Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Gastronomic Awareness at the Market

Since it was constructed over 100 years ago, Fortaleza's central food and produce market, the Mercado São Sebastião has grown and prospered, but has never been considered a gastronomic hotspot, even though one can buy all the traditional food stuffs of local regional cuisine as well as eat traditional northeastern food in a number of restaurants and lunch-stalls. Located in a distinctly down-market part of Fortaleza's downtown, the market has primarily served nearby residents and workers in the food industry, whether they are produce wholesalers, restaurant managers, or food producers. The lunch stalls which encircle the central produce section serve hearty, traditional meals from the early hours of the morning to the market's hungry vendors and customers, as well as to a few night owls who are accustomed to stop for a hot bowl of soup before heading home to sleep off the night's festivities.

The richness of the market and it's gastronomic value have always been underappreciated in Fortaleza, and many of the city's food establishment (produers and consumers alike) have never passed through the market's doors. That's all changing now as Fortaleza (like all of Brazil) is becoming more interested in all aspects of food and agriculture. Savvy consumers are doing their daily or weekly shopping at the market, knowing that the quality is high and the prices are low. Locavores and foodies arefamiliarizing themselves with the lunch stalls in search of the best panelada, galinha caipira or baião-de-dois. Things are definitely looking up at the market in all kinds of ways.

Being aware of the gastronomic and touristic potential of the market, the management of Mercado São Sebastião, in conjunction with SEBRAE, a governmental agency which aids small businesses, has initiated a project at the market to maximize its potential as a gastronomic destination. The market's vendors are being offered a course in local gastronomic history and tradition, standards of sanitation and hygiene, and entrepreneurship. The project includes a new gastronomic logo, which merchants who have completed the course can display at their booths, as well as signage in the market to help tourists and visitors find their way through the aisles and stalls.

In other cities of Brazil, a visit to the market is an essential part of tourists' itineraries. Belem's Ver-o-Peso market is the most visited destination in that city, as is the Mercado Público de Florianópolis in the southern state of Santa Catarina. Fortaleza, fortunately, is waking up to the fact that they already possess a market with similar tourism and gastronomic potential, and this new program is a valuable first step forward in making the Mercado São Sebastião an essential part of Fortaleza's tourist itinerary.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

RECIPE - Bean Soup Brazilian Beach Style (Caldinho de Feijão)

To wrap up Flavors of Brazil's series of posts on Brazilian beach-style soup recipes, we're posting one of the most traditional as well as most popular caldinhos (cups of soup in Portuguese) - bean soup with coconut milk. Along with the ever-popular fish and shrimp soups solds on the beaches of Brazil, bean soup is a favorite choice for Brazilian beach-goers on beaches all along the coastline of Brazil.

This soup can be made with any variety of dried beans. Even in Brazil, the choice of beans in this soup varies from region to region and from vendor to vendor. In Rio de Janeiro you're most likely to find black bean soup, and in the northeast of the country the most popular choice is carioca beans (similar to pinto beans).

This recipe starts with about three cups of basic Brazilian beans, already cooked. We published the recipe in back in 2010 and you can link to that recipe here), you can use those beans and some of their broth as the soup base. Either way you'll end up with a hearty and nourishing bean soup, enlivened and "Brazilianized" by the presence of coconut milk. The recipe makes a large quantity of soup, but it freezes marvelously, so you needn't worry about any going to waste.
RECIPE - Bean Soup Brazilian Beach Style (Caldinho de Feijão)

3 cups approximately, cooked Brazilian-style beans, and their broth (recipe here)
3/4 cup (200 ml) coconut milk
1 small chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 Tbsp chopped green onion, for garnish
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro, for garnish
2 Tbsp finely chopped red or green bell pepper, for garnish
Combine the beans and their broth, the coconut milk and optional chili pepper in a large bowl, then blend them, in batches if necessary, until you have a homogenous mixture.

Pour the blended mixture into a large sauce pan and heat over medium heat. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat, and cook for about 10 minutes at a simmer.

Pour the hot soup in cups or mugs, and sprinkle the surface with chopped green onions, bell peppers and/or cilantro.
Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

RECIPE - Fish Soup, Brazilian Beach Style (Caldinho de Peixe)

Brazilian beach-style soups, whether eaten on a hot summer's day on the beach, or at home on a cold and damp winter's day, are marvelous pick-me-ups and satisfy without filling. In Brazil, these soups are served in small cups, often plastic ones when they are bought from vendors at the beach, but they are only improved when they're served in small proper soup cups or bowls.

These soups (called caldinhos in Portuguese) are fortunately also very simple to make and don't involve a lot of time or effort. Whether January brings you chilly winter weather or the dog days of summer, you'll find that Brazilian beach-style ish soup really hits the spot.
RECIPE - Fish Soup, Brazilian Beach Style (Caldinho de Peixe)
Makes 4 small cups or 2 bowls

1 medium-size fish steak (any type of white fish)
1 medium fish head (non-oily fish only), thoroughly cleaned and rinsed
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 medium green pepper, seeded, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
handful fresh cilantro
1 cup (250 ml) coconut milk
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
additional chopped cilantro (garnish, optional)
croutons (garnish, optional)
chopped green onions, green part only (garnish, optional)
In a food processor or blender combine the tomatoes (put in first), onion, green pepper, garlic and cilantro. Pulse to begin, then blend until you have a homogenous mixture. Reserve.

Cut the fish steak into large pieces. Combine the fish steak and fish head (whole) in a large saucepan and add 1 liter (1 quart) cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Add the blender mixture and cook, at a slow boil, until the mixture has reduced by approximately half. Remove from heat.

Take the fish head plus any skin or bones out of the soup and discard. Pour the remainder in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a clean saucepan, then stir in the coconut milk and olive oil. Heat thoroughly, but do not boil.

Serve in bowls or cups, and pass additional cilantro, croutons and/or green onions in small cups as individual garnishes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Recife's Surprising Favorite Beach Snack - Soup!

When you're at the beach on a hot and sunny day and you start to feel peckish, what perks your appetite? A cooling fruit salad? A bowl of gazpacho? A chilled, frosty drink? If you're from Recife, in Brazil's always-tropical northeast, it's not like to be any of those things. What makes your mouth water on a scorching afternoon at the beach is a cup of hot soup.

Hot soup?

That's right, in Recife, according to a survey by the city's municipal government and judging by the number of soup vendors that populate the city's most popular beaches, what beachgoers want is a cup of soup (called caldinho or "little soup" in Portuguese), steaming hot. Whether it's bean soup, shrimp soup or fish soup, soup is what hits the spot in Recife.

There is a scientific basis to this predilection for hot soup on a hot day. Ingesting hot food causes the body to sweat, and as the sweat evaporates, it cools the body. It's for the same reason that Thai food, Indian food and other cuisines from hot climes are often spicy - the chiles cause sweating, which cools the body. It's counter-intuitive, but it does work. And it seems that Recife's beach crowd has figured it out.

The garnishes that accompany caldinho are almost as important to customers as the soup itself, according to many of the ambulant vendors that walk the beach all day long, dishing out plastic cups of soup from a thermos jug and adding garnishes according to the customer's desires. Traditional accompaniments include quails' eggs, torresmo (pork rinds), corn kernels and olive slices.

In addition to ambulant vendors, there are beachside stands that sell soup to walk-up customers, and in the most popular of those, it's not uncommon to sell 80 liters (80 quarts) of soup on a weekend afternoon. Many of the stands are weekend-only propositions and are staffed by members of a single extended family.

Customers and vendors alike stress the importance of sanitation and hygiene, and regular beachgoers often have their own list of trusted vendors, from whom they buy caldinho exclusively. Vendor José Carlos da Silva, who has 20-years' experience selling soup on Recife's beaches, points out that the hot soup itself is normally safe to eat, but that one must take extra care when choosing the accompaniments which are normally at ambient temperature.

Coming up in our next posts are some typical caldinho recipes from northeastern Brazil. They're great whether served on a tropical beach, or in a snowbound cabin in the mountains.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Juice Combos for Brazilian Dog Days

We are aware that the majority of our readers live in the Northern Hemisphere, some of them in very cold locations, and for those readers thoughts of "lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer" are far from mind. But Flavors of Brazil comes from Brazil and here in the Southern Hemisphere, January and February are the hottest months of the year (Just three weeks ago, Rio de Janeiro suffered under its hottest day since 1915 - 44C or 111F). So while you might be searching the closet for woolen mittens, or wrapping a thick scarf around your neck before heading out, here in Brazil, everyone is trying to stay cool.

One of the most effective ways to cool the body down is with a cold drink, nutritionists tell us, and Brazilians have long used icy fruit drinks to reduce body temperature when the temperature rises. (They also drink a lot of cold beer too, though nutritionists advise that alcohol impedes the cooling effect of icy liquids. So, in the interests of body-temperature management, we'll restrict the discussion in this post to fruit drinks.)

Brazil is famous for the variety and quality of its fresh fruit drinks, and juice stands are commonplace fixtures on streets and in shopping malls all around the country. Brazil has such an abundance of delicious tropical fruits (oranges, pineapples, mangoes, limes, passion fruit, watermelon, etc.) that juice menus often have twenty or more choices.

Recently, people in Brazil have begun to discover that mixing fruits together, or adding additional non-fruit flavors to a drink can have spectacularly delicious results. As a result, each year, new combinations become popular. A few years ago, fresh pineapple juice blended with fresh mint leaves swept the country, and today it's rare to find a juice stand that doesn't offer that combination. But we all crave novelty, so barmen and women in juice stands, hotel bars, and seaside restaurants continue to offer new mixtures to satisfy demand.

A recent report in Rio de Janeiro's O Globo newspaper highlighted the most popular new juice combos for summer 2013 in that famously hot city. One very popular drink this summer is mango with mint, which employs the cooling sensation that mint gives to pump up the refreshment factor of the juice. It's long been known that citrus-based drinks cool very effectively because their acidity encourages production of saliva which cools the mouth, so new citrus combinations are very popular this year, particularly tangerine combined with carrot.

The addition of non-fruit ingredients to juices is new in Brazil, but popping vegetables into the juicer along with fruits is increasingly popular. Vegetable juices aid in retention of water in the body, which increases the body's ability to resist heat, so there's a valid nutritional reason for adding vegetables as well. Nutritionist Andréa Santa Rosa Garcia recommends a mixture of coconut water and lime juice, blended with parsley and kale, and adds that this combination can also help to alleviate stress.

If it's 10 below where you live, tag this article for reference when the dog days return next summer. If you're enjoying a Southern Hemisphere summer, whether here in Brazil, in South Africe or in Australia get out your blender, get adventurous when shopping for fruits and vegetables, and combine, combine, combine.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

One Million Page Views - Thank You / Obrigado!

Earlier this afternoon, Flavors of Brazil passed the one million page view mark. We've been watching the page view counter closely the last few days, and knew that it was only a matter of time before we'd cross the seven-figure boundary - but we're still blown away now that it's happened. The Internet is an awfully big place, and in Internet terms one million is a tiny number, yet when we started the blog just over three years ago, reaching such a number wasn't even a goal. Now that we've reached it, it does feel like a goal, and we feel like we've just scored one.

The reader statistics provided by Blogger and FlagCounter give more information that just the number of pages being viewed per day, per week or per month, and some of them we find surprising. Since the language of the blog is English, it doesn't seem surprising that the country that provides Flavors of Brazil with the highest percentage of hits is the USA, with 41.7% of all page views. The fact that the second country is Brazil is a bit of a surprise, though, considering the blog is not written in Portuguese. Brazilians represent 13% of all visitors to the blog. Next in line in the top five are three more English-speaking countries - the U.K. (6.7%), Canada (5.5%) and Australia (3.2%). In all, we've had visitors from 220 countries, including single viewers from the Central African Republic, Gabon, Saint Helena, the Vatican (could it be Il Papa himself?), and the Solomon Islands.

The post which has received the most hits, somewhat oddly we feel, is our post from January 20, 2012 on the jackfruit. It's been seen just under 48,000 times. The most popular recipe on Flavors of Brazil is for fish moqueca, from December, 2011. As of this moment 10, 932 people have looked at this recipe.

Apart from the sheer size of that 1,000,000 number, one of the most gratifying statistics we've received is that returning visitors consistently outnumber new visitors. If a million people visited Flavors of Brazil but none of them returned, the number wouldn't be nearly as satisfying. So we want to take this milestone as an opportunity to thank our visitors, new ones and returning ones. We hope that you'll want to keep coming back to Flavors of Brazil and that each time you do you'll find something interesting, odd or valuable. Or all three.

Thank you all very much. Muito obrigado.

RECIPE - Mashed Squash, Brazilian-style (Purê de Jerimum)

There's something uniquely appealing about mashed vegetables - which is probably why they're often atop lists of favorite "comfort foods". Perhaps it's because they are a throwback to one's early childhood when all solid food was mashed, perhaps it's because of the large amount of fat (dairy, vegetable) that mashed vegetables can carry. Whatever it is, who doesn't like mashed potatoes, or mashed anything for that matter?

Brazilians are no exception to this rule. Mashed potatoes are universally loved in Brazil, and here they really do pack a caloric punch, as they are laden with generous amounts of cream, butter and even cream cheese. But other vegetables get the mashing treatment here, and Flavors of Brazil would venture to guess that "Miss Runner-Up" in the mashed vegetable popularity contest in Brazil would be mashed pumpkin, or as it's called in Brazil, purê de jerimum.

The most common name for pumpkins in Brazil is abóbora, but they are also known, particularly in Brazil's northestern region as jerimum. The etymology of abóbora leads one back to Latin roots, and the word came to Brazil with the Portuguese. Jerimum, however, comes from the Amerindian Tupi-Guarani family of languages, and hearkens back to the vegetable's New World origins.

Like mashed potatoes, purê de jerimum is basically a mixture of mashed, cooked vegetable plus additional liquid and fat. What distinguishes purê de jerimum is that the additional liquid and fat are in the form of coconut milk, which gives the final dish an unusual and distinctive flavor, with the pumpkin's inherent sweetness brought out by the coconut milk. The high fat content of coconut milk also ensures the silky mouth-feel that's so important in mashed veggies.

Try this dish as a new side dish with roasted meats or poultry. It will be a rousing success, we promise. Even if your guests can't identify the flavor of coconut milk in the dish, they'll appreciate what it adds to the flavor profile.
RECIPE - Mashed Squash, Brazilian-style (Purê de Jerimum)  
Serves 6

1 lb (450 gr) peeled, seeded and cubed pumpkin or other winter squash
1 1/2 cup (375 ml) canned or bottled coconut milk
salt to taste
chopped cilantro (optional)
Cook the pumpkin in plenty of boiling water until it is very tender. Drain thoroughly in a colander, and then place the cubes in a large mixing bowl.

Using a potato mashed, mash the squash to desired consistency (some people like some texture remaining in the dish, others prefer a smooth puree).

Stir in the coconut milk and mash for a few more seconds until the coconut milk is thoroughly mixed in. Season to taste with salt.

If desired, stir in a handful or two of chopped cilantro.

Put the pumpkin in a decorative serving bowl and serve immediately as a side dish.

Recipe translated and adapted from Namorando na Cozinha blog.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

RECIPE - Shrimp in a Pumpkin (Camarão na Moranga)

(First off, a note for students who are just beginning to study Portuguese. This is not a recipe for shimp in a strawberry! The word for strawberry is morango, and this recipe is for shrimp in a moranga - with a final "a". Moranga is a word that means pumpkin, or at least one of those winter squashes that can be used like a pumpkin). Even native Portuguese speakers get these two words mixed up sometimes, and the Brazilian version of Internet sites like Ask Yahoo are full of questions asking basically "Are morango and moranga the same thing?" To avoid confusion, we'll skip the Portuguese terms in this post and just refer to the vegetable in question as a pumpkin.)

A stand-out centerpiece for a fancy dinner table, or a buffet, Shrimp in a Pumpkin is a familiar showpiece for Brazilian dinner parties, Christmas and New Year's feasts, birthdays, and anniversaries. Undeniably spectacular, it's also undeniably delicious, and for many Brazilians, it's their favorite way to eat shrimp. It's also undoubtedly one of the best ways to serve shrimp to a crowd.

You can use any large winter squash for this dish, though a bright orange pumpkin makes a visually appealing presentation. In contemporary Brazilian restaurants, the dish is even popping up in individual servings, using the small mini-pumpkins that arrive in supermarkets in the holiday season. One of those, filled with shrimp and sauce is just perfect for one person. The traditional version, however, employs a large pumpkin to serve the entire party.
RECIPE - Shrimp in a Pumpkin (Camarão na Moranga)
Serves 6

a 6 lb (3 kg) pumpkin or other squash
2 lbs (1 kg) medium shrimp, cleaned, peeled and deveined
2 limes
2 tsp salt
1 small serrano or jalapeno chile (optional), halved and seeded
3 bay leaves
2 cups shrimp stock (recipe here)
2 medium onions, chopped
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
5 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups cream cheese
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp good-quality curry powder
2 tsp Tabasco sauce (optional)
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
4 Tbsp finely-chopped Italian parsley
Cut a circular opening in the top of the pumpkin (as you would for a jack-o-lantern). Using a spoon and your hands, remove all the seeds and strings from inside the pumpkin. Wash the pumpkin thoroughly inside and out, then dry the inside with paper towel. Reserve.

Preheat the oven to 205C (400F).

Put the shrimp in a large mixing bowl, then add the fresh-squeezed juice of two limes, the salt, the halved chile and the bay leaves. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate for about one hour (while the pumpkin roasts).

Wrap the pumpkin in aluminum foil, place a large baking pan, and roast in the oven for about 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve, keeping warm. No not turn off the oven.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 Tbsp each of butter and olive oil, then saute the chopped onions for a few minutes, or until the onions are transparent but not browned. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes, or until the tomato begins to break down. Add the cream cheese, and combine thoroughly, making sure that the cheese has melted and combined with the other ingredients. Reserve, keeping warm.

In a mixing bowl containing the shrimp stock, whisk in the flour and continue to whisk until their are no lumps. Mix in the curry powder and optional Tabasco sauce. Stir this mixture into the cream cheese/tomato sauce, and reserve, keeping warm.

In a large frying pan, heat 3 Tbsp each of olive oil and neutral vegetable oil. Remove the shrimp from the refrigerator and saute (in two batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding). Cook for a few minutes only, stirring constantly but gently, until all the shrimp have become opaque and turned pink. Do not overcook. Stir the shrimp gently in the the sauce mixture.

Open the top of the pumpkin (leaving the rest of it still covered with aluminum foil. Reserve the top. Pour the shrimp mixture into the pumpkin, filling it completely if possible. Return the filled pumpkin to the hot oven and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the aluminum foil, then place the pumpkin on a large serving platter. Sprinkle the surface of the shrimp mixture with chopped parsley. Serve on a buffet table or at the center of a dining table, with a large ladle for serving the shrimp from inside the pumpkin, along with a bit of the cooked pumpkin.

Friday, January 4, 2013

RECIPE - Homestyle Squash Compote (Doce de Abóbora Caseiro)

When you think of squashes, what comes to mind first - main course or dessert? We'd bet that for the majority of our readers, squash brings to mind something that's served with the main course - to accompany meat or chicken, for example. Many might even say that squash has nothing to do with desserts. It's only when they are reminded that traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts often feature pumpkin pie for dessert, and that pumpkin is merely one of many kinds of squash, that they might concede that squash and sugar go together.

Some squashes are quite sweet in and of themselves, of course, but combining members of the squash family with sugar, honey or coconut milk is an old culinary tradition in Brazil, and for many Brazilians, abóbora (Portuguese for squash or pumpkin) is something seen more often on the dessert table or buffet than it is as a vegetable side dish.

Throughout Brazil, one of the oldest, most traditional (and easiest) ways to turn squash or pumpkin into a dessert is to cook it down to a thick puree, spice it with cinnamon and clove, then sweeten it with sugar and a splash of coconut milk. This recipe is so basic that Brazilians simple call it Doce de Abóbora, which means Squash Dessert or Squash Sweet. It's served at weekday family meals, and it's served on fancy dessert tables. It's popular with all economic classes in Brazil, as squashes are generally very cheap in Brazil, and it doesn't require expensive ingredients.

This recipe can be made with any type of winter squash - Hubbard, Butternut, Acorn, etc. It can also be made with pumpkin. Summer squashes (e.g. zucchini, pattypan) are not suitable as they contain too much water. It can be served warm or cold (though cold is more typically Brazilian). If you wish to make it a bit richer, pour a couple of tablespoons of coconut milk over the squash once you've put it into individual serving dishes.
RECIPE - Homestyle Squash Compote (Doce de Abóbora Caseiro)
Serves 6

2 lbs (1 kg) winter squash, any type, peeled and cored, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup coconut milk
3 cups granulated white sugar (more or less, to taste)
2 small sticks cinnamon
4 cloves
Put the squash into a large heavy saucepan,. Add a very small quantity of water (less than half a cup). Add the sugar and stir to mix. Heat the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. When the sugar has dissolved, add the cinnamon and cloves, and continue to cook, mixing and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook until the cubes of squash have become very tender.

When the squash is tender, using the same wooden spoon, begin to mash the cubes against the sides of the pan while continuing to cook over low heat. When all the squash is mashed and the mixture begins to pull away from the bottom and the sides of the pan, add the coconut milk and mix it in.

Cook for an additional two or three minutes only, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool. Can be served slightly warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Divide the mixture between six dessert dishes, and pour additional coconut milk over the puree if desired.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

VEGETABLES OF BRAZIL - The Squash Family (Abóboras)

Although when speaking English we are accustomed to speaking in terms of butternut or acorn squashes, pumpkins, gourds, marrows, pattypans, zucchinis, etc., as separate foods, in fact all these vegetables are squashes - that is, botanically, they are all members of the genus Curcubita, the squashes. In Brazilian Portuguese, they are all inguistically linked together and called abóbora. To Brazilians a giant pumpkin and a small baby zucchini are both abóboras, although to help consumers along, some types are identified separately by modifiers or unique names. Zucchinis, for example, are generally referred to as abóbora italiana (Italian squash) or abobrinha (little squash). There are also unique regional names which are largely American in origin, such as jerimum, which is a Northeastern term for large pumpkin-type squashes.

The cultivation of squash goes back a very long way in human history, and archeological evidence seems to indicate that squashes were first cultivated in Mesoamerica between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. Native Americans referred to squashes as one the "three sisters" (the three main native food crops), along with corn (maize) and beans. In native American cultures, all parts of the squash were eaten (as they still are today in the area). The flesh, the seeds and even the blossoms are all essential ingredients in traditional Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian and other New World cuisines.

Brazilians cook and eat squashes in many forms - in soups, in purees, which can be either savory or sweetened with sugar, salads, in breads and cakes, and in stews and hot-pots. Larger, sturdier squashes, are even used as containers for other foods. In the next few posts on Flavors of Brazil, we'll detail some of the uniquely Brazilian treatments of this important family of vegetables.