Saturday, July 30, 2011

RECIPE - Brazilian Fish Kebabs (Espetinho de Peixe com Laranja)

The espetinhos (kebabs) that you're likely to find on the streets, squares and beaches of Brazil are fairly basic things - cubes of spiced meat, skewered and grilled over charcoal.

However, when you're invited to a bbq party at a friend's house, or when you line up at the buffet at a wedding reception or graduation party, you'll often find more elaborate, more "gourmet" versions of the espetinhos on offer. Instead of just meat, you might find vegetables or even fruit on the skewer, and the marinade might include interesting and unusual flavors.

This recipe is for kebabs of fish marinated in orange juice, and comes from the Brazilian women's magazine Ana Maria. The use of citrus juice to marinate meat and seafood is common in Brazil, though it's more often lime juice than orange juice. If you prefer a slightly less sweet marinade, substitute lemon or lime juice for half of the quantity of orange juice called for in the recipe.
RECIPE - Brazilian Fish Kebabs (Espetinho de Peixe com Laranja)
Makes 6 kebabs

1 1/4 lb (600 gr) fish fillet or steaks (choose firm-fleshed fish that don't flake, such as tuna, halibut, salmon or others)
3 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 red or green bell peppers (or one of each)
18 small button mushrooms
1/2 cup orange juice, fresh-squeezed if possible
vegetable oil for grilling
Mix together in a medium bowl the soy sauce, vinegar and ginger. Cut the fish into 18 equal-sized cubes, then add to the bowl, stirring to completely cover the fish with marinade. Set aside to marinade for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, seed the bell peppers and cut the flesh into 18 squares. Thoroughly clean the mushrooms with a brush, and cut off the stems if hard and tough.

Drain the marinaded fish, reserving the marinade. Alternatively skewer the cubes of fish, bell pepper squares and mushrooms on 6 bamboo or metal skewers, using 3 pieces of each ingredient per skewer.

Grill the kebabs in a charcoal or gas grill, or use the broiler. Grilling time will depend on method used, and size of grill.

While the kebabs are grilling, combine the reserved marinade and orange juice in a small saucepan. Bring rapidly to a boil over high heat and boil until reduced by half.

When the kebabs are almost done, brush the reduced marinade over them and cook for about one minute more. Remove from heat and serve immediately, with the remaining marinade in small dipping bowls.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Espetinhos - The Kebabs of Brazil

At any public event which is likely to draw a crowd, anywhere in Brazil, at any time of day or night, any season of the year, there'll  at least one person (and likely many more ) standing at a small charcoal grill, vending espetinhos. Espetinho is a Portuguese word which means "little skewer" and is the word that Brazilians use to describe what is known in English as a kebab. Espetinho vendors seem to have an extra-sensory ability to spot the time and location where they're likely to find trade. When one sees a few espetinho vendors setting up their grills on a street corner, or at the edge of a public square, you can be sure that in short order the space will be filled with a hungry crowd and the smell of grilling espetinhos will perfume the air with the smell of grilled meat.

Espetinhos can be made from many things. The most common are simple skewers of spiced beef or chicken. (There are Brazilian jokes about what the meat on a espetinho really is - they call it filé meow.) There are other varieties of espetinho, however, made from sausage or hot dogs, from shrimps or cubed fish, or even from queijo coalho, a Brazilian cheese that doesn't melt and so can be grilled.

Espetinho vendors normally offer their customers some type of hot sauce to spice up the kebab as well as farinha, the crunchy, almost sandy manioc flour without which Brazilians seem incapable of eating meat. Besides the kebab, they'll definitely have a styrofoam tub of beer on ice. For fairgoers, carnaval participants, sports fans or open-air concertgoes, an espetinho or two and an icy beer makes a perfect snack - just what you need to keep the party and the energy going.

Espetinhos are not expensive. In fact, they're often very cheap - just a real or two will get you a good-sized espetinho of chicken or cheese, with beef being just a bit more expensive. They're stand-up food par excellence and are eating directly from the skewer without silverware. It takes only a minute to eat one, and if you're still hungry after there's always another one being fired up on the grill, so you'll never wait long for seconds. They're good all day long, but at their best at the end of the night - just what you need at 3 am to get you home at the end of a long night's partying.

Because they're cooked through, espetinhos are usually sanitary and safe to eat. It's best, though, if you want to try an espetinho to choose a vendor who has a steady flow of customers and who is selling fresh-cooked skewers. Avoid those who have little trade and who have pre-cooked espetinhos sitting at the edge of the grill. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Most Expensive Pizza in São Paulo

São Paulo is obsessed with pizza. Local foodies, food critics and plain old pizzaholics duke it out in newspapers and magazines, on the internet, and sometimes on the street corner as they champion their own particular favorite pizza. The city has its own particular style of pizza, as unique as the style of Neapolitan pizza or a New York slice, but within that style their are legions of twists and variations on the theme. A São Paulo pizza brings the cheese front and center, at the expense of the tomato sauce. Tomato sauce is present, but it's a grace note compared to the major melody of cheese.

The pizzas of São Paulo vary in price and presentation as well as in recipe. The city has innumerable hole-in-the-wall pizza joints, it's got fast food pizza emporiums and it has upmarket, dimly-lit pizza palaces. It's in one of these palaces where the most expensive pizza in São Paulo (according to the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper) can be found. The pizza menu at a restaurant called Veridiana tops out at the sum of R$120.00 which at today's exchange rate is USD$76.50. That's nothing to sneeze at, even in a city that has some very expensive restaurants.

Veridiana's menu-topper pizza is named Napoli in Toscana. It's a take on the classic Neapolitan Pizza Margherita, jazzed up with Tuscan truffle oil and plentiful slices of black truffles. (For nearly eighty bucks, one would hope the slices of black truffles are plentiful). This pizza, admittedly, is pricy, but if the same pizza were served in a similar restaurant in New York, London or Rome, with the same quantity of truffles, we have a feeling that it would be even more expensive. The newspaper published a photo of the Napoli in Toscana pizza in their article about upmarket pizzas, and the truffle-laden beauty is a stunner. Here's the photo:

In addition to the R$120 pizza from Veridiana, the article highlighted other expensive pizzas in São Paulo. Most of them were in the R$60-65 range, which is not cheap but which works out to a reasonable USD$35-38. If you don't feel like charging up your credit card even by that amount, however, the city offers decent, dependable and authentic pizzas for an average of R$20-30. That's only USD$12-18, and that's a bargain.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

RECIPE - Vinegared Shrimp Cocktail (Camarão ao Vinagrete)

If you look at the Portuguese translation for this dish shown in the title above you'll see the word vinagrete. Yet we here at Flavors of Brazil have chosen to render the name of this dish into English as Vinegared Shrimp Cocktail. Since most English-speaking readers of this blog already know the word vinaigrette, with its French spelling, why didn't we simply call this Shrimp Vinaigrette?

The reason is that the English word vinaigrette and the it's Portuguese look-alike vinaigrete are what linguists like to call "false friends". That is, two words in different languages that look like they mean the same thing, but in fact don't. Their similarity can cause someone to use one to translate the other, but the translation isn't a good one. This can cause confusion, misunderstanding, or even dangerous consequences.

English-language vinaigrette comes from the French, as does its recipe. It's basically an emulsion of vinegar and oil, bound together by beating or whipping, and most commonly served as a salad dressing. Brazilian vinegrete (pronounced vih-neh-GRE-che) on the other hand is a condiment served at the table to accompany traditional rice, beans and meat Brazilian meals. It is made of chopped tomato, onion and sometimes green pepper in diluted vinegar. More of a relish than a salad dressing, and it has no oil.

This recipe from the north-eastern Brazilian state of Paraíba works beautifully as a first course for a dinner or a main course for a light lunch and consists of cold boiled shrimp tossed at the last minute with vinaigrete. Refreshing and light, it's a perfect food for a hot day at the beach, or for that matter in the city or at the lake.
RECIPE - Vinegared Shrimp Cocktail (Camarão ao Vinagrete)
Serves 2

For the shrimp:
1 1/2 lb (600 gr) large peeled shrimp, raw
juice of one large lime
salt to taste
lime slices to garnish

For the vinaigrete:
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped (do not peel)
1 small green or red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp finely chopped green onions, green part only
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
Make the shrimp:
In a mixing bowl sprinkle the lime juice over the shrimp, then season with salt to taste. Let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile bring 6 cups (1.5 liters) water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the shrimps to the boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes, or just until the shrimp are pink, opaque and tender. Drain immediately in a sieve or colander and refresh with plenty of cold water. Drain thoroughly, place in a covered bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Make the vinaigrete:
Combine all the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least thirty-minutes for the flavors to blend.

Divide the shrimp between two deep plates. Pour half of the solid vinaigrete ingredients over each, then stir with a wooden spoon to spread evenly. Add about 2 Tbsp of the liquid from the vinaigrete to each plate, and top with lime slice or lime wedge to garnish. Serve immediately, while still cold.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Critics' Take on Devassa Beer

The recent entry of Devassa beers into the national marketplace in Brazil means that many more Brazilians will be exposed to them and develop their own opinions about the quality of the beer. The very clever ad campaigns of Devassa's owners, Schincariol Breweries, has raised the profile of the beer but clever advertising can only go so far - if the beer isn't good people won't continue to buy it.

Like everywhere else in the world, Brazil is full of both profession and amateur beer critics. The professionals write for food and wine magazines and publish in newspapers, the amateurs post their opinions in blogs and on Internet forums and social network groups. What do these critics have to say about Devassa.

One of the most well-respected beer critics in Brazil is Roberto Fonseca, who writes for the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper and who publishes a blog called "Blog do Bob" on the Estado's website. He was an early fan of the original microbrewed line of beers from Devassa, but is less keen on their national brand Bem Loura. He notes that Bem Loura falls into the category that he calls "tropical lager" - those lagers that are made especially light for warm-weather markets and which supposedly go down better in the heat of the topics. The best known example of this style is Mexico's Corona. He goes on to say that although Devassa Bem Loura doesn't have the disagreeable odor and taste of other industrially-brewed Brazilian lagers, it is so lightly malted and hopped that it loses any hope of distinctive character and blends in seamlessly the other popular Brazilian brands - it's fatal fault is that it doesn't stand out. He rates it at 2.5 out of 4.

It seems that bloggers agree with Sr. Fonseca for the most part. The original brands from the days of the microbrewery rate higher than does Bem Loura. This blogger from Brasilia notes the high quality of the ingredients used - only European hops, for example. He likes the body of the pale ale and the body of the dark ale, noting that the latter doesn't come at the cost of feeling heavy. Another blogger especially appreciates Devassa draft beer and compares it favorably to Brahma Chopp, the market leader in this segment.

It remains to be seen whether Devassa Bem Loura will have long term success in the Brazilian beer market - one of the largest in the world and dominated by brands of the world largest beer consortium AmBev. A $60 million ad campaign (the rumored cost of the campaign to launch Bem Loura) will make a lot of people eager to sample a new "hot" product. But only quality will bring them back for more.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Trendiest Beer in Brazil - It's "Salacious" Devassa

Wanton, dissolute, lecherous, salacious, libertine, immoral, slutty, loose and bawdy - these are just some of the translations the dictionary suggests for the Portuguese-language adjective devasso (devassa when modifying a feminine noun). The list isn't complete according to most complete dictionary, but it's enough to for you to get the picture. Calling someone devasso/devassa ascribes a high-living, low-moral, totally-untrustworthy character to that person.Usually not a compliment.

So would you think that Devassa might be a good way to describe a beer? "That beer was totally lecherous, wasn't it?" or "You gotta try this one, it's loose and bawdy." Well, it appears that in Brazil at least it's an excellent way to describe a beer, since a relatively new family of beers called Devassa has taken the Brazilian market by storm, thanks in part to an extremely clever marketing campaign that plays on all the aspects of the word devassa.

Devassa was originally a small microbrewery, founded in 2001 by a small group of beer enthusiasts, located in the run-down port area of Rio de Janeiro. Its production capability was limited, and its distribution restricted to Rio and a few specialty bars in São Paulo. It sold very well in the areas it was available, and gained a reputation among fans of good beer nationwide in Brazil, mostly due to word-of-mouth.

In 2007 the entrepreneurs who founded Devassa sold the brand to large Brazilian brewery Schincariol, who had the productive capacity and national distribution network to take the brand nationwide. The original Devassa had consisted of three beers, all available only on draft or in long-neck 12 oz bottles. These three beers were called Loura, Ruiva, and Negra (meaning Blonde, Redhead, and Blackhaired) and the names referenced styles of beer - one light lager (the blonde, naturally), one pale ale (the redhead), and one dark ale (the black-haired beauty). Schincariol added one new beer to the family, Bem Loura (really Blonde) a typical Brazilian light lager, available in 12 oz. cans and 600 ml bottles and sold at a lower price point than the three original brews.

Besides the brewing capacity and distribution network one additinal thing that Schincariol brought to Devassa was the financial capability to launch a huge national advertising campaign for Devassa. One that was edgy, youthful and which pushed the leading edge of 21st century marketing techniques. Their first national campaign featured American famous-cuz-she's famous Paris Hilton. In the TV commercial that Ms Hilton did for Devassa she is shown through the windows of a beachfront apartment in Rio, opening a refrigerator, pulling out an ice-cold can of Bem Loura and rubbing it all over her presumably-wanton body, all the while being photographed by a neighbor across the street and ogled by passersby and beachgoers. There was no nudity in the commercial, no faked-orgasm on the part of Paris, but the sight of a frosty Devassa being rubbed on Paris' thighs and in her cleavage was enough to send CONAR, an industry self-regulation body of advertising standards, into a snit-fit. They blocked the ad, forbidding it to be televised. According to a spokeswoman for CONAR this was because the ad "depreciates the female body and demoralizes blonde women." Here's the ad, from YouTube:

The censoring of the Devassa campaign was manna from heaven for Schincariol. The withdrawal of the ad was a topic on national TV news programs, covered in newspapers and magazines, and of course the whole thing went viral on the Internet. As they say, "You can't pay for publicity like that." Schincariol cleverly retooled the campaign (without the continued presence of Paris Hilton) but with beautiful blondes and cans of Devassa alike displaying black bands of censorship across "sensitive areas."

Coming as it did just at the time Devassa went national, the whole scandal created a tremendous product awareness for the beer, which was unknown in most of Brazil up to that time. The demand for Devassa shot up dramatically and when the beer went national it sold out almost everywhere, even at premium prices. Ordering a Bem Loura became a sign of hipness - you know, "I'll have a really blonde one, please." A continued marketing campaign playing on the connotations of the word devassa kept the brand in the public's mind. In the end, the launch of Devassa was the most successful launch of a new brand of beer in Brazilian history. Thanks to it's clever name, thanks to Paris Hilton feeling a tad hottish in the heat of a  Rio summer, and especially thanks to the crowd of buffoons at CONAR.

Besides being trendy and hip, is Devassa any good, though? We'll see what Brazilian beer critics say shortly here at Flavors of Brazil.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

RECIPE - Raw Kibbeh (Kibbeh Cru)

This make-at-home version of the Lebanese classic raw meat dish kibbeh, which has been adopted enthusiastically by Brazilians, is easy to make and a fun appetizer or first course for dinner guests - with the proviso that your guests must be somewhat adventuresome eaters. You might even want to ask ahead of time what people think of the idea of eating raw beef or lamb, so that you don't make a large dish of raw kibbeh only to discover that none of your guests will touch it.

It's interesting to note the cultural bias involved in the eating of raw animal protein, and how it changes over time, sometimes very slowly, sometimes quite rapidly. As an example think of raw-fish sushi or sashimi. Twenty-five years ago these Japanese foods could only be found in Japan itself and in restaurants catering to Japanese immigrant colonies in other places around the world. For many North Americans, in particular, even the idea of eating raw fish brought on a gag reaction. But sushi caught on in the Americas and Europe, and although these are still some holdouts, most people think nothing of eating a plate of nigiri sushi, or tuna belly sashimi. Even kids love sushi these days, whether those kids are Japanese, Canadian, Italian or Brazilian.

In some culinary cultures there's always been a place for raw meat. Ethopian cuisine offers many dishes which include raw beef. And the French have been eating steak tartare for a long time - almost as long as those Tartars from whom the dish is named. In the Levant, and around the Middle East, kibbeh cru has an honored place at the meze table. There still is a significant sector of the population which cannot abide the idea of consuming uncooked beef or lamb. Ironically, many of these people love super-rare steaks in which the center of the cut is barely warm - but at least it's not raw!

A dinner party isn't a place to educate one's guests' palates - or to encourage them to eat something they find unappealing. Save the kibbeh cru for your friends or family members who like to stretch their comfort zones when it comes to eating. Let the rest eat their kibbeh cooked.

Note: If you want to grind your own meat for kibbeh cru, follow the instructions in the recipe. If you want to buy it it's best to ask your butcher to grind it fresh from a single piece of meat without visible fat. Don't use packaged ground meat. And ask your butcher to grind it two or even three times. You want very finely ground meat when you make kibbeh cru.

RECIPE - Raw Kibbeh (Kibbeh Cru)
Serve 10 as a appetizer or first course

2 pounds fresh beef trimmed of all visible fat (or prepurchased ground beef - see above)
1 lb (500 gr) bulgar wheat (sold as trigo para kibe in Brazil)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 bunch fresh mint, leaves only and stems removed
1 small bunch Italian parsley
juice of 1 lime
3 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 - 1 clove garlic, finely minced, to taste
extr-virgin olive oil
If grinding your own beef, cut the meat into 1 in (2 cm cubes). You can use either a manual meat grinder, in which case you'll want to grind the meat on the finest blade 2 or 3 times. If you use a food processor, grind extra-fine but do not let the meat be ground to a paste.

In a large mixing bowl combine the bulgar wheat with at least 2 quarts (2 liters) cold water. Reserve to let the wheat soften.

Meanwhile, in another large bowl combine the meat, onions, mint, parsley, lime juice, and garlic if using. Mix together completely with a wooden spoons or, better, with your hands. Reserve in the refrigerator.

When the bulgar wheat is softened (usually about 30 minutes - test by sampling), drain it in a colander or sieve. Place the drained wheat on a clean dish towel and squeeze it dry in the towel.

Add the bulgar and the softened butter to the meat mixture and again mix together thoroughly. Mound the completed kibbeh decoratively on a large platter, scoring the top in a geometric pattern. Decorate with mint leaves, drizzle olive oil over and serve immediately, or reserve for up to one hour in the refrigerator. Accompany with fresh pita bread.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lebanon's Kibbeh Cru Becomes Brazilianized

Along with their work ethic and business acumen, another thing that Lebanese immigrants carried with them when they immigrated to Brazil in great numbers in the first half of the twentieth-century was their culinary memories of their homeland. Lebanese immigrants settled primarily in Brazil's populous southeast, and it's in the big cities of that region, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and especially São Paulo, that one finds the greatest gastronomic influence of Middle Eastern foods on Brazilian cuisine. But the foods of the Levant have now moved beyond these metropolises and can be found everywhere in Brazil these days.

This is particularly true of the snack foods and appetizers known in Arabic as meze. A series of small dishes of food, similar to Spanish tapas, meze are served in bars and restaurants for lunch or a light dinner, with or without drinks, but almost always with plenty of pita bread for picking up dips and soaking up juices. The classic meze dishes of Beirut or Tripoli have become classic bar treats everywhere in Brazil.

A while back, Flavors of Brazil featured the most well-known of these meze, a ball of ground meat (lamb or beef) and bulgar wheat, stuffed with spiced ground meat. It's called kibbe, kibbeh or quibe depending on how you want to transliterate the Arabic word ن كبة ية. Kibbeh can be found in botecos and bars in Brazil, at lunch counters and stand-up juice bars, in fancy Lebanese restaurants, and at the beach where they are sold by ambulant vendors.

There is a second type of kibbeh served in Brazil that's quite different from the ubiquitous deep-fried meatball kibbeh. It's called kibbeh cru, meaning raw kibbeh in English, and it's a Lebanese take on the classic French dish steak tartare. In Brazil you are likely to find this version only in more upmarket Lebanese and Middle Eastern restaurants and it's not found at juice bars or at the beach. Considering that the primary ingredient in kibbeh cru is raw ground meat, that's probably a good thing in term of food safety!

Kibbeh cru is basically a mixture of finely ground meat (lamb or beef) mixed with bulgar wheat, spiced and seasoned with mint, drizzled with olive oil then served with pita bread. Diners spread a small amount of the mixture on a piece of pita before popping it into their mouth. It's usually served family-style, and one plate of kibbeh cru serves the whole table.

This dish is surprisingly mild in taste, with the flavor of the seasoning ingredients, normally including onions and fresh mint, predominant. Before serving, the plate of kibbeh cru is drizzled with olive oil or with a garlic/tahini sauce, and these also add character to the flavor.

Because kibbeh cru is made from raw meat it's important that one only eats it in establishments where one trusts quality and hygiene standards. Since almost all Brazilian cattle and sheep are grass-fed, or at least are not fed animal protein, some of the risks of eating raw meat in other countries are absent or reduced in Brazil.

The next post here on the blog will highlight a recipe for homemade kibbeh cru. If your next dinner party includes adventuresome eaters, serve them kibbeh cru Brazilian-style. Those that partake are likely to thank you for your efforts.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fifty Years Waiting Tables and Still At It

Seu Luiz
If Luiz de Oliveira isn't the world's oldest practicing waiter he's surely close to being so, as we can't imagine there are many other men who still wait tables at the age of 90. Sr. Oliveira, or Seu Luiz as he's known to the legions of his faithful customers, still works at Bar Leo, a very traditional bar in downtown São Paulo, something he has done for more than 50 years. These days he works Mondays to Thursdays from 2 pm to "when I'm tired", as he puts it.

According to Seu Luiz (as told to the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper recently) the two most important achievements in his life are having been a waiter at Bar Leo for 50 years and a Palmeirista (a supporter of São Paulo football/soccer team Palmeiras) for 90.

During his long career at the bar seu Luiz estimates that he has served at least half a million glasses of draft beer (chope). His faithful customers are numberless, but among them are some very famous people - in the 1960s, Che Guevara, who loved the bar's potato salad, and in the 50s Jânio Quadros, who would go on to be President of Brazil.

Seu Luiz is famed as a friendly, competent and fast waiter, but he does have his standards, which he will not bend for any customer. He will not serve a beer without a three-finger foamy head, and he won't serve canapes without mustard. Don't even bother asking - seu Luiz's usual response to customers who ask for a draft without a head is, "Draft with a head is the way it's served here. If you don't want it that way, no problem though. There's a bakery across the street that serves draft without a head."

A few weeks ago customers, present-day and former staff, and many members of the press gathered at Bar Leo to celebrate seu Luiz's illustrious career. Although he refuses to give interviews, he did answer a few questions at the celebration:

When were you born? 1921

Where? The city of São Paulo

Being a waiter is?  A calling

Your passion is?  Palmeiras

Draft beer without a head is?  Not draft beer

Women? I'm a bachelor, but I don't fault for women, ok?

Your dream? To live another 90 years

Let's all hope his dream comes true. He's an inspiration to us all.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

World's Healthiest Drink? - Pineapple Juice with Kale

Pineapple is Brazil's secondmost consumed fruit, being outconsumed only by banana. Much of the county's enormous harvest is processed, either undustrially or at the time of consumption, into juice. One of the juices that you can be sure will be available year-round in just about any of Brazil's thousands of juice bars is pineapple.

A while back, Flavors of Brazil introduced its readers to a delicious mixed juice that's popular throughout Brazil - pineapple juice with fresh mint (suco de abacaxi com hortelã). Click here for that posting. Recently we've come across another intriguing juice which mixes pineapple with another ingredient - this time it's not mint but the rather-more-unlikely member of the cabbage family kale (couve).

We mentioned in our recent series of posts about the Portuguese-inspired soups called caldo verde that kale has good claim to being the world's most nutritious vegetable. Kale is low in calories, with no fat, and packed full of vitamins, calcium and chemicals with powerful antioxidant properties. And pineapple itself is no slouch when it comes to nutrition, being an excellent source of manganese and vitamin C.

All this nutritional value would be of little use if juice made from pineapple and kale tasted awful - but thankfully, it doesn't. The juice is pineapple-sweet but not cloying, and the dark green kale provides a vegetable note to the flavor that practically sings out "I'm good for you!"

The drink is easy to make at home and the necessary ingredients aren't hard to find. Try this juice some morning with your breakfast and just see if it doesn't make you feel top of the world.
Pineapple Juice with Kale (suco de abacaxi com hortelã)
makes 1 drink

1/4 medium-sized fresh ripe pineapple, peeled, cored and cubed
1 large leaf kale, washed thorough and coarsely shredded
4 cups fresh ice cubes
Combine all the ingredients in a large, sturdy blender and blend for two minutes at high speed, or until all the liquid is homogenous and the ice has all been crushed.

Pour through a sieve into a tall glass. Drink immediately.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

RECIPE - Lobster-stuffed Pineapple (Lagosta no Abacaxi)

To make this rich and elegant seafood-and-fruit main course, you'll not need one of Brazil's giant pineapples. Which is probably a good thing, since the buying the quantity of lobster needed to fill one of those thirty-pound pineapples would certainly drain your bank account.

Fortunately, we're lucky in Brazil to have normal-size pineapples and fresh lobster tails available year round and at a reasonable price. This week at the supermarket, we bought a lovely ripe and juicy pineapple for R$2.00 (about USD $1.20) and at the fish market on the docks last week I spotted fresh lobster tails for R$40.00/kg, approximately USD $11.00/lb.

This recipe for creamed lobster and pineapple served in a pineapple "half-shell" comes to Flavors of Brazil from São Paulo restaurant Capim Santo. The name Capim Santo means "lemongrass" in Portuguese, and the restaurant is known for inventive and healthy food inspired by local Brazilian techniques and ingredients.
RECIPE - Lobster-stuffed Pineapple (Lagosta no Abacaxi)
Serves 2

1 ripe whole pineapple
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 oz. (50 ml) cachaça (tequila or vodka may be substituted)
2 Tbsp fresh basil, finely shredded
3/4 lb (300 gr) fresh or defrosted frozen lobster tail meat
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
2 Tbsp freshly-grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Slice the pineapply in half vertically (from the leaves to the stem). Reserve half for another use. Using paring knife, cut the woody core from the pineapple half, then cut the remaining flesh into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes. Do not cut through the skin of the fruit. Reserve the shell.

Cut the lobster meat into small cubes, about 1/2 inch (1 cm). Place in a small bowl, then season with the lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Reserve.

In a large frying pan, heat the oil, then add the chopped garlic and onion and cook until the onion is softened and transparent, but not browned. Add the seasoned lobster meat, the cachaça and the cubed pineapple. Continue to cook for a few minutes to burn off the alcohol, then add the crème fraîche or sour cream and the shredded basil. Cook for a few more minutes or until the lobster is tender. Remove from heat.

Place the pineapple shell on a cookie sheet or in a lasagne pan. Fill the cavity with the lobster mixture. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over, then place under a preheated broiler for about 3 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.

Serve immediately.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pineapples on Steroids - Abacaxi Gigante

OK, so the picture above isn't a real pineapple (abacaxi in Portuguese) - just one of those "big things" that dot landscapes around the world highlighting local products. Sort of like the colossal Easter egg outside Vegreville, Alberta, Canada, or the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota. And it's not even in Brazil; it's in Australia.

There are giant pineapples in Brazil, though, and scientists from Embrapa, the Brazilian federal Agricultural Research Institute, are trying to track them down. They've traveled to the remotest corners and regions of Brazil looking for over-sized pineapples, and have found some startling examples. In Turauacá in the remote state of Acre, near the headwaters of the Amazon river system, local indigenous tribes cultivate a pineapple that can grow up to 15 kgs (33 lbs). And at Oiapoque, Amapa, the northernmost city in the entire country, on the border with French Guiana, the indigenous Galibus tribe grows pineapples that weight around 10 kgs (22 lbs) and can be more than 16 inches (40 cm) in height.
Giant pineapples from Turauacá

The purpose of all this travel and research isn't just to stake a claim in the Guiness Book of World Records for the biggest pineapple. There's a more noble purpose in mind to the project. It's part of an effort to build a genetic database of pineapple varieties and variations in order to protect the biodiversity of both cultivated pineapples and their wild ancestors and cousins, and thus ensure the genetic health of one of Brazil's most important food crops.

The humungous size of some of these varieties and variations are merely the believe-it-or-not whimsical aspects of a vital project to preserve Brazil's agricultural biodiversity.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

RECIPE - Passion Fruit Cake (Bolo de Maracujá)

One of our habits here at Flavors of Brazil is to search out a thematically suitable recipe for publishing the day after we have an article about a particular Brazilian food, be it fish, fowl or fruit. If we run a piece about a fish called robalo (snook in English), we're likely to follow that with a robalo recipe the next day. Or if we track down an exotic fruit from the Amazon or the Pantanal and feature it in a posting, the next post often will have a recipe based on that fruit.

The most recent posting on this blog was about three very exotic Brazilian foods - endangered heritage foods that have been catalogued for preservation in the Slow Food Ark of Taste. These three food, which include a flour made from sun-dried river fish, a smelly but delicious fruit from a hardwood tree, and a wild variety of the commonly cultivated passion fruit (maracujá). Recipes for the first two of these heritage foods are thin on the ground and a bit of internet searching came up with almost nothing in the way of recipes. Besides which, even if we did publish a recipe almost none of the readers of this blog would have the slightest chance of sourcing the main ingredient.

The wild passion fruit known as maracujá da Caatinga, though, is not entirely unlike cultivated and commercialized passion fruits, even if it is more highly perfumed and densely flavored. So we've decided to feature a common Brazilian recipe for a simple cake soaked in a passion fruit syrup. In the extremely unlikely circumstance that you have an available supply of maracujá da Caatinga please use it (and let us know the results.) Otherwise use whatever fresh passion fruit is available to you, or in a pinch, even canned or frozen passion fruit pulp.
RECIPE - Passion Fruit Cake (Bolo de Maracujá)

4 whole eggs, separated
2 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups cake flour
1 cup passion fruit juice
2 heaping Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp baking powder

2 fresh passion fruits (3 if small)
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup water
Make the cake:
 Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

In a medium mixing bowl combine the egg yolks, the sugar and butter and beat with hand mixer or cake mixer until light and fluffy. Reserve. In another bowl, preferably copper, beat the egg whites to soft peak stage. Reserve.

Alternatively add small quantities of  passion fruit juice and flour to the creamed sugar/butter mixture, mixing each in thoroughly before proceeding. When completely added in, fold the egg whites in gently - do not overmix.

Pour the batter into greased and floured tube pan, bundt pan or springform cake pan. Place in preheated oven and cook for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Make the syrup:
While the cake in baking, combine the passion fruit pulp (seeds included), the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring rapidly to a boil, reduce heat slightly and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid has cooked down and you have a this syrup. Remove from heat and reserve.

Completing the cake:
As soon as the cake is done, remove it from the oven. Using a metal or bamboo skewer poke holes in the surface of the cake. Pour the syrup over while the cake is still hot so that is will penetrate the holes and soak into the cake. Let the cake cool completely before removing from the cake pan.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Three New Products added to Slow Food Brasil's Ark of Taste

The Ark of Taste, just one of the many projects of the international Slow Food movement, is an international catalogue of heritage foods in danger of extinction. Traditional crops, methods of cultivation or production, or wild food sources are identified by Slow Food as food practices threated with extinction and worthy of preservation. Once a food item enters the Ark of Taste Slow Food members work to ensure that the item is nurtured and preserved and that it doesn't disappear in our increasingly homogenous 21st century world.

Flavors of Brazil has previously highlighted some of Slow Food Brasil's entries into the Ark of Taste - the small green fruit called umbu, and the colossal Amazonian fish piracuru. There are also 22 additional products in the Brazilian Ark, including three that were just recently confirmed by Slow Food International upon the request of Slow Food Brasil.

The three new entrants bear the impenetrable names of piracuí, jatobá and maracujá da Caatinga . Faithful readers of this blog and anyone who's been to Brazil is likely to recognize the word maracujá. It's the Portuguese word for passion fruit, but the other two words most likely draw a blank. So what exactly has just been granted access into the Ark of Taste? Let's find out.

This is one of the more unusual entries in the entire list of Brazilian Ark of Taste Products. It's a type of flour. What makes it unusual is that the flour is made from fish. Piracuí comes from the Amazon and is a traditional method employed by the residents of the forest, the ribeirinhos, to preserve the bounty of the wet season for use during the long months of the dry season when many of the smaller rivers and streams of the forest dry up.  To make piracuí the ribeirinhos sun-dry small fish which they've netted in the river, and then grind these tiny fish to make the flour.


Here we have another flour used by indigenous populations. This time though the flour comes not from fish but from the fruit of an enormous hardwood tree whose habitat is the dry savannah known as the Cerrado. The  tree can grow up to 130 ft (40 m) high and can live for hundreds of years. It is a valuable source of hardwood for furniture making and for flooring, but it's the seeds of its fruit that have earned it a place in the Ark of Taste. These seeds are ground into flour by natives of the Xingu tribal family. The natives use the flour to toast simple cakes and breads over open fires. Jatobá seeds and flour have a strong characteristic aroma which is highly appreciated by the natives, but which many others find extremely unpleasant. Which might explain some of the English-language names for the  tree - stinktoe, stinking toe and old man's toe. It's said though that the taste of the flour is sweet. This combination of strong, offensive odor and sweet taste is something that the  shares with Asian durians.
maracujá da Caatinga

Passion fruit (maracujá in Portuguese) is a native Brazilian species of fruit that has spread around the globe and is appreciated in tropical climates, where it flourishes, and non-tropical climates, where it's a highly valued import. The maracujá da Caatinga is a related species of fruit which grows wild in the region of north-eastern Brazil called the Caatinga. The Caatinga is a harsh, semi-arid landscape that is suitable for raising cattle and goats and very little else. The maracujá da Caatinga often grows spontaneously at the edges of pastures and communal feed ranges and has been loved by local ranchers and farmers for hundreds of years. The fruit of the  is highly flavored, with a strong perfume. Both the taste and the aroma are reminiscent of honey, and the taste of the fruit is denser, sweeter and more acidic than the fruit of the cultivated . Maracujá da Caatinga, like all varieties of this family of fruits, has a tranquilizing and relaxing effect on humans and inhabitants of the Caatinga rely on this property as an aid to sleep.

Like their cousins on the Brasilian Ark of Taste, these three heritage foods are threatened by encroaching populations, loss of habitat and all too frequently, lack of interest in preserving them. Once a food has been identified as a threatened heritage by inclusion in the Ark of Taste, the next step is the implementation of something called a Presidium, an organized development plan to preserve and protect the food. Let's hope that these three very unusual foods move quickly into the shelter provided by a Slow Food Presidium.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

RECIPE - Watermelon Compote (Doce de Melancia)

One of the strangest foods I remember from my childhodr - or at least it seemed strange to me in that era of food that ranged from bland to superbland - was pickled watermelon rinds. For some reason they were obligatory on our Christmas dinner table, served in a small dish, as were black olives, neither of which were seen on the other 364 days of the year. Tart but sweet, and slightly crunchy, spiced with cinnamon and cloves, one or two pieces invariably found their way onto my heaped-full plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and rutabagas, but I didn't really miss them much during the rest of the year.

You have to admit that making pickles out of the left-over rinds of watermelons, which are perilously close to being garbage, is very efficient use of the melon, making sure that nothing goes to waste. One large watermelon can yield sufficient amounts of rind to make a awful lot of pickles.

Brazilians love watermelon almost as much as North Americans do, and all those watermelons generate a lot of rind. The traditional Brazilian solution, which dates back to colonial days on sugar plantations, for this overabundance is to make a sweet dessert with the rinds rather than a sweet-and-sour pickle. Watermelon compote is a favorite home dessert. It's cheap to make, since the rind is a bit of a freebie when you buy watermelon. And it's easy. Give it a try the next time you have fresh watermelon - it's in season now in the Northern Hemisphere.
RECIPE - Watermelon Compote (Doce de Melancia)
6 portions

1 lb (500 gr) watermelon rinds, white part only, cut into 1 in (2 cm) cubes
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
2 whole cloves (optional)
Put the cubed watermelon in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 2 or 3 minutes, then drain into a sieve or colander. Return the watermelon to the pan, cover with water once more and repeat the process. Drain thoroughly and reserve.

Make the syrup: Combine the sugar and water in a large sauce pan, heat over high heat, stirring to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook until the syrup has reduced to about 3/4 of its original quantity and is thickened. Add the reserved cubes of watermelon and the optional spices, if using. Cook for 20 minutes, keeping the syrup at a slow boil. Remove from the heat.

Let cool completely, then refrigerate until ready to use. Serve chilled, plain or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

RECIPE - Stewed Tambaqui Ribs (Caldeirada de Costela de Tambaqui)

Yesterday Flavors of Brazil suggested that farming the colossal Brazilian freshwater fish known as tambaqui could create an international market for this species and expecially for its ribs, which are the size and shape of pork baby back ribs - and just a wee bit healthier, being full of beneficial omega-3 oils rather than saturated pork fat.

In the meantime, you'll just have to come to Brazil for a dish of fish ribs - which isn't necessarily a bad thing at all. Here's a typical Brazilian presentation for these ribs - a variation on a traditional way of cooking any number of fish here in Brazil - stewed with tomatoes and onions, potatoes and hard boiled eggs. It's related to the peixadas of northeastern Brazil and more distantly to Bahian moquecas. Obviously, this is a recipe for reading, not making, for most readers of the blog since tambaqui ribs aren't available in your fish market and there is really no other substitute that's acceptable. But in anticipation of that day when tambaqui ribs will be available internationally, here it is.
RECIPE - Stewed Tambaqui Ribs (Caldeirada de Costela de Tambaqui)
Serves 2

2 racks of tambaqui ribs (3 or 4 ribs per rack)
Juice of 3 limes
2 Tbsp vinegar
4 cups water
1/2 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
1 medium onion, quartered
2 medium tomatoes, quartered and seeded
1 Tbsp annatto paste or powder (sweet paprika can be substituted)
2 cooked and peeled hard boiled eggs
2 medium boiling potatoes, cooked and quartered
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Wash the ribs in plenty of running water. Combine the lime juice and vinegar and rub into both side of the ribs. Let stand for five minutes, then dry the ribs thoroughly with paper towels.

In a large saucepan, combine the water, salt, tomato paste, garlic, cilantro, quartered onion and tomatoes, and the annatto. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly and dissolve the tomato paste. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat to a slow boil and add the ribs, making sure they're covered with liquid. Cook for ten minutes, then add the cooked eggs and potatoes. Cook for five more minutes, then remove from heat.

In each of two deep serving plates, add one rib, one whole egg, and one quartered potato. Using a slotted spoon, remove solid ingredients from saucepan and distribute over the ribs. With a ladle pour just enough of the cooking liquid over to fill the serving plate. Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately, accompanied with slices of French or Italian bread.

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


With the oversized tambaqui as the topic at hand, we're back in the freshwater environment of the Amazonian rain forest, where everything seems to come in only one size - XXXL. The Amazonian basin is Brazil's Texas - everything is bigger there. Good news when you're talking about fresh water or medicinal plants, and distinctly bad news when you're talking about mosquitos (humungous), spiders (humungouser) or cockroaches (humungousest).

The tambaqui must feel very much at home in this habitat. Even its scientific name (Colossoma macropomum) speaks to its dimensions. (As an aside, our Latin here at Flavors of Brazil isn't all that good, but wouldn't macropomum  mean "Big Apple?" Maybe the tambaqui is a exiled New Yorker at heart). The species averages about 3 feet in length (1 meter) and adult specimens can weigh upwards of 65 lbs (30 kgs).

The tambaqui is perfectly suited to its habitat in the Amazon, which alternates between flood season and dry season on a yearly basis. During the flood season, the waters of the rivers overflow their banks and invade the surrounding forests, flooding them for miles around. When this happens, tambaqui literally swim into the forest and gorge themselves on fruits and seeds that fall into the water. When the waters recede, leaving only muddy pools of water, the tambaqui live off the fat that they built up during the time of plenty and calmly await the return of the next flood stage. It is this ability to live for long periods of time in stagnant, low-oxygen water that makes tambaqui an excellent species for aquaculture, and fish-farming tambaqui is a growing industry in the Amazon region.

Culinarily, the tambaqui is highly valued by local dwellers, who love its rich white flesh, full of healthy fish oils. In recent times, however, the tambaqui has also begun to be coveted by inventive chefs in Brazil's metropolitan cities, and a market has developed for tambaqui far from its jungle homeland. One thing that makes tambaqui intriguing for chefs and diners alike is its unique skeletal structure, with large bony ribs, which offers the possibility of creating dishes for racks of tambaqui ribs. Who's ever heard of fish ribs? Well, now, readers of Flavors of Brazil just have. Tambaqui ribs. They're wonderful.

Since the species is suitable for closed-container fish farming, an environmentally sustainable practice, we think that the tambaqui could have a great future in markets outside Brazil. Imagine Buffalo Tambaqui Ribs in place of Buffalo Wings, or BBQ Tambaqui Ribs cooked in a smoker. All it would take is someone with vision and  a knowledge of fish farming (perhaps a catfish farmer) and tambaqui ribs could become the talk of the town. It would be a great future for a species that's been around since the Miocene Era.

Flavors of Brazil will offer up a recipe for tambaqui fish ribs in tomorrow's post.

Monday, July 11, 2011

RECIPE - Guava Compote (Compota de Goiaba)

Cooking fruits in a simple sugar syrup was a solution employed by cooks and housewives in colonial Brazil for a common problem - how to preserve the bounty of a  large harvest of fruit during a time of abundance so that it would be available for use later in the year. Electrical refrigeration or freezing were not options at that time. So they employed the preservative properties of sugar to allow them to serve fruits long after the harvest - all they needed to do was to make a syrup of sugar dissolved in water, cook the fruit in the syrup, and then preserve the fruit in the same syrup in a can or jar.

Nowadays, fruits cooked in syrup (called compotas in Portuguese and often referred to as compotes in English) are still a popular food in Brazil, even though compotes aren't preservation techniques in this age of refrigeration. One of the most popular is made from guavas.

In the preparation of guava fruits for this compote which can be served as a dessert as is, or fancied up with whipped cream or ice cream, the fruit is peeled with a vegetable peeler, cut in half, then the inner pulp (the seed-bearing part of the fruit) is scooped out. This process leaves a half-shell of pulp and inner rind, which is what is used in this recipe.
RECIPE - Guava Compote (Compota de Goiaba)

1/2 lb (200 gr) prepared guava half-shells (see above) - approximately 4 whole guavas
1 1/2 cup (300 gr) granulated white sugar
2 cups (250 ml) water
1 cinnamon stick, about 2 in (3 cm) long
2 whole cloves
Combine water and sugar in a large saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cinnimon stick and the cloves. Heat over medium heat, stirring to completely dissolve all the sugar. When the syrup is just at the boiling point, add the guava shells, and reduce heat to keep the syrup at a slow boil. Cook for about 15 minutes, gently stirring from time to time to make sure the guavas down't stick to the pan.the guavas are cooked when they can easily be pierced with the tip of a paring knife.

When the guavas are cooked, remove the pan from the heat, and remove the guavas from the hot syrup with a slotted spoon. Place the guavas in a glass or ceramic mixing or serving bowl and reserve.

Return the syrup to the stove. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil down until it is reduced by about half. Remove from heat and let cool.

Pour the syrup over the guavas and serve at room temperature or chilled.

(If canning the compote, proceed as above until the syrup has reduced by half. Pack the guavas in sterilized canning jars, using standard techniques. Pour the hop syrup over, seal, and process in a hot water bath, using standard canning techniques.)

Recipe translated and adapted from blog Naco Zinha.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Guava (Goiaba)

Brazil is the world's largest producer of guavas (goiaba in Portuguese), even though it is geographically very wide-spread and popular in tropical regions around the globe, from Mexico to South Africa and from India to Hawaii. The guava tree itself (Genus:Psidium) originated somewhere between Mexico and Northern South America, but it has been cultivated since pre-history and has spread so far that its origins are lost in time. Man has partially been responsible for the spread of the guava tree, carrying it from the New World to the Old, but the guava tree can also thank birds for helping it to extend its global reach. Guava seed are extremely hard, and remain viable for long periods of time. Undigested seeds in bird droppings can sprout thousands of miles from the mother tree and create new groves in locations far removed from historic habitats.

There are many varieties of guava, some with yellow skin, some with green and some with pink. Some with whitish flesh and some with shocking pink flesh. Some round like and apple and some pear-shaped. What all guavas share is their taste, and even more so, their aroma.

Guavas are strongly aromatic, sometimes alarmingly so. Like most aromas, the smell of ripe guavas is very difficult to describe - it's slightly sweet, very flowery, and heady - sometimes almost too much so. The smell of guavas can be overwhelming. However it's described, the characteristic smell of guavas is utterly unique - there's no other fruit that smells like it - and once known, the aroma will never be forgotten. It's one of the most evocative smells of the tropics.

To regular readers of Flavors of Brazil it must seem that every time there's a post on the blog about a Brazilian fruit it's called a "superfruit" somewhere in the post. So, this time we promise not to use that  word in discussing guavas. Nonetheless, the guava is an extremely healthy fruit and has a great number of valuable nutritious properties. One guava, for example, has five times the vitamin C of an orange of similar size. It also has high levels of calcium, something that isn't characteristic of fruits in general. It's a valuable source of vitamins A and B, phosphorus, potassium, iron, folates, and nicotinic acid. In addition, it's very high in fiber and low in calories (about 25 calories per whole fruit). To top it all off, it's said to be helpful in lowering cholesterol levels, in fighting cancers with its antioxidant properties and helps boost the immune system. Maybe this one should be called a "super-duperfruit."

In Brazil, guavas are available year round and are eaten raw in the hand, or peeled, sliced and added to salads and fruit salads. Most of the commercial harvest, though, goes into the preparation of guava juice, guava pulp or it is cooked down and strained to make guava pasta (goiabada).

Guavas are at their best when they are very ripe, which only takes a few days at home. Guavas are increasingly available in North American and European markets and supermarkets, so if you want to try one pick one that is umblemished and still hard. Let it sit at room temperature in the kitchen for a few days, or until the fruit yields to gentle pressure from your finders. You can wash it and eat it all (the peel is edible, like an apple or pear is, but some people find it bitter) or you can scoop out the pulp with a spoon and eat only that portion. Guava flesh has an appealing grainy texture, somewhat like a pear's, and the seeds, which are numerous, should be swallowed with the pulp, or strained out in a sieve. Don't try to crack a seed with your teeth - it's the teeth that will crack, not the seed!

As usual, we'll carry on with Flavors of Brazil's exploration of the guava in the coming days with some recipes which call for "super-duper" guava.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Living without a Hot Water Tap

If someone were to ask you what was the one feature of your kitchen that you just couldn't live without you might reply, "I have no idea." But if you really thought about it a good guess might be that it was running water - specifically hot and cold running water coming right out of the tap, or feeding the dishwasher, or even automatically filling the ice cube tray in your freezer. How could a modern kitchen operate without water - without water that's cold and without water that's hot?

One of the surprises that met me when I moved from Canada to Fortaleza, Brazil, a modern, relatively well-to-do, progressive city of about three million, was that the kitchen sink only had a single tap and  faucet. So did the bathroom sinks and the showers, and the washing machine, but this is a blog about food, so we'll leave that aside for now. There was no hot water tap and there was no cold water tap, there was just a tap, and what came out of it was water of a temperature that could best be described as tepid. This one-tap situation is almost universal in Fortaleza. It's not just in the favelas and small apartments that you find only one temperature of running water - in multi-million dollar and multi-thousand square feet penthouses on Beira-Mar, Fortaleza's oceanfront drive, there's still only one tap and one temperature of water.

Because the climate in this part of the world is relatively changeless in terms of temperature and because that temperature is hot (average daily high of 86F or 30C all year round), it's natural that the reservoirs that furnish municipal water here won't be pouring out ice-cold, barely-liquid water like the reservoirs that serve Vancouver, my previous home base. In Canada cold water means COLD, really COLD. Here, no.

At first, I thought that not having access to hot water from the tap would really change the way I cooked. In particular, I thought it would have a tremendous impact on how I cleaned up after cooking. Granted, not having a dishwashing machine for the first time in many years was a big change, but actually getting pots and pans, dishes, cutlery and glasses clean turned out not to be a problem. Because no one has hot water, it seems the dish detergents sold here are specifically formulated for tepid water, because they work very well, even on greasy pots and pans. Clean-up is a breeze.

For most other kitchen tasks, such as washing fruits and vegetables, I found that tap water worked just fine. In Canada, I used to have to mix cold and hot water to get water that I could stand plunging my hands in - here, it's not an issue. Water for use in cooking also creates no problems - straight out of the tap and onto the stove.

What turned out to be a more serious issue than the lack of hot water was the lack of cold water. Not for drinking, as the kitchen has a refrigerated water cooler, but for cooking. Some kitchen tasks require cold water - making pastry and shocking vegetables, just to name two. No longer can I just open the cold tap when I need to do one of these things. Having only tepid tap water means using ice cubes from the freezer to "create" cold water when I need it.

I've become so accustomed to one tap that I don't really even notice the lack of hot and cold water anymore. Expatriate life teaches one to be adaptable - if you're not adaptable you'll make a miserable expat. I just chock it up to one more thing that makes living away from one's native country all that much more of an adventure - a daily adventure.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

RECIPE - Spicy Shrimps on Rice (Arroz de Camarão Picante)

One of the best things about cooking with Brazilian shrimps (other than the fact that they're so tasty) is that they're a breeze to cook. At the fish market located on the beach in Fortaleza you can buy them any size you want, and whether you prefer them peeled or unpeeled, with heads or without, cultivated or from the sea is merely a matter of personal choice. To cook the shrimps is only a matter minutes, literally. To be specific, usually about three of them (minutes, that is).

If you're as much of a fan of hot, spicy dishes as you are of shrimp, then this is a recipe for you. The heat of the dish can be adjusted by modifying the quantity of hot sauce, and if there are fire-eaters at your table you can serve the same hot sauce at the table for those who want to increase the Scoville-unit count of the dish. This dish can be genteely spiced, or it can be kickass hot - it's good either way. Just remember that you can always increase the heat level at the table, but you can't reduce it!
RECIPE - Spicy Shrimps on Rice (Arroz de Camarão Picante)
Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs (750 gr) small shrimps, peeled
bottled hot sauce to taste, any brand
juice of one lime
grated peel of one lime
1 Tbsp soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp light brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped and loosely packed
In a medium mixing bowl combine all the ingredients with the exception of the onion and cilantro. Let marinade at room temperature for 30 minutes.

In a large frying pan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until the onion is just transparent. Stir in the shrimps and all the marinade ingredients. Increase heat to bring to a rapid boil - then reduce heat and cook for about three minutes, or until the shrimps are just cooked through.

Remove from the heat and put into a serving bowl. Stir in the cilantro, then serve immediately, accompanied with white rice. Place a bottle of the hot sauce used in the recipe on the table for those who wish a spicier dish.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

White Honey from the Canyonlands

The highlands of southern Brazil stretch along the border between two states, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. These highlands are known for being the coldest region in the entire country and are loved by outdoorsmen and hikers for their dense forests and deep canyons. In the heart of this absolutely beautiful and relatively pristine landscape sits the small town of Cambará do Sul.
Cambará do Sul

Cambará do Sul is a popular regional center for eco-tourism and for a town of only seven thousand souls hosts a surprising number of small inns and a couple of simple, good restaurants. But the town's main claim to fame has nothing to do with hikes, treks or tramps. Cambará do Sul is the home of the rare, expensive and sought-after product of an animal popularly called guaripo (scientific name of Melipona bicolor schenckis.)

Guaripos are a species of stingless bees, found only in the forests of these canyonlands, and the product which brings them, and Cambará do Sul, such fame is the white honey that they produce. Because this honey is produced in such small quantities and because of its itense floral flavor - the honey preserves more than 90% of the perfume of the flowers from which it's derived - white honey has achieved cult-like status in Brazil and consequently commands a very high price. Whereas standard commercial honey sells in Brazil for about R$10 per kilo (USD$2.70 per pound), white guaripo honey sells for seven times that amount - R$70/kg or USD$19/lb.

Guaripos collect nectar from only two species of bushes, both of which have white, highly-perfumed flowers. The lack of pigment in these flowers causes the whiteness of the honey the guaripos produce. One of the bushes they feed on has a strange name in Portuguese, carne-de-vaca, meaning "cow meat." It is a member of the Clethra genus, and bears the common name sweet pepper bush in the USA. The other source of nectar is the gramimunha bush (scientific name Weinmannia paulliniifolia Pohl) which exists only in this region and which doesn't have a common name in English.

Among the seven thousand residents of Cambará do Sul are 100 apiculturalists. They produce more than 200 tons of honey each year, but only one-quarter of that, 50 tons, is white honey. It is the star attraction at Cambará do Sul's annual Honey Festival, held at the end of April or in early May. If you want to try Brazilian white honey you just might have to make a journey to Cambará do Sul - most of the year's production is sold during the festival. We here at Flavors of Brazil are most curious to try it, but haven't been able to source it here in Fortaleza, nearly 2000 miles as the guaripo flies, from Cambará do Sul.

Monday, July 4, 2011

RECIPE - Caldo Verde, Take Three (Bambá de Couve)

Ouro Preto
For our final trip round the caldo verde table, we'd like to present a traditional soup from the historic baroque city of Ouro Preto (Black Gold) in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Nestled in a green, mountainous landscape, Ouro Preto was the fabulously wealthy focal point of Brazil's 18th century gold rush, and has been preserved in all its baroque glory, virtually unchanged, up to today. Its steep cobblestone streets that climb and descend the hillsides on which Ouro Preto is built, its over-the-top baroque churches with gilded altars and ceilings and its noble public squares have earned Ouro Preto a place in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.

Ouro Preto's own local version of caldo verde, called bambá de couve, is served in many of Ouro Preto's charming small restaurants and inns, and is suitably warming on chilly evenings, frequent in this mountain city which sits at an altitude of almost 1200 meters (4000 ft). The soup has a charmingly poetic name, bambá de couve being best translated as "dance of kale" our "game of kale", and it's got the hearty, filling richness that a meal-in-a-bowl needs.

There are two major differences between bambá de couve and the other versions of caldo verde that we've been publishing recently here on Flavors of Brazil. The first is the presence of fresh eggs, which are poached separately then added to the soup, and the second is fubá, a cornmeal flour that is the Brazilian equivalent of polenta. These two ingredients add a substantiality to bambá de couve that creates a full-meal soup. All you need to add to the table are chunks of rustic, crusty bread and you have a perfect cold-weather meal.
RECIPE - Caldo Verde, Take Three (Bambá de Couve)
Serves 4

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 cups (1.5 liters) light chicken stock
salt to taste
3 Tbsp fubá (packaged polenta meal can be substituted)
1 cup cubed bacon, lightly packed
10 leaves kale, coarsely shredded by hand
4 whole eggs, free-range preferred
In a large heavy saucepan heat the bacon cubes over medium heat until they begin to render their fat, then add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is transparent but not browned and the bacon begins to crisp. Drain off excess bacon fat if desired. Add 3 cups water and bring to the simmering point.

Meanwhile, mix the fubá or polenta in the remaining 3 cups of cold water, and stir to completely moisten the meal. Add to the bacon, onion, garlic mixture in the saucepan, raise temperature slightly, and cook at a slow boil for 5 minutes or until the soup has thickened nicely. Correct for salt - you may not need any depending on the saltiness of the bacon. Add the shredded kale and keep the soup at the simmer point while you poach the eggs.

In a large frying pan or other device poach the four whole eggs according to your preferred method.

Divide the hot soup between four large soup plates. Place a poached egg on the top of each and serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.