the rivers and swamps of the Pantanal. Scientifically speaking they are a species of caiman, related to alligators and crocodiles but slightly different from either of those groups. Their scientific name is Caiman yacare and they are called Yacare Caimans in English.

Caimans tend to be smaller than their alligator or crocodile cousins, reaching 2 to 2.5 meters in adulthood. This smaller stature, fortunately, means they aren't large enough to harm or consume humans. They prey primarily on fish and birds and in turn are prey for jaguars and anacondas. As their meat is delicious and very healthy, they are also beginning to be "preyed upon" by humans who are looking for something exotic to put on the dinner table. Jacarés can successfully be grown in captivity, and the farming of jacarés for their meat is a growing business in the Pantanal. The practice is environmentally sustainable, and provides much-needed income to local inhabitants. It also is beginning to provide a new and exotic ingredient for chefs in the region and elsewhere in Brazil.

Jacaré is becoming a star attraction on restaurant menus in all major cities of Brazil, as chefs and nutritionists discover its nutritional and gastronomic qualities. The meat is very low in fat and cholesterol, and extremely high in protein. It's mild yet distinctive flavor takes well to flavorings, rubs and sauces and adapts itself to many Brazilian and non-Brazilian meat recipes. The chart below shows how many different cuts of meat come from a single jacaré and how little of the animal goes to waste. Additionally, there is great economic value in the skin of the animal, so the intense utilization of all parts of the animal further increase its environmental sustainability.

Alligator meat is available fresh in certain parts of the USA, notably Louisiana and Florida, and is available frozen in gourmet meat shops elsewhere in North America. In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, I'll print some recipes for jacaré that have been developed recently to bring this meat into the mainstream of contemporary Brazilian cuisine. Although jacaré and alligator are not exactly the same species, any recipe for one can successfully be made with the other.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Big Thank-You - Muito Obrigado

When I opened Flavors of Brazil this morning, I noted that the number of followers of this blog had reached the number of 100.

Thank you to all the loyal readers of this blog. I hope you continue to stop by Flavors of Brazil on a regular basis, and that when you do so, you find something interesting, unusual, or enjoyable. The blog is a joy to write (most times) and my it is wish that it is also a joy to read.


RECIPE - Bolinhos de Coco (Coconut "Cupcakes")

In translating the Portuguese name for this delicious coconut dessert, I've opted to put the word cupcakes in quotation marks. The word bolinhos does mean cupcakes, but to me these aren't, in fact, what I would call a cupcake, although they do look like them. This recipe does not include any flour at all (as a matter of fact it's gluten-free, if that's of importance to you). To my way of thinking, cake of any sort is a flour-based confection, and without flour it's not really a cake.

But whether you call them coconut cupcakes or coconut puddings or just plain bolinhos, you'll find making these to be simplicity itself, and the cakes themselves something that almost every eater adores - except for those few who just don't like anything with coconut. They do exist.

The recipe can be made with packaged unsweetened grated coconut, but will taste even better if it's made with freshly grated coconut. Grating fresh coconut increases the work-factor considerably for the dish, but dramatically increases the flavor. Special utensils for grating coconuts can often be found in Asian and Latin markets, but a standard box-grater can be used successfully too. Just remember to use the side with smaller holes.
RECIPE - Bolinhos de Coco (Coconut "Cupcakes")
Makes 10

4 whole eggs, free-range if possible
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
5 oz (150 gr) grated coconut, if packaged, unsweetened
1 Tbsp. grated lime peel, green part only
pinch of salt
unsalted butter at room temperature for greasing muffin tin
 Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Generously grease a non-stick silicone or metal muffin tin with butter. Reserve.

In a large copper or glass bowl, beat the eggs thoroughly until light and frothy. Reserve.

In another bowl, mix together the condensed milk and grated coconut. Stir in the lime peel, add a pinch of salt, then fold in the beaten eggs, making sure to completely blend the mixture without overblending.

Pour the coconut mixture equally into 10 sections of the muffin tin. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the tops become golden-brown. Remove from oven and let cool in place.

When cooled to slightly warm or to room temperature, carefully unmold the "cupcakes" and serve immediately, or alternatively let cool completely and store refrigerated for up to one week. Allow to return to room temperature if they have been stored before serving.

Recipe adapted and translated from Mais Você Culinária by Rede Globo

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

RECIPE - Cocada

Apart from coconut water and coconut milk, which are very different liquids, the main use of Brazil's bounty of coconuts is probably to make the traditional sweet called cocada - in one of its many variations. There are basic version, flavored with nothing but coconut itself, and there are versions that add all sorts of flavors - chocolate, coffee, passion fruit (maracujá), lime, orange, peanuts, cashews and many more.

Cocada is an essential item on the tray from which the women of Bahia sell their acarajé. They are invariably available, as an impulse purchase, at the cash counter at restaurants and self-service buffets. And at the beach, vendors pass by throughout the day offering home-made cocada.

At its most basic, cocada is made with nothing more than grated fresh coconut, sugar and water. Most versions, though, add some sweetened condensed milk for added richness. The recipe that follows included condensed milk, and can be used as is to make a delicious treat, or as a basis for adding additional flavoring elements to spice things up.

RECIPE - Cocada

1 lb. freshly-grated coconut, or unsweetened prepared grated coconut
2 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
neutral vegetable oil for greasing cookie sheet
Generously grease a large cookie sheet with the vegetable oil, wiping away excess with paper towel. Reserve.

In a large heavy saucepan, dissolve the sugar completely in water. Once the sugar is dissolved, heat the water over medium heat, without stirring. Bring to a boil. Once it begins to boil, use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash down the edges of the pan to prevent build-up of sugar crystals. Let cook until the syrup reaches the soft thread stage (225F-235F on candy thermometer).

Once syrup reaches the proper temperature, add the grated coconut and stir well with wooden or silicone spoon. Then add the condensed milk and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to pull away from the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat.

Let cool briefly, and then with a tablespoon, drop spoonsful of cocada on the greased cookie sheet, mounding them slightly. Let the cocada cool and harden for an hour or so, and then using a spatula make sure they are not sticking to the cookie sheet. Let cool completely.

Can be served immediately, or stored for up to one week in a covered container. Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How the Coconut Got Its Name

The thing one learns while researching articles for Flavors of Brazil! I'll bet you didn't know that the coconut (Cocos nucifera) was named after the Bogeyman. You know, the scary monster that lurks in children's closets, or hides out under the basement stairs. I certainly didn't. It's hard to guess the connection, but any etymological dictionary of English will explain the origin of the word coco is Portuguese, which English then picked up from that language and changed slightly to coconut.

It turns out that in the folklore and mythology of the Iberian peninsula, there is a ghostly figure which is very similar to the Bogeyman and which is called coco or cuco. In his scariest incarnation, he is known as a child-eater and/or kidnapper, and parents for centuries have used the threat of his appearance to scare children into obedience. He is often represented as a ghost with the head of a pumpkin, similar in appearance to the familiar Jack o'Lantern. The Goya engraving at right is entitled "Que Viene el Coco". Over time, coco or cuco came to mean head or skull in colloquial Spanish and Portuguese.

The coconut wasn't known in medieval Europe as it originates in Asia and Oceania. In the early stages of the Age of Exploration, Portuguese sailors encountered this fruit on their journeys in search of spices and gold. They were struck by the appearance of the fruit, particularly by the three holes at one end of it, and by how the holes gave it the appearance of a head or skull - a coco, as it were. They began to call the fruit coco and that name became established first in the Portuguese language and then in some variation of that word in most Western European languages, including English.

Thus, the Iberian Bogeyman, the coco, ended up achieving world wide fame not so much for his frightful qualities, but for the fact that his head resembles nothing so much as a coconut.

(Here is a link to the article on coconut oil in the New York Times that is discussed in the comments below - coconut oil )