Wednesday, November 30, 2011

INGREDIENTS - Dendê Oil (Azeite-de-dendê)

Fruits of the Dendê palm
Back in the earliest days of this blog, in the middle of a recipe post for an Italo-Brazilian-fusion risotto, we published some basic information about an edible oil called dendê that is an essential element of traditional Brazilian cooking, most particularly the African-influenced cuisine of the state of Bahia. Bahian cooking without dendê is unthinkable. It's an almost-omnipresent ingredient there and an essential part of the typical Bahian flavor profile.

Because of its importance to Brazilian gastronomy, and because many of this blog's readers have expressed interest in this shockingly bright orange oil, we thought that dendê deserved a post of its own. And so here it is.

Dendê oil comes from the fruit of the African Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis), native to West Africa in the region from Angola to Gambia. Mature oil palms grow to great heights, up to 60 feet (approx. 20 meters) and produce a brilliant red fruit. It's from the pulp of this fruit that dendê oil is processed. The kernel of the fruit also is a source of oil, but that oil is called palm kernel oil in English and its use is restricted to soaps and cosmetics. The edible oil comes from the pulp.

The African Oil Palm (and naturally dendê oil) arrived in Brazil along with the millions of African slaves which were brought to this country to work the gold mines and on the sugar and cotton plantations. Even today, those areas of Brazil which have a higher black population are likely to consume more dendê, especially in those areas, like Bahia, where African cultural traditions are still vibrant. But dendê is eaten all throughout Brazil, though not always in the quantities that it's eaten in Bahia. It is still a highly-inmportant edible oil in West Africa, its original territory.

Dendê oil and its consumption by humans is a controversial topic among botanists and nutritionists. On the positive side, the bright red-orange color of the oil is due to the presence of high levels of carotenes - alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and lycophene. These phytonutrients are all highly beneficial to humans and have significant anti-oxidant properties. Studies show that dendê has up to 15 times as much beta-carotene as carrots. It is also a source of tocotrienol, part of the vitamin E family.

On the other hand, dendê oil is highly saturated, and the consumption of large quantities of saturated fats has been shown to have deleterious health effects in humans, primarily an increase in cholesterol levels.  Dendê does not contain cholesterol, only animal fats do that, but highly-saturated fats can contribute to increased levels of cholesterol in humans, both LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and HDL ("good" cholesterol).

Because it is a saturated fat, palm oil is a valuable source of edible oil in the processed food industry. Saturated fats do not become rancid quickly and can be heated to high temperatures without burning. Because of this much of the world's supply of palm oil is processed for use in the food industry, and during this processing loses much of its nutritional benefit without losing any of deleterious qualities. Fortunately, as its used in traditional Brazilian cooking, unprocessed dendê oil is desired and in most cases only a small amount of that, so food scientists say that eating dendê the way Brazilians do isn't damaging to one's health.

In traditional Bahian cooking, dendê oil is used as a cooking fat in dishes such as acarajé, the iconic dish of Bahia, and as a flavoring ingredient in many of the most well-known Bahian dishes - xinxim de galinha, various moquecas, bobó de camarão, vatapá and others. As a flavoring ingredient it is most commonly combined with coconut milk, chili peppers and cilantro. It's the combination of these ingredients that for many people make a dish definably Bahian. Dendê oil is also an important ritual food in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé.
Artisanally-produced dendê oil

Because of its distinctive color and flavor, there really are no acceptable substitutes for dendê oil in recipes which call for it. The color can be approximated by the use of annatto oil, but the taste is unique. It can be purchased outside Brazil in markets which cater to Brazilian expatriot communities. It can also be found, often more easily, in market which sell African foods, or which cater to African communities. In most of these shops it will be called simply Palm Oil, or African Palm Oil. It can easily be identified by it's bright color and by the fact that some or all of the oil will be solid at room temperature.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

RECIPE - Feijoada Fritters (Bolinho de Feijoada)

Up to now, we've been focusing on classic bolinho recipes in the current series of posts about one of Brazil's favorite bar snacks - manioc, cheese, carne de sol. These recipes have been around for a long time and bar patrons in Brazil have probably been noshing on these bolinhos since the days when Original beer really was original.

Today's recipe, which will be the last bolinho recipe for a while, is different. It's not a traditional recipe whose origins are lost in those fabled mists of time. We know whose idea is was to make a bolinho with the ingredients and flavors of Brazil's national dish feijoada - Kátia Barbosa e Kadu Tomé, owners, respectively, of Rio de Janeiro botecos Aconchego Carioca and Bracarense. They came up with the idea jointly at a gastronomic festival in the state of Minas Gerais, and according to website Receitaculo, the first attempts were less than successful.

Once back in Rio Kátia continued to play with the recipe and discovered that the secrets to making a great bolinho de feijoada were two. First, the bean-based fritters should be chilled thoroughly, almost to freezing, before cooking. Second, the oil used to fry them should be very hot, so that the dough is cooked through and the kale stuffing is hot.

At Kátia's bar, Aconchego Carioca, she serves her bolinhos de feijoada accompanied by slices of orange, fried pork-rinds (torresmo) and a batida de limão, a lime-juice cocktail. The current price is R$15 per portion or about USD $8.50. In a recent edition of the Comida di Buteco competition, these bolinhos were judged the second-best bar-food recipe in Rio de Janeiro.
RECIPE - Feijoada Fritters (Bolinho de Feijoada)

8 cups (2 liters) water
1 lb (500 gr) dried black beans
4 oz (100 gr) dried, salted beef (carne seca) - desalted and cut into very small cubes
4 oz (100 gr) pork loin - cut into very small cubes
2 links Italian, Spanish or Portuguese-style garlic sausage - peeled and cut into very small cubes
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
salt to taste
300 gr fresh farinha (manioc flour)
1 Tbsp manioc starch (polvilho azedo)
1/2 lb (250 gr) smoked bacon, cut into small cubes
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bunches kale, washed, destemmed and cut into thin strips
additional farinha (manioc flour) for breading
neutral vegetable oil for frying
In a pressure cooker, add the water and combine with the beans, the cubed meats (except the bacon) and the bay leaves. Cover as directed, and place over medium high heat. Counting from when the pressure takes, cook for one hour. Remove from heat, let cool completely, then open the pressure cooker. Reserve.

Once the mixture in the pressure cooker is completely cooled, blend the beans, the broth and meats (discard the bay leaves) in a blender until homogenous and smooth. Do this is batches if necessary.

In a large sauce pan heat the olive oil, then fry the garlic until it just begins to brown. Add the blended bean mixture and correct the seasoning with salt. By small handfuls, begin to add the manioc flour, stirring constantly. Mix each batch in completely before adding another. When the mass (called tutu in Portuguese) begins to pull away cleanly from the side of the pan remove from heat, transfer the tutu to another pan or bowl and cool completely. Once it is cool, mix in the manioc starch and knead the mass until it is smooth and homogenous. Reserve.

In a large frying pan cook the bacon cubes until they are browned and crispy and have rendered their fat. Add the garlic cloves and cook for a minute or two more. Add the strips of kale and stir-fry only until the kale takes on color and softens slightly. Remove from heat.

Using wet hands or plastic gloves begin to form the balls. Grab a golf-ball-sized chunk of dough and open it out to disc shape in your palm. Put about 1 tsp of the cooked kale in the middle and close the dough around the filling, sealing it well. Roll the ball in farinha to lightly bread it then place it on a cookie sheet. Continue the process, placing finished balls on the cookie sheet, until all ingredients have been used up.

Place the cookie sheet in a freezer and cool until very cold but not frozen (about one hour).

Meanwhile prepare your deep-fryer and heat the oil until very hot but not smoking. Remove just enough balls from the freeze to make a first batch. Add them to the hot oil and cook, rolling them over from time to time, until the outside is deep brown and crispy and the filling is cooked through. Drain on paper towel and reserve, keeping warm, until all the balls have been fried.

Serve immediately, accompanied as above if desired.

Recipe translated and adapted from

Monday, November 28, 2011

RECIPE - Sun-dried Beef Fritters (Bolinho de Carne de Sol)

Last week, when we began this short series of posts about the Brazilian snack food called bolinhos, one of our readers asked for a recipe for bolinhos with carne de sol. Carne de sol is Brazil's salted and semi-dried beef, known throughout the country and whose roots can be traced back to the early European settlers and their need to preserve meat in a hot climate in the absence of refrigeration. (Click here for more about carne de sol.)

This recipe, like the one posted last Saturday, uses manioc for the carbohydrate portion of the bolinho. In the earlier recipe the balls were stuffed with cubes of mozzarella cheese. In this recipe, in response to our reader's request, the filling is made from carne de sol.

Carne de sol is a product that is uniquely Brazilian and there really isn't much of an export market for it. However, it's easy to make a pretty-good imitation of carne de sol at home. Click here for a link to an earlier article on Flavors of Brazil that will tell you how.

You'll need fresh manioc root for this recipe. It can be found in many Latin American and African food stores.  It's variously called manioc, cassava, yuca, aipim or macaxeira depending on the ethnic community the store caters too.
RECIPE - Sun-dried Meat Fritters (Bolinho de Carne de Sol)
Makes 30 bolinhos

2.2 lbs (1 kg) carne de sol, cooked
2.2 lbs (1 kg) fresh manioc roots, peeled, mashed and cooled
2.5 cups (300 gr) all-purpose flour
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, large stems removed
2 whole eggs, lightly beaten
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
neutral vegetable oil for frying
Prepare the carne de sol by desalting it if commercially bought. If homemode, desalting is not required. Grill, fry or simmer the meat until it is cooked through, then cool. Once cool, shred the meat using two forks, or roughly chop with a knife. Reserve.

In a heavy-duty frying pan heat the olive oil, then fry the onion and garlic until the onion is transparent but not browned. Add the shredded carne de sol and heat through. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. There is salt in the carne de sol so be careful not to over-salt. Remove from heat, mix in the fresh cilantro and reserve.

Put the mashed manioc in a large bowl. Add the two eggs then the flour by handfuls, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Finally mix in the reserved carne de sol mixture and combine completely.

Using your hands or two spoon form the mixture into approximately 30 small balls, placing completed balls on a cool working surface or cookie sheets.

Heat the cooking oil in a deep-fryer, according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the oil is hot but not smoking add the balls, a few at a time to avoid overcrowding, and cook until they are browned and crispy on the outside. Drain on paper towels while cooking the rest of the balls in batches.

Serve immediately, accompanied by a dipping sauce if desired.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

RECIPE- Manioc Fritters (Bolinho de Aipim)

This recipe comes from Rio de Janeiro where they call manioc aipim. In most others regions of Brazil this staple food is called mandioca or macaxeira, but in the very colorful laugauge of the cariocas (residents of Rio de Janeiro) it's aipim.

As mentioned in yesterday's post, bolinhos are typical Brazilian bar snacks, and are probably nowhere more popular than they are in Rio. We don't know of any statistical study of bolinho-recipe popularity, but we'd venture a guess that the most popular of all bolinhos in Rio is the classic bolinho de bacalhau, made from salt-cod. Bolinho de aipim must run a close second, however.

As we mentioned yesterday, the typical bolinho recipe includes some form of protein plus some type of carbohydrate. In this recipe, the protein is mozzarella cheese (the chewy, rubbery pizza type, not fresh or soft mozzarella) and the carbohydrate is the manioc.

Properly made, bolinho de aipim is light and fluffy and is best served piping hot, right out of the deep fryer. Best accompaniments are a wedge of fresh lime and a good hot sauce. And, it goes without saying, a cold, cold beer to wash it down.

Fresh manioc root can be found in many Latin American and African food stores.  It's variously called manioc, cassava, yuca, aipim or macaxeira depending on the ethnic community the store caters too.
RECIPE- Manioc Fritters (Bolinho de Aipim)
makes 20 bolinhos

2 lbs (1 kg) precooked manioc, mashed and cooled
2 whole eggs
1 Tbsp butter
salt to taste
6 oz. (200 gr.) pizza-style mozzarella, cut into small cubes
dry bread crumbs
fresh vegetable oil for deep frying
In a large mixing bowl, combine the mashed manioc, one egg lightly beaten, the butter and salt to taste. Mix well with a wooden spoon.

Using wet hands shape the mixture into small balls. Place each ball in the center of the palm of your hand, press in the center to make an indentation, then place one cube of cheese in the indentation. With your hands reform the ball around the cheese cube, sealing it in well. Reserve the balls on a smooth counter surface or cookie sheet.

In one deep soup plate lightly beat the remaining egg and in a second one add about 1 inch of dried bread crumbs. Pass each ball through the beaten egg first, then roll them in the bread crumbs. Return them to the counter or cookie sheet and reserve.

Heat the deep-fryer to recommended temperature for doughnuts. When hot add a few balls at a time to the hot oil - do not crowd them. When they are golden on all sides, remove from the oil and drain on several layers of paper towel. Continue with the remaining balls, frying in batches.

As soon as all the balls are cooked serve them immediately.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Variations on a Theme - Bolinhos

Back in September, we posted an article about a typical Brazilian bar snack called bolinho de bacalhau (salt-cod fritters). Made from a mixture of salt-cod and seasoned mashed potatoes formed into small balls  and deep-fried until hot and crispy, bolinhos are what many Brazilians prefer to eat when they're at their favorite local bar enjoying cold beer and the company of good friends.

The world of the bolinho, though, is not limited to the salt-cod variety. Inventive Brazilian cooks have come up with numerous variations on the basic bolinho recipe. Some were invented years ago and have been traditional bar food for decades. Others are being created as we type and are cutting edge and innovative.

There is a basic theme that all bolinho recipes work with. It starts with some sort of protein which is combined with a seasoned and moistened carbohyrate. This mixture is formed into bite-sized shapes which are deep-fried until crispy. As soon as the bolinhos come out of the fryer, they're rushed to the table before they get cold. That's the bolinho in a nutshell, and it's the starting point from which the limitless number of bolinho recipes takes off.

In the next few posts on Flavors of Brazil, we'll publish some of the most well-known traditional bolinho recipes and a few unexpected ones.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

RECIPE - Calf's Foot Soup (Caldo de Mocotó)

This traditional Brazilian recipe for a thick soup made with calf's foot (mocotó) is one of those soups that nourishes, fills and warms up whoever eats it. It's a perfect winter soup - for those days when the weather is damp and raw and it seems impossible to get warm. So what's it doing coming from Brazil, where one's weather-related problem is far more likely to be how to cool off than how to warm up?

Well, this dish is part of Brazil's Portuguese heritage and as anyone who's visited Portugal in the winter months can attest, that country, particularly in the mountainous interior, can be bitterly cold. The Portuguese developed a taste for calf's foot soup and even after being transplanted to the tropics of Brazil, Portuguese colonists continued to prepare it and enjoy calf's foot soup, tropical heat notwithstanding.

In Brazil, this soup is considered to be a restorative pick-me-up, and Brazilians are accustomed to eating it at the very end of a night out to ward off a hangover, or first thing in the morning to deal with the ills of having over-indulged or simply to prime the pump for the day's activities ahead.

This YouTube video (in Portuguese only) deomnstrates how caldo de mocotó is made and enjoyed. Even if you don't understand the audio, it's quite easy to figure out what's happening in the video. The recipe below isn't exactly the same as the one used in the video, but it's very typical. Like many traditional dishes, caldo de mocotó has as many recipes as there are cooks who can make it - everyone has their own tricks and secret ingredients. And as anyone can tell you, no one knows how to make caldo de mocotó better than their own mother.

RECIPE - Calf's Foot Soup (Caldo de Mocotó)

1 calf's foot (have your butcher cut it into rounds about 2-3 inches thick)
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
6 sups (1500 ml) water
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 small chili pepper, jalapeno or similar, seeded and finely chopped
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 sprig cilantro, whole
2 Tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbsp green onion, green parts only, finely chopped
salt to taste
one medium boiling potato, peeled and cubed (optional)
one large carrot, peeled and sliced (optional)
In a large bowl, soak the rounds of calf's foot for at least thirty minutes. Drain, then wash the rounds carefully and thoroughly with a stiff vegetable brush. Reserve.

In a large saucepan or stockpot, heat the olive oil then add the rounds of calf's foot. Fry for a short time, then add the water the cloves and the bay leaf. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to a very slow boil. Skim off the scum as it rises to the surface and continue to do so until no more scum is produced.

Next add the garlic, onion, tomatoes, chili pepper and cilantro sprig. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for two hours, adding water from time to time to replace the quantity that evaporates. After two hours, remove one round of calf's foot, let cool for a few minutes and then verify that it is completely tender, soft and falling off the bone. If so, remove the soup from the heat, if not, cook a bit longer and test again. Once the calf's foot is cooked, remove from heat, discard the cloves, the cilantro and bay leaf and let cool completely.

Once the soup is cool, remove the calf's foot rounds and pull the meat off the bones. Discard the bones, and chop the meat roughly, then return it to the soup. Return the soup to the stove, add the optional potato and carrot if desired, bring to a simmer and cook for thirty more minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt.

Serve hot.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

BEEF CUTS - Mocotó (Calf's foot)

Photo courtesy Come-se.
In technical terms the pedal extremities of a cow or calf, the cut of beef known in Brazilian either as mocotó (a word of Tupi-Guarani origin) or as mão-de-vaca (a Portuguese word meaning simply cow's hand) has been part of the Brazilian kitchen since earliest colonial times, when the first Portuguese settlers brought cattle to the New World. Mocotó is the bones, cartilage and meat making up the ankle joint of the animal and although in many cultures this part of the animal is discarded at the time of slaughtering or put to industrial use, in Brazil it is sold by butcher shops and in supermarkets.

When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil with cattle in the holds of their caravels, they also arrived with recipe books containing recipes for mão-de-vaca.  Back in Portugual,  mão-de-vaca was primarily used to create rich, gelatinous and flavorful soups called caldos. In Brazil, they continued to make caldo de mocotó just as they had done in the motherland. It was particularly popular in Rio de Janeiro, and in the 19th Century, many cariocas (residents of Rio de Janeiro) didn't break their nightly fast with toast and jam or bacon and eggs. Rather they started the day with a healthy bowl of caldo de mocotó. Even today many of the small botecos and street-corner bars of Rio serve caldo de mocotó  at breakfast time and it's common to see customers drinking it from mugs or small porcelains bowls in these establishments first thing in the morning.

The presence of cartilagenous tendons in the ankle joint mean that  is very gelatinous - and in fact,  commercial gelatin can be made from this joint. Gelatin is a translucent, colorless and flavorless protein derived from collagen in animal tendons, skins and bones and is used as a gelling agent in many types of food. In candies, jellies, aspics and marshmallows gelatin provides a rubbery, semi-solid consistency that can hold other ingredients in suspension.

Besides eating caldo de mocotó, Brazilians take advantage of the gelatinous property of mocotó to create sweetened, flavored jellies called geleia de mocotó. Less commonly eaten today than previously, geleia de mocotó was a favorite childhood food of many modern-day Brazilians. Flavored with strawberry, or grape, or peach, geleia de mocotó could be spread on crackers, toast or bread, or even cubed and served as dessert - kind of like a readymade Jell-o. For many in Brazil, geleia de mocotó is one of the comfort foods of their early years and even though they might not eat it today, they still have a nostalgic reverence for it. Geleia de mocotó is also available unsweetened and unflavored - a relative of jellied beef consommee.

Next post, we'll publish a Brazilian recipe for caldo de mocotó. If you can find calf's foot, and if you can get over any cultural prejudices about eating the same, you'll find it's a wonderfully delicious and nourishing soup - and a perfect warm-me-up in cold weather.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

RECIPE - Esfiha with Ground Meat Stuffing (Esfiha com Recheio de Carne Moída)

Last week, one of this blog's readers from Canada wrote this comment on the blog about the Brazilian/Arabian stuffed meat pastry called variously esfiha or esfirra:

I lived in Sao Paulo for a year in 2007 and one of the things that I miss most is the food. I love the esfiha and kibbeh and I also miss pizza con catupuiry! Do you know of a recipe for esfha?? I live in Canada and would love to try and recreate it for my fiance.

Here at Flavors of Brazil we do try to help our readers out (especially when they are Canadian compatriots), and so we're offering up this recipe for one of the most popular esfihas in Brazil, the one made with a ground-meat filling. The number of recipes for this simple snack is legion, but this one is fairly typical and very straightforward, so we've chosen to highlight it.

We hope that our correspondent follows through and makes esfihas for her fiance. And that all the other readers of the blog who've navigated to our original post about esfiha (all 2004 of you) give home-made esfiha a try. It's a bit of work, as is any pastry, but it's well worth the effort. You won't regret it.
RECIPE - Esfiha with Ground Meat Stuffing (Esfiha com Recheio de Carne Moída)
Makes approximately 25 esfiha

For the filling:
1 lb (500 gr) lean ground meat (not extra-lean)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, seeded by not peeled, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp hot or sweet paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro (optional)
1 Tbsp green onion, green parts only, finely chopped (optional)

For the dough:
2 Tbsp dry active yeast
1/2 Tbsp granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (125 ml) warm milk - approx 100F (37C)
1/2 whole egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (+ or -)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten, for glazing
Prepare the filling:
In a large mixing bowl combine the ground meat and all the other ingredients, mixing them together well with your hands. Set aside for thirty minutes. Then place the mixture in the refrigerator, in a sieve set over a large bowl, for at least 2 hours, to let excess liquid drip out.

 Prepare the dough:
Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. Combine the liquid in a large mixing bowl with the sugar, salt, beaten egg and vegetable oil. Mix well with wooden spoon.

Add the flour by handfuls, mixing in with the wooden spoon. When the dough becomes too stiff to mix with the spoon, work in the additional handfuls with your hands until you have a dough that is smooth and pulls away from the sizes of the bowl in a ball.

Generously flour a working surface, then knead the dough for 10 minutes, adding additional flour in small amounts as needed to prevent sticking. When finished, the dough should be smooth, pliant and springy.

Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for about one hour.

While the dough is rising, remove the filling from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.

Make the esfihas:
Remove the dough from the bowl in which it has risen. Punch the dough down, then divide the dough into approximately 25 equally-sized balls. On a floured work surface roll out each ball into a circle of about 6 inches (15 cm) diameter. Put about 2-3 Tbsp of the meat filling in the center of the circle, then fold over the outside of the circle in thirds - the result will be a triangle-shaped package (see photo above). Seal the package well, wetting the edges with a finger dipped in water.

Place the filled esfihas on two non-stick cookie sheets, seam-side down. Let rest for 15 minutes while preheating the oven to 350F (180C).

Brush the tops of the esfihas with the beaten egg yolk, then place in the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.

Cool to room temperature before serving with hot sauce for those who desire it. If you don't want to serve them immediately, they can successfully be frozen, then thawed completely and brought to room temperature before serving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Carne de Lata - Brazil's Own Confit

Back in the days before a large majority of Brazilians had refrigerators in their home, people used other techniques for preserving foods. There are lots of ways to preserve food that don't involve cold temperatures - a good thing in a mostly-tropical country like Brazil. Smoking, pickling in vinegar or wine, preserving in sugar syrups, salting - all these techniques are important parts of traditional Brazilian cooking.

One additional way to preserve food, usually meats, that was popular in Brazil up to the middle of the 20th Century, has begun to make a comeback. The technique basically is to fry meat, usually some form of pork, in lard until most of the moisture is drawn out, then pack the meat into large jars, crocks or cans and pouring melted lard over to fill the container and seal the meat to prevent exposure to air. The meat is preserved in its own fat. Although the container might be glass or clay as easily as metal, in Portuguese the term used is carne de lata - literally "canned meat."

The technique is identical to the way that the inhabitants of southwestern France have always made their famous duck confit - the only difference is that the animal in question in Brazil is a pig whereas in France it's a duck. Both animals have large stores of body fat, so both are suitable for preserving in this manner.

Most of the production of carne em lata in Brazil historically was domestic - on farms where pigs were raised one was slaughtered every couple of months, the prime cuts were eaten fresh and the lesser cuts were preserved in fat. There were meat-processing companies that made canned meat on an industrial scale for people who didn't have their own animals to slaughter but who needed meat that could be stored at room temperature until consumed. Most of these companies were located in the states of Minas Gerais and São Paulo.

Recently there has been a surge in demand for carne de lata in Brazil. Just as in France, where duck confit has now found a place at the highest levels of gastronomy, Brazilian chefs are discovering just how good canned meat can be. Many of the chefs are making their own carne de lata, but others have gone back to the original industrial producers for the product. The result is that the original firms that made carne de lata, or at least those who survived the long drought during the second half of the last century, are now finding a renewed interest in their product and a large increase in consumption.

One of the best-known of these firms is named Xavante, from the city of Divinópolis in Minas Gerais. They sell carne de lata, in cans with appropriately retro labels, in sizes ranging from 500 gr (about 1 lb) to 3.4 kg (7.5 lb) behemoths. The product is even available for online purchase.

Here at Flavors of Brazil we find it comforting to learn about the return of carne de lata - it's honest food, made as it always has been (because of necessity originally, because of taste these days). It's just one more example of that truism - "Everything old is new again."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Should We Call It a "Traffic Marmelade"?

This year has been an exceptional year for the orange harvest in São Paulo state in southeastern Brazil. Preliminary figures show that the expected harvest will come in at 27% above last year's total, and last year's harvest was about average. It's the largest harvest in 15 years.

Most of the oranges grown in the state are not destined to be eaten in Brazil. They're intended to be drunk, as orange juice, in countries all over the world, in the form of frozen concentrated orange juice and not-from-concentrate orange juice. Brazil is by far the dominant exporter of orange juice in the world and it's position as the number one exporter is unlikely to be challenged soon. In 2010 Brazil exported 1,240,000 metric tons of juice. The number two exporter, the United States, exported just over one-tenth as much juice, only 155,000 tons.

This year's bumper crop of oranges combined with the sheer size of the harvest has created an unusual traffic problem in São Paulo - traffic jams (or marmelades?) comprised of long lines of trucks loaded with oranges stuck on the road, waiting for space to unload at the juice production facilities. These facilities cannot keep up with the volume of oranges arriving at their doorsteip and so the trucks and truckers are obliged to line up for up to two days before unloading their oranges. Production facilities are working around the clock, seven days a week and still cannot keep up.
Trucks loaded with oranges awaiting their turn to unload

The delays en route to juice production facilities means that when the oranges finally arrive, they are dehydrated and yield less juice. The delays also increase the cost of freight at the same time that the huge harvest has driven the price of a bushel of oranges to half of what it was last year.

Truckers, farmers, producers, and the other motorists who happen, just by chance, to get stuck in one of these traffic marmelades are all complaining - maybe there is some truth to the phrase "too much of a good thing."

Friday, November 18, 2011

RECIPE - Guava Crème Brûlée (Crème Brûlée de Goiabada)

A recent purchase here at Flavors of Brazil World Headquarters, a centrifugal juice machine, has resulted in an abundance of tropical fruit juices at the breakfast table. In the past week there has been pineapple juice, mango juice, watermelon juice and probably-the-best-of-the-bunch guava juice.

Guava juice is something unique in the food world. It's color, a shocking pink, is unduplicated by any other fruit juice. The aroma is immediately identifiable - nothing smells like guava. And the texture, just slightly gritty in the way that pears are, completes the experience of drinking a juice like none other.

Here in Fortaleza we're spoiled when it comes to guavas (goiabas in Portuguese), especially at this time of year where they're just coming into season. Last Friday at the farmers market we bought beautiful fragrant guavas for R$2.50 per kilo. The equivalent is approximately USD $0.65 per pound. A bargain at any price, but doubly so when they are so inexpensive.

Guavas, as delicious as they are, are difficult for many people to eat because of the number small and very hard seeds. If you want to eat a fresh guava you have to accept the fact that you'll be swallowing a lot of seeds whole. They are too hard to crunch and too numerous to spit out.

Guavas, in Brazil or outside, are mostly consumed as juice, or eaten in the form of goiabada, a thick paste made from pureed guavas that have been cooked down to thicken them. (Click here for more on goiabada.) To celebrate the guava, here is a wonderful and unbelievably simple recipe for guava crème brûlée. Because it uses goiabada instead of fresh guavas, it's easy to make almost anywhere and any time of year. Goiabada is readily available in any Latin American food market and can also be ordered online. At the same sources you can find creme de leite (called media crema in Spanish). Nestle's is the most common brand. This dessert brings a taste of the tropics to the table even in the middle of the snowiest winter.
RECIPE - Guava Crème Brûlée (Crème Brûlée de Goiabada)
Makes 8 portions

14 oz (400 gr) goiabada paste
2 1/2 cups (600 ml) creme de leite
6 eggs yolks, sieved
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Put the goiabada in a blender or food processor and blend completely.

Transfer the blended goiabada to a mixing bowl, add the creme de leite and egg yolks and blend well with a whisk or wooden spoon.

Divide the mixture between 8 ramekins or custard cups, place them in a large baking pan, like a lasagne pan, and pour boiling water into the pan to reach halfway up the containers.

Carefully transfer the pan to the preheated oven and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a cup comes out clean. Remove from oven, remove from pan with water and let cool on wire racks.

Can be served as is, at room temperature or chilled. If you wish to make crème brûlées sprinkle a bit of grantulated white sugar on the surface of the custards then burn the sugar under a preheated broiler or with a kitchen blowtorch.

Recipe translated and adapted from Folha de S. Paulo.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

RECIPE - Warm German Potato Salad (Salada Morna Alemã de Batatas)

Admittedly, Flavors of Brazil has gone in heavily this week for the more exotic aspects of Brazilian cuisine with posts about flying ants and turtles. So we thought it might be appropriate at this point to feature some plain old Brazilian comfort food - simple to make and simple to eat. In fact this recipe was comfort food long before it even reached Brazil - it was comfort food back home in Europe, too.

The southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina is home to a large community of Brazilians who can look back to German ancestry. In the north and west of the state, those of German heritage are the largest enthic group, and German culture, language and cuisine still thrive even though it's been almost 200 years since the first German immigrants came to Santa Catarina in 1828. Along with Italian, Portuguese and Eastern Europeans, the German population in Santa Catarina helps to make the state the most European in Brazil, with over 86% of the population identifying themselves as Caucasian in the most recent census (in the country as a whole Caucasians are just under 50% of the population).

German food (and drink) are featured at many of the cultural festivals held annually in Santa Catarina, in particular the various encarnations of Oktoberfest held around the state. Sausages, beer, saurkraut, smoked pork chops - all these classic German dishes survived the journey to Brazil and are virtually identical to the original dishes "back home."

This recipe for warm potato salad is a perfect accompaniment for a plate of sausages or pork and in cool or cold weather provides the nourishment for body and soul that identifies a dish as comfort food. It can also be served at room temperature or even chilled, but to enjoy it at its best, serve it warm.

NB. Some versions of this dish contain chopped bacon, but this version is suitable for vegetarians.
RECIPE - Warm German Potato Salad (Salada Morna Alemã de Batatas)
Serves 4

2 Tbsp extravirgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
6 Tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
6 medium boiling potatoes, cooked, peeled and cubed - at room temperature
1 tsp Dijon or German-style mustard
1 hard-cooked egg, cooled, peeled and finely chopped- at room temperature
2 Tbsp green onion, green parts only, chopped
1 Tbsp lime juice
salt to taste
Place the cubed potatoes in a decorative heat-proof serving bowl.

Make the dressing: Combine the mustard, the chopped egg, the chopped green onion and the lime juice. Whisk to emulsify, season with salt to taste and reserve.

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil and lightly fry the chopped onion, until it is transparent but not browned. Add the vinegar, bring to a boil, then pour over the cubed potatoes. Add the dressing and toss gently to mix thoroughly. Correct seasoning with salt if desired.

Serve immediately, or let stand to return to room temperature.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Turtle Returns to the Brazilian Table

For untold centuries, the millions of turtles that inhabited the fresh waters - rivers, ponds and swamps - of the Amazonian rain forest were an important food source for the natives that inhabited the same territory. Because the turtle population was immense and the human population limited there was never an issue of overhunting of turtles. All was in balance.

This balance ended after the arrival of Europeans on this continent. Turtles were hunted as a food source by early explorers without regard as to the survivability of the species, and especially after the technique of canning meat was developed in the 19th century, turtles were hunted almost to the point of extinction in the Amazon. Turtle was considered a delicacy in North America and Europe, particularly turtle soup, and tons of canned turtle meat was exported from Brazil to meet the demands of the Northern Hemisphere.

Turtle numbers dropped drastically in the middle of the 20th century as overhunting brought Amazonian turtles every closer to extinction. In 1967 the Brazilian government, through its environmental protection agency IBAMA totally prohibited commercial hunting for turtles and began a public-awareness campaign to protect the species at risk. Turtles disappeared from menus and store shelves in the entire country.

Farmed Amazonian turtle
In 1992 IBAMA, on a test basis, allowed a small number of turtle farms to be built in the Amazonian region, and in 1997 issued the first commercial license for farmed turtle meat. The limitations and restrictions imposed on these farms meant that for the first ten years or so they were few in number and produced a very small quantity of turtle meat. One significant reason for the slow start for commercial turtle farming is the fact that turtles have a very long life cycle and are not mature to eat until they are at least five years old and are not sexually mature for reproduction until they are fifteen or more.

During the initial phase of the re-introduction of farmed turtle meat into the market distribution was limited to localities within the Amazon regions, where turtles are part of the traditional market. Outside that region, even with product available, it was difficult to convince chefs and consumers to buy turtle meat. The initial public-awareness campaign had been so successful that there was now a prejudice against eating turtles, and another campaign had to be created to partially reverse the results of the earlier one.

Within the past year, though, as the supply has increased (with a resulting reduction in price) and with ever-growing interest in Brazil in regional foods and traditional food sources, the turtle has finally begun to appear once again on restaurant menus and frozen in gourmet grocery stores. Forward-looking chefs from the big cities of Brazil are exploring old and new ways to deal with this meat and to present it to its best advantage.
Ana Luiza Trajano's turtle appetizer

Chef Ana Luisa Trajano, of São Paulo's Brasil a Gosto restaurant has recently added turtle from the Amazonian state of Acre to her menu. She uses the loin, the most tender part of the turtle, in a cold appetizer which combines marinated and low-temperature-cooked turtle with a nut emulsion, Amazonian basil, chicory and crunchy "shoestring" manioc. Celebrity chef Alex Atala plans to put turtle on the menu soon at his restaurant D.O.M. One of his proposed dishes combines a thick broth made from breast and foot meat of the turtle, a farofa of strongly-flavored tutle liver plus deep-fried turtle rinds (similar to pork rinds).

The Brazilian experience with turtles-as-a-food-source shows that when proper environmental protection and anti-poaching regulations are in place and enforced, commercial use of endangered species doesn't necessarily put a species at risk of extinction. In fact, the reverse is true. It can enhance the long-term survivability of the species by increasing the interest in all segments of the market in ensuring that there will continue to be a viable supply of the meat in question. This seems to be happening with Amazonian turtles.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

RECIPE - Içá Farofa

Farofa is a recipe category rather than one specific dish when it comes to Brazilian cooking. Farofas are usually a mixture of toasted manioc flour, some sort of fat, plus optionally some other flavoring ingregredient such as onion, garlic, bacon, herbs or spices. They are indispensible accompaniments to Brazilian churrascos (barbeques) and meat stews and range from simple combinations of manioc flour and oil to complex creations with long ingredient lists.

The farofa featured in today's post, Içá Farofa, would be fairly garden-variety if it weren't for one thing - the added flavoring ingredient consists of the abdominal segments of a species of flying ant found only in Brazil. (Click here for more on içá.) Since there is no commercial market for içá outside of roadside stands in rural Brazil and since readers of the blog are unlikely to capture and dismember enough flying ants to make this recipe, we're posting it for its value as a piece of Brazilian culinary history and cultural anthropology. But for those reasons alone, Içá Farofa is worthy of a place on Flavors of Brazil.

NB. We've never tasted Içá Farofa and therefore cannot attest to its gastronomic qualities. Some of the written material on this dish suggests that the flavor of the flying ants resembles that of shrimp. If anyone who's reading this post has ever tried it, please leave a comment and let the blog's readers (and writers) know what it tastes like. Thanks and obrigado!
RECIPE - Içá Farofa
Serves 4

4 cups içás (flying ants)
2 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp lard or 3 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
2 cups manioc flour (farinha)
Prepare the içás by removing the legs, wings, and the head and thorax segments - retain only the enlarged abdomen segments.Put these segments in a mixing bowl with water to cover and let soak for 30 to 40 minutes.

Drain the segments well. In a large heavy-duty saucepan or cast-iron frying pan melt and heat the lard, or heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add the segments and cook, stirring constantly until toasted brown and crispy. Add the manioc flour by 1/4 cups, mixing in each addition before continuing.

Remove from heat, season with the salt, and serve immediately, accompanied by strong coffee.

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Exotic - Içá

Many of the ingredients that form the backbone of Brazilian cuisine are not all that different from those found in the European or North American pantry. Wheat flour, white sugar, beef, oranges, tomatoes - all these ingredients are shared across the Equator, north and south.

Other ingredients that are indispensable in Brazil are quite unknown in the North - some, like manioc, are inherited from the native American tradition and others, such as dendê oil, came from Africa with the slaves.

One such Brazilian food, which has been appreciated in Brazil since before the arrival of Europeans in 1500, is an exotic protein called içá or tanajura. The scientific name for this little animal is Atta sexdens and it a member of an class of animals that is not even considered to be comestible by most North Americans or Europeans- insects.

In English Atta sexdens  is known as a leafcutter ant and it is only one of the many species of these highly-social ants that farm fungus on bits of leaves that they have collect and bring back to their colony. In parts of Brazil these colonies grow to tremendous size, with up to 8 million workers in a single colony.

roasted içá abdomens
As a source of food, Brazilians are very specific about what is edible and what isn't when it comes to the içá. They don't just help themselves to handfuls of fried worker ants, like Thais love to do. They are much more picky. In early summer (right now in Brazil) içá colonies release thousands of winged females whose task is to reproduce, create new colonies and thus ensure the survival of the species. These females are larger than normal ants in the colony and their third segment, the abdomen, is enlarged and full of nutrients. It is this abdomen, popularly called the ant's "ass" in Portuguese (bundinha), that is the insect caviar that many Brazilians love.

In areas such as the Vale do Paraíba, located between the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, when the female ants take flight they are chased after and caught by children and adolescents, who either give them to their families for home eating or sell for up to R$20 (USD $12) per kilo. Each ant is carefully prepared for eating by removing and discarding everything except for the round abdomen.

Once separated the abdomens are roasted and then used in a number of dishes. The most common is called farofa de içá, and just in case readers of Flavors of Brazil want to catch some flying ants next summer so they can serve sometime completely exotic to their family or friends, we'll provide a recipe for this dish in our next post on this blog.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

RECIPE - Minted Mango Flambé (Manga Flambada com Caldo de Hortelã)

To wrap up our collection of mango recipes in celebration of the arrival of mango season in Brazil, here's an uber-simple and really delicious way to showcase perfectly ripe mangoes.

Brazilians often combine mint (hortelã in Portuguese) with fruits to perk up the flavor as well as to make the dish more refreshing in Brazil's hot climate. The most common combination is pineapple and mint (click here to read about pineapple-mint juice), but other fruits combine equally well with fresh mint. Including mangoes, clearly.

This recipe is very straightforward, and the only skill required is in the flaming of the cachaça. Flaming spirits is one of those culinary techniques that requires caution but needn't cause fear. Properly done, it's relatively foolproof and should be a skill included in any self-respecting home cook's repertory. Click on this link for an easy lesson in how to flame liqueurs safely.

If you don't have a bottle of cachaça  at home, you can substitute white rum or tequila. The rum will make a sweeter dessert, and tequila will add its own distinctive flavor, so do try to use cachaça if possible.
RECIPE - Minted Mango Flambé (Manga Flambada com Caldo de Hortelã)
Serves 2

1 large ripe mango
1 1/2 oz (60 ml) cachaça 
1 Tbsp granulated white sugar
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 sprigs fresh mint (to garnish)
Over a large bowl, peel the mango and cut the flesh into thick slices. Reserve the slices in the bowl along with their juice.

In a non-stock frying pan heat the sugar, but don't let it burn. Add the mango slices, toss them in the sugar, then add the cachaça . Flame the cachaça, and when the flames die down add the chopped mint and toss everything once again.

Divide the mango slices between two dessert dishes, and add one sprig of mint to each to garnish. Serve hot.

Friday, November 11, 2011

RECIPE - Mango Upside-down Cake (Bolo Invertido de Manga)

Pineapple upside-down cake is such a classic family dessert that many of us think it's been around forever. However, it really only goes back to the first decade of the twentieth century, because that's when a certain Mr. Jim Dole of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole) perfected a way to can pineapple rings. And it was those rings that enabled American housewives, even in the middle of a Midwestern winter, to serve up a tropical dessert like pineapple upside down cake.

The idea of putting fruit at the bottom of a cake and then inverting it to serve is much older than pineapple upside down cake. The technique goes back as far as the Middle Ages in Europe, and the fruits most commonly used there were apples, cherries and quinces.

Perhaps it was Portuguese colonists who carried the idea of an upside down cake to Brazil, or maybe it was the unrepentant Confederates who fled to Brazil at the end of the American Civil Way - who knows? In any case, this style of cake is popular in Brazil and in this country it's most often made not with pineapples (even though pineapples grow in abundance in Brazil) but rather with mangoes.

Now that mangoes are generally available in North American grocery stores, try a switch-up when you next make an upside down cake. Make it Brazilian and make it mangoes.
RECIPE - Mango Upside-down Cake (Bolo Invertido de Manga)

Fruit base:
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 medium to large mangoes - Haden preferred

1/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
Melt the 2 Tbsp butter in a small saucepan, then pour into a 8 inch (20 cm) round non-stick cake pan. Tilt the pan to cover the bottom of the pan with melted butter, then sprinkle over the brown sugar, tilting and tapping the pan to cover the bottom with sugar.

Peel the mangoes and separate the flesh from the pit. Slice the flesh, and arrange the slices on the bottom of the prepared cake pan, covering as much of the surface as possible. Reserve.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Add the three eggs and beat with cake mixer or a wooden spoon. Add the flour by 1/4 cup increments, continuing to beat or mix. Finally add the baking powder.

Pour the batter gently over the prepared cake pan, taking care not to disturb the mango slices. Put in the pre-heated oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the pan on a wire rack until the cake is merely warm, then invert over a decorative serving plate.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe translated and adapted from Mdemulher website.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

RECIPE - Spicy Mango Salad (Salada Apimentada de Manga)

One's first thoughts when contemplating how to cook or prepare fruits are normally in the dessert or sweet category. After all, fruits are full of natural and healthy sugars, and many of them are sweet enough to be served fresh and unadorned as a dessert course. A slice of pineapple, a bowl of perfectly ripe strawberries, a handful of frozen grapes - all are fantastic ways to end a meal. Or, alternatively, fruits can be gussied up and played with to create extravagant dessert creations - tarte tatin, key lime pie, pears poched in red wine. All these are based on the sweetness and the flavor of fruits.

But going sweet is not the only way to go with fruits in the kitchen. Fruits can create complex flavor surprises when combined with savory ingredients. Think of Moroccan tagines in which the sweet flavor of dried apricots or quinces is used to cut the fatty richness of slow-cooked lamb. Or think of (heaven forbid!) Hawaiian pizza with its ham and pineapple chunks.

Mangoes are a very versatile fruits and they can arrive at the table as a sweet course, or as a savory one. Although the sugar level of mangoes is very high - a perfect mango is one of the sweetest fruits in existance - they can be mixed with savory ingredients to create stellar and surprising dishes. Brazilians have long known this, and many traditional Brazilian recipes use mangoes in non-dessert dishes. This salad, whose flavor profile closely resembles the mango salsas that are one of the signatures of nuevo Latino cooking, is a perfect example. It mixes mangoes with a lime-based vinagrette, chopped onions and cilantro, and spices the whole thing up with hot chili-pepper flakes. Easy to make when mangoes are in season, it's a wonderful first course for a light, refreshing meal.
RECIPE - Spicy Mango Salad (Salada Apimentada de Manga)
Serves 6

4 medium-sized mangoes, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp (or to taste) flaked, dried chili peppers***
2 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp finely minced red onion
salt and black pepper to taste

*** note: If you use a full Tbsp of flaked chilis, this salad will be quite spicy - the way Brazilians like it. If you're wary of chilis, start with a tsp only, sample, then add more if desired.
Place the mango cubes in a large bowl. In a small mixing bowl, whisk the lime juice and olive oil together. Stir in the chili flakes, the cilantro and the onion. Whisk again briefly, then pour the dressing over the mango cubes. Mix well, making sure that all the mango cubes are coated with dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to chill the salad and to allow the flavors to blend. Serve chilled.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mango Season Has Arrived - Yippee, Hooray!

Although we're aware that winter is on the doorstep in much of the Northern Hemisphere, if not already knocking at the door, down here in Brazil the dog days of summer are upon us. Even in Fortaleza, where there is little annual variation in temperature, there's been a noticeable increase in temperature recently. And in more southernly parts of Brazil, they've gone on to daylight savings time. Hotter days and nights, and longer days are signs of summer everywhere in the world, but in Brazil there's another way to tell it's summer - it's mango season.

And how can you tell it's mango season here in Fortaleza? Easy... just walk the residential streets of the city for a few blocks, and look up from time to time into the foliage of the large shade trees that line the streets. It's hard to miss the bright yellow/orange kidney-shaped fruits dangling in the foliage canopy. They're all mangos - and all ready for plucking - ready, that is, if you can figure out a way to get 30 or 40 feet up into the tree to snag a couple.

But's there's an easier way to enjoy mango season than monkeying your way up a gigantic mango tree - just head for the local produce store or supermarket and you'll see huge bins of mangoes - usually at least four or five different varieties. All ready to eat and all getting cheaper by the day.

Mangoes grow almost everywhere in Brazil and when they're in season they're ubiquitous. In the trees, in shops and stores and on street vendors carts. Or even at stop lights - most intersections have fruit vendors who will sell a basket of fruit to you through the car window while you wait for the light to change, and these days, the basket is likely to be mangoes.

Brazil's mango crop is colossal. According to government statistics, Brazil produces about 825,000 tons of mangoes each year. Even considering that  over 90% of the crop is consumed domestically in Brazil, the remaining 67,000 tons that are exported is enough to make Brazil the world's second-largest mango exporter, trailing only Mexico.

Just as strawberry addicts gorge themselves during strawberry season, or lovers of corn-on-the-cob make August meals that are just corn, corn and more corn, Brazilians love to indulge their taste for mangoes during the summer. Most of the mango crop is either eaten fresh or processed into juice, but there are many traditional Brazilian recipes that call for mangoes in one form or another. In the next couple of days, mangoes will be our focus here at Flavors of Brazil.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

RECIPE - Tangerine Caipirinha with Biquinho Peppers (Caipirinha de Tangerina com Pimenta-Biquinho)

Following last Friday's article about the unusual biquinho chili pepper, our plans were to publish a typical recipe which uses the pepper not for its spiciness (for it has no hotness) but for its fruity and pepperish flavor, then to move on to something else.

When we were researching recipes for the biquinho on the Internet, we came across a very informative site from a nursery and seed source from the coastal town of Ilhéus, Brazil in southern Bahia state. Yesterday, we published their recipe for preserving whole biquinho peppers.

On their site there was also a recipe for a cocktail which caught our eye. It was one more variation on the Brazilian national cocktail, the caipirinha, and though Flavors of Brazil has already published various caipirinha recipes, we couldn't resist this one. We're publishing it untested, but it looks so good and so unusual that we'll be testing it out this weekend, and promise to report back on it next week. Meantime, here's how to make one:
RECIPE - Tangerine Caipirinha with Biquinho Peppers (Caipirinha de Tangerina com Pimenta-Biquinho)
Makes 2 drinks

3 fresh biquinho peppers
2 - 4 Tbsp granulated white sugar, to taste
3 oz. (200 ml) cachaça (can substitute tequila or vodka)
2 medium tangerines, peeled and seeded
cubed ice
2 tangerine segments, for garnish (optional)
In each of two old-fashioned glass, add one-half of the tangerine segments (reserving two segments for garnish if desired), the sugar and 1/2 of a biquinho pepper. Using a pestle or the end of a wooden spoon, crush the mixture to extract all the juice and mix the ingredients.

Add 1 1/2 oz. cachaça to each glass, mix well, then fill the glass with ice. Add one whole biquinho pepper and an optional tangerine segment to garnish and serve immediately.

Monday, November 7, 2011

RECIPE - Preserved Biquinho Peppers (Conserva de Pimenta Biquinho)

This recipe, which comes from the website of a Brazilian nursery and online horticultural supply store called Agrotopical, is a typical Brazilian recipe for preserving whole chili peppers. The pepper in question in this recipe is the biquinho pepper, a pepper that has all the flavor of a chili with none of the bite (click here for more information on biquinho peppers). Any other small chili pepper, mild, medium, hot or scorching, and satisfactorially be substituted for biquinho.

In the recipe, the peppers are preserved in a mixture of white vinegar and cachaça. However, if you can't find cachaça in your local liquor store, you can substitute tequila or vodka. You can even use white rum, but if you do so, we'd suggest that you cut back on the amount of sugar called for, or the result will be overpoweringly sweet.
RECIPE - Preserved Biquinho Peppers (Conserva de Pimenta Biquinho)
Makes one pint (500 ml)

1 cup (250 ml) white vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) cachaça
1 Tbsp granulated white sugar
1 tsp salt
ripe biquinho peppers (or other variety)
Make the preserving liquid by combining the vinegar, cachaça , sugar and salt in a medium sauce pan, bringing the liquid to a boil and boiling for two minutes. Reserve, keeping simmering.

Prepare a large mixing bowl by filling it halfway with cold water, then adding 6-8 ice cubes. In another saucepan bring at least 4 cups (1 liter) of water to the boil. Put the peppers in the boiling water and let boil for 20 seconds only. Remove from the heat, drain immediately in a sieve or colander, then plunge the peppers into the ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain again. Reserve.

Using a properly sterilized Mason jar or other canning jar, pack the jar loosely with peppers. Bring the preserving liquid back to the boil, then fill the jar completely with the liquid. Tap the jar on a table or countertop a few times to make sure there are no air bubbles in the jar. Seal the jar and process in boiling water. (For directions on how to hot-water process, click here).

When processing is complete, let the jar cool completely on a wire rack. Let the jar stand in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks before consuming, and keep uneaten portions in the refrigerator once the jar is opened.

Friday, November 4, 2011

PEPPERS OF BRAZIL - Little-Beak Peppers (Pimenta Biquinho)

If you love the flavor of hot chili peppers, but have problems with their spicy "heat," then a variety of chili pepper from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais might just be the solution to your problems. Besides being hot, chili peppers have a fresh, fruity flavor that improves the flavor profile of any dish they're used in - but the flavor can be masked by the heat of the pepper. Sometimes for any number of reasons you might not want a spicy dish and so the normal solution is to eliminate the chilis entirely. With the Little-Beak pepper (pimenta biquinho in Portuguese) you can still get the flavor your want - it's just the spiciness that will be missing from whatever you're preparing.

Surprisingly, the biquinho pepper is a cultivar of the Capsicum chinense pepper, which makes it the same species as the fiery habanero pepper, one of the hottest in the world. As the heat in this species is a natural defense mechanism, botanists think that the biquinho is the result of selective cultivation - choosing only the seeds from the least-spicy plant to cultivate the following season. Over time the naturally-occurring heat of this chile has been eliminated in the piquinho cultivar.

Biquinho peppers are small, round and either a brilliant scarlet-red or sunshine-yellow, with a small beak-shaped protuberance hanging from the end. The plant makes a beautiful ornamental plant, and many biquinho plants grace Brazilian gardens and yards - not to be harvested for eating, but for the beauty of the plant and its fruit.

The most common way that piquinho peppers are eaten in Brazil is when they've been conserved in a vinegar solution and served as a garnish or as an appetizer with drinks. However, there are other ways to use biquinho peppers - they make a marvelous pepper jam or jelly, with none of the heat of most red-pepper jellies. We've seem them used to garnish cocktails such as a tangerine caipirinha. Or fresh biqiunho peppers can be used to perk up almost any soup, stew or braised dish.

In our next post, we'll publish a very Brazilian recipe for conserving biquinho peppers - one that can be adapted to almost any variety of chili pepper.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dieting? Try This Brazilian Salad...

Salads are a good option when dieting, right? After all they're mostly lettuce and other greens, so they can't have many calories. Um-humm.

We all know that often salads are, in fact, not good choices when one wants to shed a few kilos (or pounds). The greens might have very few calories, but what goes with them, well that's another story.

All of this was brought to mind by a recent article I read in one of the blogs in the food section of the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. The journalist who writes the blog, Marcelo Katsuki, describes a meal he had at a restaurant called Rosa's Churrascaria in the city of Santo André, which is near São Paulo. On the restaurant's menu, it's called Salada de Escarola, which translates as a very innocuous-sounding Escarole Salad. One might even wonder why such a prosaically-named salad is the most famous and most-ordered dish on the menu. Well this salad is no bowl of greens, and is a dieter's disaster, not a dieter's salvation.

The salad (which costs R$28.00, or about USD $16.00) does have escarole leaves, and plenty of them. However, it also has a mountain of torresmo - the fried pork rinds that Brazilians adore. Plus lots of hearts of palm (palmito) and a red-wine vinaigrette for tossing it all together. Look at the photo below, taken at Rosa's - there must be about a thousand calories-worth of torresmo, and although the salad isn't yet dressed, the quantity of vinaigrette required to moisten all that escarole would be significant calorically.

So if you ever find yourself at Rosa's Churrascaria and want to watch your waistline, or just don't feel that hungry, whatever you do, don't say "Acho que eu vou só comer uma salada " ("I'll just have a salad")!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

RECIPE - Aunt Angelita's Banana Torte (Torta de Banana de Tia Angelita)

In Flavors of Brazil's recent posts about the small Brazilian beach resort of Jericoacoara, we mentioned that the city started out as a hippie colony on one of the remote beaches of northern Ceará state and that there's still a definitely hippie influence in the town today, even with the arrival of luxury accommodations and upmarket restaurants.

Where there are hippies, anywhere in the world, there are "herbal" treats to be found. Jericoacoara is no exception to this rule. And where these herbs are to be found, so are those who have partaken and are suffering from the infamous "munchies." Again, Jeri is no exception.

Way back when in Jericoacoara's early days, an enterprising local woman, whom everybody knows as Aunt Angelita, starting baking cakes and other treats at home and selling them out her front door or on the streets and beaches of Jeri. Everyone went crazy for her food, particularly for her banana torte (torta de banana) which became famous in the village. Today, she still sells her famous treat, but today she has a small cafe/restaurant in one of the local shopping plazas. And people still line up to get some of her heavenly banana torte - sometimes it's the only thing that will cure the munchies.

Her torte is "easy as pie" to make. Here's a recipe from the website Sabores do Nordeste:
RECIPE - Aunt Angelita's Banana Torte (Torta de Banana de Tia Angelita)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
2 whole eggs
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 Tbsp baking powder
6-7 bananas, sliced the long way into thin slices
powdered cinnamon to taste
Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, eggs, butter and baking powder and using a hand mixer or wooden spoon beat until you have a smooth batter. It will be ready when it begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Reserve, and let stand for 10 minutes before proceeding.

Pour the batter into an ungreased, non-stick 8x10 cake pan.

Carefully cover the surface of the batter with sliced bananas, cutting them when necessary. Sprinkly cinnamon powder over the bananas.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 30 minutes. The torte is done when a toothpick inserted in the center of the batter comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan, on a cake rack, until completely cool. Cut into squares and serve.