Friday, September 30, 2011

RECIPE - Pará-style Chibé, Couscous and Tabouleh (Cuzcuz, Chibé e Tabule Paraense)

A decidedly avant-garde riff on indigenous staples, this dish from Brazil's top chef Alex Atala combines an indigenous Amazonian manioc paste, shrimp and squid to create a theme-and-variation fantasy on a plate.

The Brazilian portion of this dish is an updated rendition of a staple food of many of the the native tribes that inhabit the farthest reaches of the Amazonian rain forest in northern Brazil. It's called chibé and it's made from a seasoned mixture of manioc flour and water - preferably running river water. In this dish Atala uses chibé as a springboard to similar preparations of grains or flours and water in other culinary traditions such as couscous from the Maghreb and Levantine tabouleh, both made from semolina wheat. Although this recipe calls for no semolina at all, its name is a creative tip-of-the-hat to similar cooking traditions from the other side of the Atlantic. Adding shrimp, squid and decorative sprouts and flowers, the  final dish is a definitely-21st-century creation based on some of the most ancient dishes known.

This dish is featured at Atala's São Paulo restaurant D.O.M., recently honored as the 7th best restaurant in the world and the recipe is translated and adapted from Brazilian food and wine magazine Prazeres da Mesa.
RECIPE - Pará-style Chibé, Couscous and Tabouleh (Cuzcuz, Chibé e Tabule Paraense)
serves 4

12 oz (300 gr) medium shrimp, peeled but with tails left on
4 oz (100 gr) manioc flour (farinha)
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 Tbso finely chopped cilantro
2 cups (500 ml) ice water
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp fresh chili pepper (jalapeno, serrano, etc.) seeded and finely minced
12 cups crushed ice
1 lb (500 gr) very small squid, cleaned, tubes and tentacles separated
3 tsp coarse sea salt
4 quarts (4 liters) water
Put the ice water into a medium mixing bowl. In a medium saucepan bring salted water to the boil.  Add the shrimp and cook for 1 minute, or until the shrimp is just barely opaque and pink. Remove the shrimp from the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking process. As soon as they are cool, drain and reserve them in the refrigerator.

In a large mixing bowl combine the water, the onion, the lime juice, the cilantro, and the minced hot pepper. Mix well then  add the manioc flour and mix again. Let stand until the manioc flour as absorbed as much water as possible. Reserve in the refrigerator.

In a two quart container with tight-fitting lid (such as a RubberMaid or Tupperware dish), add 1 tsp sea salt, 3 cups of crushed ice, one liter of water and the squid. Coverly securely and shake for 5 minutes, as if it were a cocktail in a shaker. Open the container, remove the squid and discard the remainder of the ingredients. In the same container, repeat the process twice more, adding the same quantities of salt, ice and water as the first time and returning the squid to the container. Finally, repeat one more time, using just squid, ice and water. Reserve the squid in the ice water.

To plate the dish place one quarter of the manioc flour mixture in the center of a deep plate. Top with one quarter of the shrimps, then add one quarter of the iced squid. Decorate with chives, cilantro sprouts and edible flours and serve immediately while still cold.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chibé - An Indigenous Staple Goes Upmarket

Many anthropologists believe that civilization (and history itself) began when mankind first manipulated his food before consuming it. If the food was the trophy of hunters, that probably meant roasting the flesh over an open fire or over embers. If the food was harvested from cultivated fields, it meant grinding seeds or grains and then combining them with water and creating some sort of pottage - a soupy paste something like oatmeal or cream of wheat. Somtimes the grain and water mixture was cooked, but often it wasn't- the grain was merely soaked in the water to soften it to make it easier to digest.

Even today, in the most remote reaches of the Amazonian rain forest there are native tribes whose diet primarily consist of grilled or roasted meats and fish and a liquid mush or soup they call chibé. This mush is made by soaking a manioc flour called farinha in water and seasoning the resulting soupy liquid with a pinch of salt and some hot peppers. Chibé is not cooked, it's just soaked in water, usually river water, until it reaches the proper consistency. It's a very nutritious food, full of carbohydrates, and very filling. Variations can be found everywhere throughout the millions of square kilometres of the Amazon basin, and for those raised on the banks of the thousands of rivers in Amazonia, chibé is the ultimate comfort food. For those who don't have the childhood memory associations to go along with it, it's usually considered inoffensive but very bland.

Part of the culinary adventure of forward-looking chefs and restaurant owners in 21st century Brazil is discovering the foods, the traditions and the techniques that have been part of Brazil for millennia and learning how to modernize them, bring them up to date - with luck, without losing the integrity of the dish or ingredient itself. Chefs from the big cities in the south of Brazil are discovering that there's a world of food culture outside their own region and are beginning to travel around the country in a sort of culinary gold rush - zipping out west first, next to the north-east, the cradle of Brazilian cuisine, then traveling the rivers of the Amazon - all in search of traditions and foods worth of preserving and interpreting. One of these foods is chibé . It's now moved out of the jungle, hopped a southbound plane, and is now showing up in the menus and on the plates of the best, most innovative restaurants in Brazil's various metropolises.

One chef who discovered chibé during culinary expeditions to the Amazon is Alex Atala, chef/owner of D.O.M. in São Paulo. He has adopted it and used it to inspire some of his most up-to-the-minute creations. We'll post one of his recipes for a chibé-inspired dish next time on Flavors of Brazil.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

RECIPE - Brazilian Cheese Bun (Pão de Queijo)

Last week Flavors of Brazil published a post about a Brazilian snack or breakfast food called pão de queijo, usually translated as Brazilian Cheese Bun. To read that post, click here.

We didn't publish a recipe for pão de queijo at the time because the main ingredient, which comes from the root of the manioc or cassava plant, isn't readily available in many places outside Brazil. However, one of the blog's readers has asked for a recipe, a request we're very happy to fulfill in this post.

If you're in Brazil, buying the flour (or technically starch) to make pão de queijo is simplicity itself, as the product is available in every supermarket in the country - or at least every supermarket I've ever been in. Here in Brazil the product is labelled polvilho azedo and it usually comes bagged in plastic bags of 500 gr. Outside Brazil you can find polvilho azedo  in markets and shops that cater to Brazilian immigrant communities - a common brand that is exported is Yoki. Any brand will do, though. Just make sure that the product is labelled polvilho azedo in Portuguese, almidon agrio in Spanish or sour starch/sour cassava starch in English. If you don't have a suitable shop or market in your city, Yoki brand polvilho azedo can be purchased online. One convenient source in the US is Click here to be taken to their polvilho azedo page. (By the way, this site also sells pão de queijo mix which just needs water and eggs. But if you're going to the trouble to order online, why not get the real thing and cook from scratch.)

Because there is no leavening agent in the recipe, it is the elastic action of the starch that creates the air pockets that make a light cheese bun. Therefore, for this recipe the easiest way to knead the dough is with a dough hook on a stand mixer. You can use your hands, but don't be lazy - you'll really need to "beat the starch out of it" to get the lightness you want. And make sure that you get the balls of dough in the oven as soon as possible after finishing kneading. It's important that the dough not sit once kneaded.
RECIPE -  Brazilian Cheese Bun (Pão de Queijo)

17.5 oz (500 gr) sour cassava starch/polvilho azedo - normally one package
2 cups whole milk
1 cup neutral vegetable oil
4 whole eggs.lightly beaten
1 cup crumbled feta cheese*
1 cup grated parmesan cheese*
1 Tbsp salt
* you can substitute an equal quantity of any other grated or crumbled cheese or cheeses
In a medium sauce pan, combine the milk, the vegetable oil and salt, then bring the mixture just to a boil.

Put the sour starch in a large mixing bowl, then pour in the hot milk/oil mixture and mix with a wooden spoon. Mix until completely mixed, at which time you'll have something that looks like a gummy paste. Let it cool.

Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).

Add the beaten eggs and the cheese to the mixture. Using your hands knead all the ingredients together. At this point you can continue to knead the dough with your hands, forcefully, for about 10-15 minutes, or you can transfer the dough to a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook and knead for about 5-10 minutes at medium speed.

As soon as the kneading is completed, using your hands, shape the dough into round balls just slightly smaller than a golf ball. Place them on a cookie sheet, leaving space between them as they'll grow about 25% during cooking.

Place the cookie sheet on the top shelf of the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 300F (150C) and cook for another 15 minutes, or until they are nicely golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

RECIPE - Bolinho de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Fritters)

This is one of Brazil's favorite bar snacks, and many Brazilians I know judge the quality of a bar or boteco by the care and attention with which it prepares bolinho de bacalhau. When a bolinho is well-made, light, with a crispy crust and an almost creamy inside, with plenty of bacalhau (salt cold), there's no better accompaniment in the world to icy-cold beer . When a bolinho is not well-made, when it's stodgy, soggy and greasy, with a strong fishy flavor, there's almost nothing worse.

In the title of this post, I've chosen to translate the Portuguese name for this snack as salt cod fritters. In fact a more literal translation would be little cod fish balls. A number of Internet sources use this translation, but for me it always brings back the old joke about not knowing that cod fish had balls, so Flavors of Brazil is going to stick with fritters. And besides, bolinhos de bacalhau are often not even spherically shaped - I've often seen them in the shape of small American footballs, or shaped like cigars.

Bolinhos de bacalhau are a dish that most people eat in bars or restaurants and few Brazilians make them at home. This is partly because making them is a multi-day process if you include the soaking and de-salting time the fish requires. Also, deep-frying fish in one's kitchen is an experience which leaves a lingering aroma behind - an aroma that doesn't improve with time. So, we're including the recipe here more to give a sense of what the dish is than in expectation that the blog's readers are all going to run out to prepare salt cod fritters for dinner tonight. For those few brave souls who might want to impress some Brazilian friends, or who want to offer an absolutely delicious canape to dinner guests, the recipe's for you.

In Brazil, bolinhos de bacalhau are always served with a wedge of fresh lime to squeeze over the fish and often with some sort of mayonnaise-type sauce for dipping. The proper etiquette for eating them is to use a toothpick to dip them if desired then to pop them in the mouth. Many Brazilians are noticeably uncomfortable to see anyone use their hands to help themselves to a communal appetizer. Foreigners sharing a plate of french fries with a bunch of Brazilians be warned.
RECIPE - Bolinho de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Fritters)

1 lb (500 gr) good quality salt cod
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
4 black peppercorns
2 cups cold mashed potatoes (left-over is fine)
2 Tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper to taste
neutral vegetable oil for deep-frying
At least 24 hours before beginning to cook, soak the cod in cold water in the refrigerator, draining the fish and changing the water at least 4 times - you can begin up to 48 hours before cooking. Remove the soaked fish from the refrigerator, rinse well in plenty of running cold water, drain well and reserve.

In a medium sauce pan add the sliced onion, bay leaf and peppercorns and 2 cups cold water. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cod and 2 more cups cold water and again bring to a simmer. Once it has reached the simmering point, remove from the heat. Let the fish cool completely in the cooking liquid. Reserve, in the refrigerator if not cooking immediately.

Remove the cod from the cooking liquid, and using forks or your fingers flake it well. The flakes should be quite small. Combine the cod and the mashed potatoes in a mixing bowl, then stir in the chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper, watching the salt carefully because of the cod. When thoroughly mixed reserve at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meantime, prepare a deep fryer using fresh oil, and bring the oil to 375F (190C). Using lightly oiled hands form the cod-potato mixture into small balls about 1.5 in in diameter (3 cm). Fry them in the hot oil until nicely browned and crisp, in batches if necessary to avoid crowding. Drain briefly on paper towels then serve immediately, garnished with fresh lime wedges and (optionally any type of mayonnaise-based sauce, such as tartar sauce).

Monday, September 26, 2011

INGREDIENTS - Worcestershire Sauce (molho inglês)

Since at least half of the English-speaking population of the world can't seem to pronounce Worcestershire sauce correctly, can you blame Brazilians for not even trying? I don't. Worcestershire is one of those horrible English words that English-language students around the world love to hate - because there is no visible correspondence between the letters on the page and the pronunciation that comes out of the mouth. And to make matters worse, the correct pronunciation is full of consonant clusters bunched together. There's nary a vowel in sight. So the Brazilians smartly decided to opt out of the whole mess and just call the stuff English sauce (molho inglês). So much simpler, straightforward and easyto pronounce. According to Wikipedia, the Spanish language has done the same thing - Spanish speakers call it salsa inglesa.

Whoever it was who first decided to call it English sauce knew the historical origins of this mixture of vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind, onion, garlic and "secret" spices. England is home to the original Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, even though the inspiration for the recipe most probably came from British India during the days of the Raj. Some claim that Worcestershire sauce's ancestry can be traced back as far as the Roman fermented-anchovy sauce called garum, but that link has not been proven.

Molho inglês is a common-enough ingredient in Brazilian cooking, though it's not as commonly used as Worcestershire sauce is in England or Canada. Brazilian cooks use it to spice up and flavor salad dressings, dipping sauces, marinades, stroganoff (estroganofe), and tomato sauces. If Brazilians knew what a Bloody Mary was, they'd probably use it in making one, but since tomato juice, and hence the Bloody Mary, are almost unheard of in Brazil, they don't.

Unfortunately, however, most brands of Brazilian molho inglês are weak imitations of the English original. They are whimpy and merely sweet, lacking the salty, fishy punch of the real thing. I can understand why Brazilian Worcestershire sauce might be sweeter because of the notorious Brazilian sweet tooth, but normally Brazilians don't shy away from strong flavors, so I'm not sure why it is so weak.

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce is available in a few exclusive gourmet shops here in Brazil , but the cost for the smallest bottle imaginable is well over $20.00. The stuff is delicious, but let's be realistic, it's not like 30-year-old aged balsamic vinegar. If it weren't for the fear of the bottle breaking in my suitcase, I'd be smuggling Worcestershire sauce in my luggage every time I return to Brazil. But the mere thought of all my clothes reeking of vinegar, molasses, anchovies and tamarind has been enough to dissuade me - so far at least.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

RECIPE - Stuffed Flank Steak (Matambre Enrolado)

Anyone who has some knowledge of Argentinian cuisine might be taken aback to see a recipe entitled Matambre Enrolado in a blog called Flavors of Brazil. First because the name is Spanish, not Portuguese, and second, because matambre is one of Argentina's most iconic dishes - a piece of flank steak that is butterflied, filled with vegetables and sometimes sausages, then rolled, tied with kitchen twine and grilled.

In Argentina matambre is associated with the culture of the gauchos - Argentina's "cowboys", who herd cattle on the enormous ranches (estancias) of the pampas. There are traditional gaucho ways of dressing, traditional songs and music, traditional legends and stories and traditional cooking - all as much a part of Argentinian culture and mythology as the cowboys of the Far West are a part of American culture.

The southernmost state in Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, shares the gaucho culture with Argentina and Uruguay. In fact, in Brazil, the name for someone from Rio Grande do Sul is gaúcho - the only difference being an accent on the letter u and a three-syllable pronunciation of the word (gah-OO-shoo). Rio Grande do Sul's gaúcho cuisine is based in large part on grilling beef in all its forms, and the world-famous Brazilian style of steakhouses called churrascarias originated in Rio Grande do Sul.

So it's really no surprise that Argentina's matambre crossed the frontier between northern Argentina and southern Brazil and became naturalized as a Brazilian dish in Rio Grande do Sul. It's often the centerpiece of a day-long weekend meal in the country and is an excellent choice for a crowd. The word matambre means "kills hunger" and that is certainly does. It does take some time to prepare, but the cooking process itself, though long, doesn't require much attention, leaving you free to participate in the festivities. And once sliced and plated, it's visually spectacular with its embedded vegetables and sausage - a showcase dish for an important event. And because flank steak (fraldinha) is a common and relatively inexpensive cut of beef almost everywhere, this is one dish that can be made almost anywhere without having to worry about substituting ingredients.
RECIPE - Stuffed Flank Steak (Matambre Enrolado)
Serves 8-10

1 whole flank steak, about 4 lbs (2 kgs)
1 Tbsp salt, or to taste
1/3 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/3 cup green onion, finely chopped
2 large onions, cut in thick slices
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 small chili pepper (jalapena, serrano or similar), seeded and finely chopped (optional)
1/4 lb (100 gr) smoked slab bacon, cut into large cubes
1/2 lb (250 gr) kielbasa or other garlic sausage, thickly sliced
3 large carrots, quartered lengthwise
Trim the flank steak of any visible fat and season it with salt. On a large clean countertop or butcher block, butterfly the steak, leaving the two halves attached at one edge. Open the steak and spread it out.

Sprinkle the surface of the opened steak with the chopped parsley and green onion. Do the same with the optional hot chili pepper. Lay out all the other ingredients, trying to spread each of them out on the surface.

Starting at one of the short edges, carefully roll up the steak tightly. When completely rolled, tie it securely with kitchen twine, making sure that the stuffing ingredients cannot fall out the ends. Reserve, in refrigerator if not cooking immediately. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking, if required.

Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium heat. Place the rolled steak on the grill and sear the surface on all sides, turning the roll carefully. Total cooking time should be about 20 minutes. With two spatulas, remove the roll from the grill and wrap it tightly in aluminum foil. Return the roll to the grill and cook for about 2 hours, turning from time to time, over medium low heat.

Remove from grill and let stand for 10 minutes in the foil, then remove the foil and let stand for another 10 minutes. Cut into thick slices with a sharp knife and present on a large serving platter.

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

Friday, September 23, 2011

BEEF CUTS - Fraldinha (Flank Steak)

#15 - Fraldinha (Flank Steak)
One of the things that we try to do from time to time here on Flavors of Brazil is sort out the different cuts of beef that one finds in Brazilian butcher shops and supermarkets when one is used to beef cut the way the do in North America or Europe. One the beef has been slaughtered, it's normally cut into a variety of cuts before it's sold to the consumer - cuts with different characteristics, different quality and different price points - whether in Brazil or elsewhere. But there are many ways to divide a side of beef, so the traditional cuts in one culture don't always correspond to the cuts in another. Brazilian butchers might make a cut just "here" while their colleagues in the Northern Hemisphere might prefer to make a cut just "there." The result? Confusion for the trans-border shopper, confusion for diners reading restaurant menus, and problems for recipe translators.

One cut that is very simple to translate, though, is the one known in North America as flank steak. This piece of beef, cut from abdominal muscles along the side of the animal behind the ribs - from the flank as it were-  is cut just the same way in Brazil as it is elsewhere. In Brazil the cut is known as fraldinha. Fraldinha is the diminuitive for fralda, a word that means flap, lappet or (unfortunately) diaper in Portuguese. A fraldinha, therefore, is a small flap or a small diaper. Because  Flavors of Brazil is a culinary blog, let's go with small flap, please.

Whether it's a flank steak or a fraldinha, this cut is a very useful piece of beef, indeed. It is long and thin and because it comes from a very muscular part of the animal is full of connective tissue. Because of this tissue it is usually cut across the grain when it is cooked quickly, as in grilling or in frying. This is piece known on restaurant menus as London Broil. It can also be successfully braised or cooked slowly in liquid and in those cases cutting across the grain is not so essential, as the meat becomes tender during the long cooking process.

Flank steak is used extensively in Chinese cooking, where it is the beef normally used in stir-fries and in Mexican cooking. A true fajita is made with flank steak and nothing else. Because of it's long and thin shape it can be stuffed and rolled, as is done with the Argentinian matambre.

Next up on Flavors of Brazil, a traditional recipe for this delicious and economical cut of beef.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

RECIPE - Rich Whore's Rice (Arroz de Puta Rica)

Italy has its slutty spaghetti (spaghetti alla puttanesca) and France has its lovely little pastry called pet de putain (We'll leave this one up to you to translate on your own or with Google translator), so why shouldn't Brazil have a recipe called Rich Whore's Rice? There's no reason why it shouldn't and in fact it does have exactly such a recipe.

A traditional dish from the interior state of Goiás, this combination of rice, smoked and preserved meats, olive and palm hearts supposedly got its name because it was the favorite dish of one of the most successful and richest madams in Goiás and of both the girls and the customers in the high-class brothel she ran. According to food historian Caloca Fernandes, though, the dish was probably a very simple plate of rice and sausage in its early days and was so basic and cheap that is was called Poor Whore's Rice. Only when better meats and extravagant vegetables were added did the poor whore in the title become a rich one.

This recipe, translated and adapted from Sr. Fernandes' book Viagem Gastronômico através do Brazil, makes a great one-dish meal - meat, rice, vegetables and seasonings all combined in one big pot. You know the expression "Dine like a king". Now you know how to dine like a rich whore, too.
RECIPE - Rich Whore's Rice (Arroz de Puta Rica)
Serves 8

4 thick slices bacond, chopped
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 link Italian sausage, hot or sweet, crumbled
2 boneless chicken thighs, cubed
1 lb (500 gr) kielbasa or other garlic sausage, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups white rice
salt and pepper to taste
6 cups water
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (thawed if frozen)
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (thawed if frozen)
1/2 cup green olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup chopped palm hearts
1/2 cup seedless raisins
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon cubes and fry until crisp and browned. Add the fresh Italian sausage meat, the cubed chicken and stir-fry until all the meat is browned.

In a pan or kettle, bring the 6 cups water to the boil. Reserve, keeping at a slow boil.

Add the sliced garlic sausage and garlic. Fry briefly but don't let the garlic brown. Add the rice and fry until all the grains and coated with oil and are transparent. Add the boiling water, stir, add salt and pepper to taste. When the mixture returns to the boil, cover the pan and cook over low heat until the rice and meats are tender and the liquid is absorbed.

Add the corn and peas, and cook for another minute or so, or until they are heated through. Stir in the chopped olives, the palm hearts and raisins. Toss everything together and transfer to a deep serving bowl. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Increasingly Ubiquituous Brazilian Cheese Bun (Pão de Queijo)

Wait a minute... can something be "increasingly ubiquituous"? The title of this post claims increasing ubiquity for a Brazilian breakfast food and snack called pão de queijo, but second thoughts tell us that something is either ubiquituous or it isn't - just like "perfect", there are no degrees to "ubiquituous." But we think the title has a nice ring to it, so we'll keep it just as it is. In any case, readers of the blog will get the idea.

However you want to say it, though, these little round cheesy puffs of manioc starch are extremely popular - inside Brazil and increasingly outside the country as well. When I visited Vancouver in July, a city where Brazilian food is notoriously thin on the ground, I spotted a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the city's trendy Main Street strip that specialized in these Brazilian cheese buns. It was called Quejos and it appeared to market the cheese buns primarily to people with restricted diets. All of their promotional material and signage trumpeted the fact that their product was gluten-free, wheat-free, yeast-free and non-dairy. It's true that there is no gluten in  pão de queijo since it's made from manioc starch, not from wheat, but it seems to me that selling the product only on the basis of what it doesn't have is discouraging at the very least. The fact that the store either couldn't properly spell the Portuguese word for cheeses (Quejos instead of Queijos) or thought that the Canadian market couldn't handle such a foreign-appearing word was another sore point with me.

In Brazil, though, people don't eat pão de queijo by the handful because they're good for you or because you can't really eat what you want to eat so you'll eat pão de queijo rather than starve to death. They eat these little round balls because they love them. Properly made, they are wonderful - light as air, aromatic and full of flavor, satisfying without being heavy or greasy. They make a perfect accompaniment to fresh fruit and strong coffee at the breakfast table, or a few of them in a paper cup provide a great pick-me-up on a window-shopping spree, a day of museums, or just a coffee break from work.

Although pão de queijo means cheese bread in Portuguese, these morsels are really not bread, as they have no leavening agent at all. The ingredient list is short - manioc starch, milk, eggs, butter or oil and some sort of cheese. In Brazil the cheese is usually a white cheese known as Minas, from the state of Minas Gerais, but it can also be cheddar, mozzarella or parmesan. The manioc starch is strongly elastic and consequently small pockets of air trapped within the dough expand during baking resulting in pão de queijo's light and airy quality.

Although most Brazilian's buy pão de queijo from a bakery, or from one of the fast-food chains that specialize in these treats, such as Casa de Pão de Queijo, they are quite easy to make at home and many Brazilians make them fresh in the morning to eat for breakfast. They can be made from scratch or from a pre-packaged mix. All that needs to be done is to mix the ingredients, knead them in a mixer with a dough hook or by hand, roll them into small balls, and pop them in the oven on a cookie sheet. Pão de queijo is almost always good, but it's never better than when it just comes out of the oven, like most other kinds of bread.

If you live somewhere there's a significant Brazilian community, you're likely to find pão de queijo in ethnic bakeries and lunch spots, and if you want to try to make it at home, you can find the one exotic ingredient, manioc starch (called povilho doce in Portuguese) in Latin American markets. Unfortunately, though, unless you can source the starch, you really can't make pão de queijo at all. It's absolutely essential. For those of you who might want to try to make Brazilian cheese buns at home and who can locate some manioc starch, we'll post a recipe tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

RECIPE - Sweet Potato Pudding (Pudim de Batata-Doce)

After two posts detailing the importance of sugar in the traditional regional cooking of the north-eastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, could we do anything other than post a VERY sweet dessert recipe from that state? I don't think so...

So here's a fairly simple recipe for making a caramelized flan/pudding/custard with a sweet potato base. The only tricky part might be making caramel, which must be done correctly and carefully to avoid mishap and injury. It's not complicated to make, and you shouldn't be too nervous about making it. The only essential thing is to watch the process carefully, especially when the sugar begins to take on color. The caramelization process happens fast, and if it isn't controlled you will end up with burnt caramel at best and a nasty kitchen fire at worst. If you want a tutorial for this process, including good photos, click on this link.

As we've mentioned in previous posts here on Flavors of Brazil, there is a lot of confusion, even among vendors at markets and supermarkets, about what is a sweet potato and what is a yam. They are two different things, and this recipe calls for sweet potatoes, not yams. Click here for more information on sweet potato vs. yam.
RECIPE - Sweet Potato Pudding (Pudim de Batata-Doce)
makes 10 portions

For the caramel:
1 cup granulated white sugar

For the pudding:
3/4 lb (300 gr) sweet potatoes, peel and cut into chunks
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp vanilla essence
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups whole milk
6 Tbsp granulated white sugar
6 Tbsp water
grated unsweetened coconut to decorate (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Make the pudding: Boil the potatoes until very tender. Drain and let cool. Put the cooked potatoes into a blender or food processor along with all the other ingredients for the pudding. Blend at medium-high speek until completely mixed and smooth. Reserve.

Make the caramel: Have a tube cake pan or Bundt pan (preferably non-stick) ready at hand. In a heavy-duty saucepan heat the cup of granulated sugar until it melts over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and bring to a boil. Watch carefully once it begins to boil and let it continue to cook until it reaches a medium caramel color. Remove from heat and immediately pour into the cake pan, swirling the caramel around the interior quickly. The caramel will begin to harden very quickly, so do this step as rapidly as possible.

Pour the pudding mixture into the caramelized cake pan. Place the pan in a lasagne pan or other oven-proof rectangular roasting dish. Put it into the oven, and pour enough boiling water into the rectangular pan to reach nearly the top of the pan. Cook for about 25-30 minutes. Use a toothpick to check if it's done - a tootpick inserted completely into the pudding should come out clean.

Remove from oven, and place the tube or Bundt pan on a wire rack to cool. Let cool completely, then reverse the cake pan over a large deep cake dish. Sprinkle with some of the optional grated coconut if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The History of Sugar in Brazil - Part 2

(This is the second of two parts of an article on the history of sugar and pastry cooking in Brazil. The article was originally published in Brazilian food and wine magazine Prazeres da Mesa, and the first part of my (somewhat free) translation was posted two days ago on Flavors of Brazil. You can find the beginning of the article by clicking here.)

Sugar From The Beginning - continued
by Bruno Albertim

Another triumph of  regional pastry cooking, the Souza Leão Cake (Bolo Souza Leão) is considered a milestone in the independence of Brazilian regional cooking. Created on the sugar-cane plantation belonging to the eponymous family, it was almost a culinary independence manifesto. For the first time native manioc substituted for white flour in a typically aristocratic European recipe. A deliberate gesture of brazilianization.

The other ingredients in a Souza Leão Cake demonstrate the colonial excesses in a region rich in sugar. "Between one recipe (for Souza Leão Cake) and another the quantity of the ingredients required varies drastically," says Pernambucan gastronomic critic Flávia de Gusmão .  In her opinion, every branch of the Souza Leão family recreated and reinvented the cake that was created by family matriarch Rita de Souza Leão. Whereas one recipe tells you to add a kilogram of butter another will say only 450 grams (one pound). If this one mentions 12 egg yolks, that one talks of 15. When the first one calls for the the milk of seven coconuts, the second calls for only four. These numbers become so confusing that you'd have to say that Souza Leão Cake is not a recipe, it is a family of recipes. "One thing, however, is unanimous. This hybrid sweet, a mixture of cake and pudding is one of the most treasured chapters in the history of Pernambucan cooking," says Flávia de Gusmão.

Even more recent traditions bear the weight of the past. Pernambuco is the only state in all of Brazil where a properly-celebrated wedding requires the presence of a dark cake. "Normally it's made with a dark batter laced with wine and including prunes, raisins and crystalized fruits, a British tradition that was carried to only a very few places in Brazil. It's covered with an almond paste and re-covered with white frosting, a rembrance of Victoria British cooking," points out culinary historian Maria Lectícia Monteiro Cavalcanti, author of História dos Sabores Pernambucanos. In the rest of Brazil, wedding cakes are very different. In the south, wedding cakes and white with a variety of fillings, a tradition that comes from Portugal.

The Pernambucan dark wedding fruit-cake became traditional only about the turn of the 20th century, when British engineers arrived in Recife, the capital of Pernambuco, to install streetlights, tramways and other engineering wonders. In proper Pernambucan weddings today, there must also be marzipan-stuffed prunes, although these are not restricted to ceremonial occasions and can be found in delicatessen display cases and on restaurant menus.

Closely linked the the historic elite class, sugar became the "sponsor" of an entire spectrum of sweetmeats. Various desserts are named in honor of aristocratic families - the Souza Leãos are merely one of many. "As a result of so much wealth from sugar cultivation, an aristocratic class developed in Pernambuco, one that Tobias Barreto called a 'sugarocracy'", comments Maria Lectícia Monteiro Cavalcanti. Consequently, prestige recipes were developed, culinary symbols of a family's wealth and social standing. "In some cases, recipes were created to commemorate social movements - the 13th of May, Cabano,  or Guararapes - or to famous persons, such as Dr. Constâncio, Dona Dondon, Dr. Gerônimo, Luiz Felipe, Tia Sinhá. Or, even, families would create their own recipes to honor themselves - Assis Brasil, Cavalcanti," says Lectícia.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The History of Sugar in Brazil - Part 1

Brazilian sugar plantation - 1816
Anyone with a smattering of knowledge about the history of Brazil is aware that in the first centuries of Portuguese colonization in Brazil, the impetus for the settlement of Brazil and the economic engine of the colony, and indeed of Portugal itself, was cane sugar. Particularly in the region of Brazil now known as the Northeast, enormous sugar plantations with their graceful and elegant "big houses" (casas grandes) and their multitudes of African slaves living in hovels (senzalas) produced thousands of tons of sugar and sugar products, for which there was a seemingly endless appetite for in Europe.

In the September 2001 issue of Brazilian food magazine Prazeres da Mesa, there is an article on the history of sugar in Brazil and on the importance of sugar in traditional Brazilian cooking. It was written by Bruno Albertim, from Recife, Pernambuco, which is located right in the middle of the traditional sugar-cane growing region of Brazil. Because it details the history so well, and explains how sugar is locked into local culinary traditions, Flavors of Brazil has (freely) translated it for readers of the blog and will post it in two parts - today and Monday.

Sugar From The Beginning
by Bruno Albertim

"Without sugar," explains noted Brazilian anthropoligist Gilberto Freyre, "one cannot understand the man of the Northeast." This ouro branco (white gold) was the incentive and catalyst for the Portuguese conquests of the region, and also the key factor in the development of a Brazilian gastronomy of sweets. Enabler of Portuguese colonization on these shores of the Atlantic, sugar is evident everywhere in Brazilian cuisine. It was the element that enabled Brazil as we have come to know it to exist and, consequently, the keystone in the development of a cooking tradition that has evolved from its Portuguese roots. In Pernambuco, sugar is still paving innovations and traditions to this day.

With sugar cane growing literally in the backyards of the old plantations, sugar was commonly combined with the fruits of the earth in plantation kitchens. In colonial times, the Portuguese colonists believed that consuming fresh fruit could be harmful. Fresh fruit required sugar to "tame" it. A repertoire of traditional sweets and jams was developed at that time, and the same repertoire, trimmed of the original excesses, still holds prominent place in the palate of Pernambuco. "It is still very common to keep traditional  Pernambuco-style compote or pastry at home," says professor of gastronomy Cleonice Ferraz, who discussed this habit recently in Recife. At a recent trade show she demonstrated the process of turning tradition to innovation by using a jelly made from a fruit called umbu to make an acidic citrus ganache for filling chocolate straws. She was inspired by a traditional country recipe called umbuzada, a kind of soup made ​​from fresh umbu fruit, and turned it into something new. 

Celebrated throughout Brazil, Pernambuco pastry cooking comprises both local tradition and inspiration from the old country. The famous Pernambuco bolo de rolo (jelly roll cake) is a perfect example. It has been declared part of the state's cultural patrimony, but it really is nothing more than an adaptation of the Portuguese cake called rocambole or "bride's mattress".  What has changed in the adaptation of the Portuguese recipe is the substitute of Brazilian guava paste for the original marzipan and the culinary skill and techniques required. "A bolo de rolo must have layers of cake and guava filling that are as thin and fine as possible, and so it is no longer really a rocambole," says professor Ferraz.

(to be continued Monday)

Friday, September 16, 2011

RECIPE - Hot Hole Sandwich (Sanduiche Buraco Quente)

This Brazilian snack-bar and luncheonette classic is Brazil's answer to the Sloppy joe. A mixture of seasoned ground beef inside a french roll, the hot hole sandwich is a perfectly packaged quick meal or between meal snack. The somewhat suggestive name (it's just as suggestive in Portuguese as it is in English) in fact is nothing more than a quick description of what the sandwich is and how it works.

To make a hot hole sandwich you need the filling (recipe below) and a good quality french roll, about the right size to fit comfortably in your hand. Brazilians eat french rolls by the bazillions every day, and most Brazilians wouldn't consider sitting down to breakfast unless there are some fresh french rolls on the table. Although Brazilians agree that they all love these rolls, they can't agree on what to call them. In Ceará, Flavor of Brazil's home state, they're called pão carioquinha (little carioca bread). In Rio de Janeiro, where the real cariocas live, they call them simply pão francês (French bread). Elsewhere, they are variously pão de sal (salt bread), pão massa grossa (thick dough bread), pão careca (bald bread) and cacetinho (little club).

Whatever they are called, these rolls (pictured at right) are the basis of a hot hole sandwich. A Brazilian french roll normally has a hard, crunchy crust and a very light, fluffy interior. To compile a hot hole sandwich, the roll is cut in two down the middle vertically. The halves are hollowed out, leaving only the crust (this is the hole in the hot hole). Then hot crumbled ground beef is packed into the halves (this is the hot in the hot hole) and the sandwich is served, ready to eat in the hand.

Good quality french rolls are almost universally available, so this recipe is easy to make and is very family- and kid-friendly. Almost nobody doesn't like a hot hole sandwich, with the obvious exception of vegetarians and vegans. It's also something that's easy to make for a crowd and the recipe can be doubled, tripled or more. A perfect picnic food, just as long as you can reheat the filling or keep it hot, and you make sure that the rolls are fresh and still crunchy.
RECIPE - Hot Hole Sandwich (Sanduiche Buraco Quente)
Makes 4 sandwiches

1/2 cup stuffed green olives, chopped
1 Tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 hard boiled egg, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
12 oz (3/4 lb, 300 gr) good-quality lean ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
4 crusty french rolls, heated in the oven to harden the crusts if necessary
In a small mixing bowl combine the olives, the parsley and the chopped egg. Reserve.

Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan, add the ground beef and cook, breaking up the lumps with a wooden spoon, until all traces of pink have disappeared. Drain excess fat if desired before continuing.

Add the onion, garlic and tomato to the ground beef in the frying pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is transparent and the tomato has begun to break up. Remove from heat and stir in the olive, parsley and egg mixture. Mix thoroughly, then add the grated cheese and mix again. Reserve, keeping hot.

Cut the rolls in half, pull out the interior crumb with your fingers, then pack the crusts with the reserved ground meat mixture. Serve immediately, two halves per person.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

INGREDIENTS - Banana Flower (Coração de Banana)

Just yesterday, as I walked out to the parking structure behind my apartment in the urban center of Fortaleza I noticed that one of the banana plants that grace the garden was beginning to bear fruit. Hanging from the central core of the plant was a thick bamboo-like stalk. Along the lower portions of the stalk tiny green fingers reached up for light and air, the nascent bananas themselves. And at the lower tip of the stalk hung an elongated dusky-crimson bulb, formed, like an upside-down artichoke, of overlapping leaves. The flower was still in a bud state even though it was quite large - about 8 to 10 inches long. Since an artichoke is merely the bud of a variety of thistle, the resemblance between the two does make sense.

And just like the artichoke and other flower buds such as capers and tiger-lily buds, the banana flower that I spotted is, or will be soon, edible. The banana flower is an important ingredient in many tropical cuisines such as Thai, Indian and not-surprisingly Brazilian. Here in Brazil almost the entire banana plant is employed usefully in the kitchen - the fruit of course, the flower, and the leaves which are used as serving platters or used to wrap foods for steaming.

Although banana flowers are particularly associated with the food of the interior Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, they are appreciated everywhere in Brazil where bananas can grow, which is just about anywhere. A banana plant (large though they are, they are not trees, they are plants) will grow happily in almost any location and in any soil as long as it has plenty of sunshine and water, lots of heat and absolutely no frost. Most agricultural zones and many urban regions of Brazil fit that bill climatically. Everybody in Brazil eats the fruit of the banana, or at least I've never met a Brazilian who didn't, and a lot of them eat the flower as well. In Brazilian Portuguese, there are a lot of names for this part of the plant, most of them regional variations. Sometimes it's called flor de bananeira (banana-plant flower) or flor de banana (banana flower) just like in English, but it's more commonly known as coração de banana (banana heart). In some places it bears the charming name of umbigo de banana, which literally means "banana belly-button."

To prepare a banana flower for eating, the tougher outer leaves are stripped away, just as they are in an artichoke, and only the tender inner leaves are used. Because the outer leaves exude a sticky sap which can stain and blacken clothes and surfaces, it's a good idea to use rubber gloves when preparing the flower. I can personally attest to the importance of this precaution - the sap is super-sticky and WILL NOT wash away. Your fingers will be sticky for hours. LFMF (in Internetese "Learn from my fail.") The tender inner leaves can be eaten raw, and often are, in Thai salads for example. In Brazil the leaves are  normally chopped then cooked and are not traditionally served raw.

The leaves of the banana flower are not sweet, and have a meaty quality which makes them very useful in vegetarian main dishes. In south-east Asia and India they are used as the focus of a number of curries. In Brazil, they're either mixed with meat or substitute for it, often combined with vegetables and seasonings to complete the dish. In tomorrow's post on Flavors of Brazil, we'll publish a recipe which uses this unusual ingredient. Although it's not commonly available in non-tropical regions, I remember seeing banana flowers available once or two in Vietnamese markets in Vancouver, my hometown. If they can be sourced in definitely-non-tropical Canada, they're likely to be available elsewhere, at least in urban areas where there are immigrant communitites from tropical regions. If you happen to eagle-eye a banana flower in an ethnic market - they're unmistakeable - pick one up and try a Brazilian, or a Thai or a Vietnamese recipe at home. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

RECIPE - Pureed Beans with Coconut Milk (Feijão de Coco)

A portion of beans is an almost-universal part of a Brazilian meal plate, along with rice, and if the budget allows, some sort of animal protein. If meat or fish is too expensive, which it is for many Brazilians, then the plate will consist of rice and beans alone, adorned perhaps with a piece of lettuce and a slice of tomato.

Nine time out of ten the beans are prepared dried beans cooked in water until soft, and then seasoned with onion, garlic and salt. But everybody likes a bit of varietyonce in a while, even those very conservative Brazilians who will tell you that they eat rice and beans every day, in the same style.

One unusual and unexpectedly delicious way to serve beans at any meal is this recipe for pureed beans flavored with coconut milk, which comes from the north-eastern state of Pernambuco. It can be made quick thick, sort of like Mexican-style refried beans, or with additional liquid can become a thinner puree - the choice is yours. Obviously, additional coconut milk will not only thin out the pureed-bean mixture, but it will also crank up the coconut flavor in the dish. If you want a thinner puree, but don't want to increase the flavor of coconut, you can use some of the water the beans were cooked in. See the photos accompanying this post to see the results of using less liquid (above) or more (below).

You can serve this dish, plus the obligatory plain white rice, alongside a nice piece of grilled fish, a thin steak or slice of pot roast, or a piece of roast chicken. To make it a perfect copy of a Brazilian meal, just add the piece of lettuce and slice of tomato to the plate and make sure there's some type of hot sauce on the table.
RECIPE - Pureed Beans with Coconut Milk (Feijão de Coco)
Serves 4

3 cups precooked dried beans (pinto beans are best, but other types can be used)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup coconut milk, canned or home-made
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt to taste
chopped cilantro to garnish (optional)
Drain the precooked beans, reserving their cooking liquid if desired. Put them in a blender or food processor along with the chopped onion, the coconut milk and the olive oil. Blend for about one minute at high speed, or until you have a completely homogenous mixture. Check for consistency and if it is too thick add additional coconut milk or some of the reserved cooking liquid and blend again for a few seconds.

Pour into a heavy sauce pan and cook over medium low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning on the bottom and adding additional liquid as needed. Remove from heat.

Season with salt to taste. Spoon into a decorative serving bowl and sprinkle with chopped cilantro if desired. Serve hot.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happy National Cachaça Day 2011

Last year about this time, Flavors of Brazil saluted Brazil's National Cachaça Day which is commemorated every September 13, in honor of the date in 1661 on which the production of cachaça in Brazil was legalized. Such an important and august date deserves more than one post on this blog, so once again we're raising a glass of Brazil's national spirit and toasting the iconic sugar-cane-based liquor with the traditional "saúde!" Pronounced "sow-OO-gee", saúde is the Portuguese word for health and it is as obligatory when toasting in Brazil as Cheers! is in English.
 Expocachaça  at São Paulo's Municipal Market

As part of the lead-up to today's celebrations, an international cachaça exposition and trade fair was held last week in São Paulo. It took place at the city's beautiful municipal market and combined a profession trade fair with an exhibition open to the public. Organizers estimated that  20,000 visitors attended the exposition, and sales of  cachaça were estimated to be somewhere between R$800 thousand ($500 thousand) and $1 million ($600 thousand).

Blind tasting
As part of the trade fair a blind tasting was held to determine the best brands of cachaça in Brazil. The fours judges, two "sensory technicians", one journalist and a sommelier, tasted 91 different brands and ranked each one. Fortunately, rules of the tasting prohibited swallowing the liquor - elsewise, the judges would never have made it to the last few samples! Between each sample, the judges used dry white bread and green apples to clear the palate, and inhaled the aroma of coffee beans to clear the olfactory glands.

The cachaças were divided into two groups - white and aged (golden) - and each group received its own ranking. At the end of the tasting the judges divulged a list of the 10 best white cachaças and the 10 best aged (golden) brands in Brazil (and presumably the world).

Even though many of the winning brands are artisanal and only made in small quantities for the domestic market in Brazil, here is the complete list of winners. We at Flavors of Brazil are going to try to track down the best is each category to provide our own judgment on their quality and will report the results on the blog. We can't promise, though, not to swallow! (Maybe that's why it's called a blind tasting...)
Brazil's best cachaças - Expocachaça 2011, São Paulo

White cachaças:
1) Casa Bucco
2) Branca de Minas
3) A Tentadora
4) Pé do Morro
5) Engenho São Luiz
6) Santo Grau Século XVIII
7) Germana Soul
8) Ouro 1 Prata
9) Batista
10) Engenho d'Ouro

Aged (golden) cachaças:
1) Pedra Branca
2) Magnífica Soleira
3) Velho Alambique
4) Germana Heritage
5) Chacrinha Ouro
6) Dona Beja Sarau
7) Vale Verde 12 Anos
8) Magnífica Envelhecida
9) Colombina
10) Capim Cheiroso

Monday, September 12, 2011

RECIPE - Homemade Hot Sauce, Brazilian Style (Pimenta Caseira)

Photo courtesy Come-se
A bottle of hot sauce, made with spicy chili peppers, vinegar and flavorings, is one of the most important tools in one's home pantry or on a shelf in the kitchen. Whenever a dish seems flat or a bit dull, a drop or two of hot sauce can perk it up, enliven all the other flavors of the dish, and make diners sit up and take notice. Smart cooks, professional and amateur, Brazilian or otherwise, have known this for a long time, and a bottle of hot sauce sits in a convenient location in their kitchens, waiting to be called on to bring a dish to life.

Many times, this hot sauce is the Louisiana-made Tabasco sauce, a marvelously useful and totally natural aged hot sauce. Few professional kitchens would be without Tabasco sauce. But there are many others as well, and each has its own personality, its signature.

In Brazil, it's common to make one's own hot sauce. It's not difficult to do and there are so many wonderful varieties of chilis to choose from in Brazil that you can make several for your kitchen arsenal - each one just different enough from the next to earn its own place on the shelf. Even in non-tropical countries, finding fresh chilis isn't much of a problem these days. Supermarkets sell them, and every type of urban ethnic market will have it's own selection. It's fun to experiment using different chilis. One hot sauce might turn out not to be very hot at all, and the next might be nuclear. Once you've found a combination that you like, homemade hot sauce also makes wonderful and inexpensive presents.

This recipe for Brazilian hot sauce comes to Flavors of Brazil from Brazilian culinary expert Neide Rigo's marvelous blog Come-se. Search out fresh chili peppers in your hometown, make a bottle or two of Come-se's hot sauce and guaranteed, you'll want to send Neide a big obrigado (thank-you). Enjoy.
RECIPE - Homemade Hot Sauce, Brazilian Style (Pimenta Caseira)

NB. For a visually-attractive hot sauce, it's best to stick to red, orange and/or yellow chilis. Green chilis have can have marvelous flavor but their color darkens and dulls a blended hot sauce. If the color of the sauce isn't important to you, go ahead and add green chilis.

For the aromatic infusion:
1/3 cup good-quality vinegar, any type (plus more if needed to reach proper consistency)
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup cachaça
2 cloves
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh oregano
1 or 2 fresh leaves basil
1 tsp salt

For the solid ingredients:
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp garlic, finely chopped
3 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
about 5 oz (150 gr) small hot chili peppers, ideally a mixture of two or three types, washed and stemmed
Prepare the infusion - Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat slightly to a slow boil and let boil for two minutes. Remove from heat, cover the pan and reserve.

Prepare the solid ingredients - Heat the olive oil in another pan, add the garlic and fry until just lightly brown - do not let burn. Reduce the heat, add the chopped onion and cook until the onion is transparent and soft, but not browned. Add the chili peppers. Add the infusion, pouring through a fine sieve to remove the solid spices and herbs. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for about five minutes or until the chilis are soft and tender. Remove from heat and reserve, letting cool completely.

Pour the reserved chilis and their liquid into a food processor or a blender. Blend until completely smooth. Remove the cover and let the sauce rest - avoid breathing the fumes if possible. After an hour, pour the sauce into a large measuring cup with a lip, passing the sauce through a fine sieve to remove any solid bits remaining. Add extra vinegar if required to obtain a liquid consistency. With a small funnel, pour the sauce into small bottles. Close the bottle tightly and store the sauce in the refrigerator or on a cool, dark shelf in a cupboard or in the pantry. Before using, shake well, and add to any dish drop by drop testing after each addition for potency and piquancy.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How to Make Your Own Hot Sauce - Brazilian Style

Obviously, a blog that concerns itself with Brazilian food and Brazilian cooking traditions is going to spend some time discussing hot chili peppers. Though some regional cuisines of Brazil do entirely without chilis, they are in the minority. (Most of these regional cuisines are in the southernmost part of the country, which is not tropical and which has a population of mostly European ancestry).

Chilis are native to the hot-climate zones of the Americas and have been consumed in Brazil for millennia. The native population used chilis to season and to preserve foods long before the arrival of Europeans. The slaves who were transported from Africa to Brazil took enthusiastically to chilis upon their arrival. Even European culinary traditions were perked up with a dash of chili in Brazil.

Flavors of Brazil already has a significant number of posts about chili peppers. You can use the search box on this page or the Flavors of Brazil labels to track them down. We've discussed the botany of the capsicum family of plants, we've talked about the quest for the world's hottest pepper, and we have demonstrated how to preserve chili peppers at home in vinegar or cachaça.

We think that one of the most useful chili peppers products to have in one's kitchen, particularly when faced with a Brazilian recipe that calls for some heat, is in the form of a hot-chili sauce. A hot sauce is not the same thing as preserved chilis. Preserved chilis are left whole, or at most halved, and depend on the preservative powers of vinegar or cachaça. When they are used in the kitchen, it isn't the chilis themselves that go into the dish, it's the preservative liquid, which in the meantime has picked up flavor and piquancy from the chilis. The chilis themselves are not eaten and in the end are discarded.

In a hot sauce, however, the body of the chili becomes part of the sauce, and so the sauce has much more of the heat and the fruity flavor that a hot chili provides. Think of Tabasco sauce or any other bottled hot sauce. The ingredients are chilis, vinegar, flavoring ingredients and salt. These are combined, blended and bottled, resulting in a sauce which can be added to almost any dish in exactly the quantity desired.

It's this ability to control the amount of chili "heat" that makes hot sauce so useful in the kitchen. If you're making a stew, for example, and want to perk it up but not make it fiery, adding hot sauce drop by drop and testing after each addition allows precise control of the heat. If you're working with whole chilis you can control the heat a bit by adding only one chili or two, but you don't have the same control. Sometimes even one chili is too much, and if you cut a chili in half you don't necessarily cut down on the heat. That's where hot sauce steps in.

Brazil has thousands of hot sauces sold commercially, including American-made Tabasco sauce by the way. Many are cheap industrial products that add little to a dish but heat, though there are many, many wonderful sauces as well. However, it's so easy to make hot sauce at home and the result is so superior to almost any commercial product that it's worth the effort to make you own at home. It will taste better than just about any store-bought sauce, it will have just the potency you want, and just like a favorite perfume can become your fragrance identifier, your homemade hot sauce can add your own identity to your spicy dishes.

Next round on Flavors of Brazil we'll detail exactly how to make your "signature" hot sauce.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Restaurante Guanabara - Open for 54 Years (literally)

A charming report on today's G1 website, a news round-up site controlled by Brazil's predominant media company Globo, highlights the fact that the Restaurante Guanabara in the small north-eastern Brazilian town of Crato has been open for 54 years without ever shutting its doors. The restaurant is open 24/7/52, and in fact couldn't ever shut its doors if it wanted to - because it doesn't have any. The restaurant is open to the street and there are no doors to close. So the restaurant is always open.

Crato is located in the interior of the state of Ceará, about 500 miles from the coast and the state capital, Fortaleza, where Flavors of Brazil is based. The owner of Restaurante Guanabara, Francisco Alves, who's known affectionately in Crato as Seu Neném, founded the restaurant 54 years ago, when he returned to Ceará after living some time in Rio de Janeiro. He baptized the restaurant with the name of the bay on which Rio de Janeiro sits, Guanabara Bay.

Seu Neném being served his famous soup
Seu Neném is now a healthy 83 years old, and still works at his restaurant as he has done for the past 54 years, all day and all night. His daughter, Jariosnildes Maia Feitosa, who manages the restaurant along with her father, explains that her father was always a bit of a free spirit, a boêmio, and never wanted to install doors at the Guanabara. "We're not concerned with lack of security," she says, "Everybody comes here and respects our situation. We're already a tradition in Crato." In the many years it's been operating the Guanabara has never suffered a robbery, testifying to the respect she speaks of.

Locals appreciate the fact that whenever they feel like a meal at the Guanabara, they know it will be open and will welcome them. In fact, the restaurant's busiest hours are in the earliest hours of the morning. Seu Neném says that clients who stay until 3 am are likely to stay until dawn. And they're always welcome to do so.

The restaurant serves decent, typical food of the region, at a decent price. It attracts families, couples out on a date, and during the late-night rush hour, night-owls from all around the city. They come for the restaurant's early-morning specialty, a rich soup made with ground meat, eggs and secret spices, which locals will tell you is the world's best hangover cure.

On the Globo webpage about Seu Neném and his restaurant, there is a short video clip showing the owner, his daughter, and their enterprise. Even if you don't speak Portuguese, Flavors of Brazil thinks you'll find the clip to be charming, and you might be surprised at Seu Neném's other talent - he's a marvelous singer as well as a venerable restaurateur. Click here to be taken to the page.