Sunday, December 30, 2012

RECIPE - Watermelon Caipirinha (Caipifruta de Melancia)

It's been a rough start to winter in Europe and North America recently, but Brazil is currently suffering one of its hottest and driest summers on record. This past Wednesday (26 December), Rio de Janeiro experienced its hottest day in almost a hundred years - since 1915 to be precise. The official temperature, as measured by the municipal weather department was 43.2 degrees celsius, which translates to 110 degrees fahrenheit. A friend of ours who lives in Rio reported that one of the large time-temperature signs on Rio's beachfront was reading 51F (or 124F) though he did say that the sign was in the sun. Whatever the official numbers were, it was a scorcher, and though the temperatures have moderated slightly in the past few days, these are Brazil's dog days.

At such extreme temperatures, nothing really relieves the heat, though air conditioning, fans, a dip in the sea and a cold drink all help. Brazilians love icy cold fruit drinks in the summer, and although alcohol doesn't really aid in heat relief, a splash of cachaça, Brazil's national spirit, is a traditional addition to fruit drinks.

The most traditional fruit employed is lime, and the most traditional cocktail is the caipirinha, which Flavors of Brazil has covered extensively in the past. But, increasingly, Brazilians are mixing up their fruits and creating new variations on the caipirinha theme. This one, from one of Brazil's best-selling food and wine magazines, swaps cubes of chilled watermelon (melancia in Portuguese) for the traditional lime.

One of the unique things about the caipirinha is that the whole fruit is used in the drink, not just juice. In this case, though the watermelon rind, thankfully, is not included, the cubes of watermelon are crushed in the glass and are not strained. The seeds make for a beautiful drink, and the pulp of the watermelon makes this a cooler that you can chew.

The drink requires a very ripe watermelon, so those readers of the blog who live in the Northern Hemisphere should probably wait until their summer arrives. Brazilians, Australians and other Southern Hemisphere residents can try one now, when the days are hottest and watermelons are ripest.
RECIPE - Watermelon Caipirinha (Caipifruta de Melancia)
Makes one drink

1/2 cup cubed ripe watermelon, chilled
2 oz. cachaça (can substitute vodka or white rum)
1 Tbsp granulated white sugar
1 tsp fresh-squeezed lime juice
cubed ice
In a cocktail shaker or large tumbler, combined the watermelon, cachaça, sugar and lime juice. Using a mortar or the handle of a large wooden spoon, cruch the watermelon cubes to release their juice, but don't completely liquify them - leave some small chunks of pulp.

Fill a large old-fashioned glass with ice, then pour the drink over. Do not strain the drink, leave the seeds and chunks of pulp in the drink.

Serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

RECIPE - Polenta with Turkey Ragu and Mushrooms

Capixaba chef Sylvia Lis, using the Italian traditions of the mountainous interior of the state of Espírito Santo, combines left-over roast turkey with polenta and mushrooms to create an unusual and delicious lunch or dinner main course. The dish is based on Italian-immigrant traditions and is often served on December 25th (in Brazil, that's the day after the Christmas meal - not the 26th). Our previous post on Flavors of Brazil details the traditions surrounding this dish, this post will provide the recipe.
RECIPE - Polenta with Turkey Ragu and Mushrooms (Polenta com Ragu de Peru e Cogumelos)
Serves 6

For the ragu:
3/4 lb (300 gr) left-over turkey meat, shredded
1/3 lb (150 gr) mushrooms, shitake if possible, sliced
2 Tbsp finely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 to 3 cups combined turkey broth (made from roast-turkey carcass) and left-over turkey gravy
2 sprigs fresh thyme
extra-virgin olive oil
salt to taste
finely chopped Italian parsley (for garnish)

For the polenta:
2 cups polenta
1 cup cold water
3 cups boiling water
1 Tbsp cream cheese
salt to taste
Prepare the ragu:
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil, then add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook for a minute or two, until the onion softens but doesn't brown. Add the sliced mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, tossing the mushroom slices frequently. Add the shredded turkey and the white wine. Bring the wine to a boil and cook for a few minutes, or until the wine thickens a bit. Add the turkey broth and gravy bit by bit, until you have a medium-thick rich sauce. Season to taste with salt if necessary. Reserve, keeping warm.

Prepare the polenta:
In a large saucepan, combine the polenta and the cold water, stirring and mixing until all the polenta becomes moistened. Add the boiling water and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and pulls away slightly from the edges of the pan. If necessary add more boiling water, in small amounts, to make sure the mixture doesn't become too thick - you want it to be just slightly soupy. It should be just pourable. Stir in the cream cheese, making sure it's completely mixed in, then season for salt.

Mounting the dish:
In a large deep rectangular or round serving dish, pour out the polenta. Using a ladle, spoon the turkey and mushroom ragu over the surface of the polenta, starting in the middle of the pan and working your way out to both ends. Sprinkle the ragu with chopped parsley and serve.

Christmas Leftovers - Espírito Santo-style

This post should by all rights have been published yesterday, at least if the majority of Flavors of Brazil's readers were in Brazil. The post is about day-after Christmas leftovers and what to do with them, and in Brazil the Christmas feast is eaten late in the evening on December 24th, not on December 25th. Consequently, it's on the 25th that Brazilian family cooks have to deal with leftovers.

However, most of our readers come from English-speaking countries, and in the majority of those countries, the Christmas feast comes to the table sometime on December 25th, and the leftover situation comes to the forefront only on the 26th. (We're not even going to get into the whole business of when Australia and New Zealand eat leftovers, there on the other side of the International Dateline.) In honor of those readers we've decided to use our post for today, call it Boxing Day if you want, to give our readers a bit of a lesson on what cooks in the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo often do, and to pass on the recipe if you want to duplicate their efforts at home.

The fertile and mountainous state of Espírito Santo is located on the southeast coast of Brazil, occupying the stretch of coast north of Rio de Janeiro state and south of Bahia. It's a state that has a long agricultural tradition and for centuries European immigrants who were farmers in the Old World have chosen to continue that path in Espírito Santo when they arrived in the New. Espírito Santo has a large number of citizens who can trace their ancestry back to Italy, and many of them are farmers or come from farming backgrounds. Espírito Santo has a large dairy industry and many of Brazil's Italian-style cheese come from that state.

As always, immigrants to Espírito Santo brought their food traditions with them, and the cuisine of the interior of the state, in particular, is heavily influenced by Italian foodways. Capixabas (the demonym for people who live in Espírito Santo) are like most Brazilians and usually eat turkey for Christmas, which isn't really an Italian tradition. But when the 26th rolls around, local cooks make sometime typically Italian out of the turkey they have on hand. They make a rich ragu with turkey and mushrooms and serve it with polenta. What could be more Italian than that?

In our next post, we'll provide the recipe for this delicious way to deal with excess turkey.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Brazil's Christmas Meal - Regional Variations

Just like North Americans do, most Brazilians eat turkey for their big Christmas celebration meal. That makes sense - after all the turkey is native to the Americas. In certain European cultures, goose is favored, or even salt cod - which also makes sense, as these foods have a long European tradition, but in the New World, turkey reigns supreme.

However, Brazilian Christmas isn't just about turkey. There are some other dishes that are equally traditional in Brazil, and which either are served alongside a turkey or instead of one. These traditional dishes vary from region to region in Brazil, which makes sense considering the huge geographical, climatic and cultural differences from region to region in this, the world's fifth largest and fifth most-populous nation.

This week, in the food section of the nationally-distributed newspaper Estado de S. Paulo, a number of well-known chefs from regions all around the country discussed what is traditional in their city, state or region, and provided recipes for some of the most popular regional Christmas dishes. In our next few posts, leading up to Christmas day, we'll detail some of these dishes and pass on the recipes to our readers. It's Flavors of Brazil's way of wishing our readers, who come from 220 different countries, a very Brazilian FELIZ NATAL!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

More Moonshine - Mocororó

Caju (cashew) fruit
Back in 2010, Flavors of Brazil published a post about a Brazilian drink called aluá, a lightly acoholic concoction made from pinapple peelings, sugar and water. (There's also a version made with soaked dried corn and recipes for both can be found here.) At the time we noted that aluá, which has a very long history, is particularly associated with tradional festivals - the festas juninas of Brazil's northeast, and the feasts that play an integral part in the ceremonies of the Bahian afro-brazilian religion Candomblé.

The folk traditions of northeastern Brazil also include another fruit-based alcoholic beverage, and this one is associated with specific folk rituals as well. The drink is called  mocororó, and drinking it is an important part of a folk dance in that region of the country called torém.

Both the drink, mocororó, and the dance, torém, have been traced back to pre-Columbian indigenous rituals, and both to this day carry connotations of Brazil's first inhabitants. Both are found throughout the northeastern part of Brazil, but are most closely associated to the traditions of the state of Ceará, where Flavors of Brazil is based.

Almost universally, primitive humankind has discovered ways to turn the sugars in fruit drinks into alcohol, and to imbibe the result for ritualistic use or purely for pleasure. Sweet drinks, left in the open air for a few days, become inbued with natural fermenting agents, primarily yeasts, and these agents transform the sugar in the drink into alcohol. What was once fruit juice becomes an alcoholic drink.

Humankind has long since learned how to help this natural process on its way, both by the artificial introduction of fermenting agents, and by the controlling the temperature of the drink so that it remains at a temperature conducive to fermentation. In the production of mocororó, Brazilian Amerindians left the introduction of fermenting agents to nature, but did lend a helping hand once fermentation had begun.

Mocororó is made from juice pressed from the caju fruit (the same fruit which gives us cashew nuts). The juice is left in the open air until fermentation starts, and then it is put into clay or glass containers. At this point, a very clever technique is used to enhance the fermentation process. The containers are buried in hot sand (which is easy to find along the coast and on riverbanks of Ceará) for up to six months. The sand ensures a perfect and consistent temperature for fermentation (and presumably also makes it less easy to "sample" the product before it's ready). After some time, the mocororó is dug up by which time it has quite an alcoholic punch.

 Mocororó is traditionally served in indigenous festivals and ceremonies in which the torém is danced. The Brazilian National Central of Folklore and Popular Culture describes the torém this way:
Group dance with participants of both sexes, who form themselves into a circle with a soloist in the center. It is a ritual dance of indigenous origin, whose participants imitate animals - like the jump of the mullet fish, the fight of raccoons, the song of the parakeet, the lunge of a snake. Shaking an aguiam, a type of maraca, the soloist advances and retreats, quivers, jumps and stamps his feet, often imitating the snake or the lizard, demonstrating his dexterity and flexibility. The other dancers mark the beat by stamping their feet and moving around the circle in a counter-clockwise direction. The music is sung by the soloist and repeated by the chorus of the other dancers. Mocororó is distributed during the dance  Prevalent in the state of Ceará, the torém is danced during the caju harvest season, on social occassions and when indigenous groups meet other tribes.

The drink has stayed close to its origins and there is no commercial production of mocororó in Brazil. As a result, Flavors of Brazil cannot comment on either its flavor nor its alcoholic strength. But we have our eye out for it, and should we ever come across any, we'll report back soon there after (as soon as we recover, that is).

Translation and adaptation of Portuguese text by Flavors of Brazil.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

PHOTOS - Brazil's Own Fleur du Sel - Flor de Sal

As detailed in our most recent post, Brazil's nascent flor de sal industry is centered on the northeastern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte. The state is blessed with the right climatic conditions for the formation of flor de sal crystals, as there is plenty of scorching sun and hot, drying winds. These conditions foster the growth of the salt crystals, but they also make for difficult and trying work. In intense heat and wind, workers harvest the delicate crystals from the surface of pools of hot brine. Flor de sal is a heavenly product that is produced in hellish conditions.

These photos, which come from the Paladar section of Brazil's Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, show both the beauty and the hellishness of flor de sal production. We thought our readers might enjoy seeing them. (Remember to click the photos to enlarge them to full size).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Brazil's Own Fleur du Sel - Flor de Sal

flor de sel crystals
NaCl is the four-letter chemical recipe for salt, a mineral that is an essential component of human nutrition. A chemical compound of one ion of sodium (Na) and one of chlorine (Cl), salt is absolutely essential for animal life, though it can be harmful when consumed to excess. The table salt (also called halite) that most of us consume daily originates, at varying degrees of remove, in the world's seas, where the concentration of this compound is what makes sea water "salt water."

Rio Grande do Norte
Some salt comes from large underground mines, in areas which once were seas. Other salt is harvest directly from evaporated sea water. In Brazil, most of the salt consumed is obtained by this second method, and the large majority of it comes from the northeastern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte. What makes this small state such an important producer of salt? It's a combination of location and climate. Rio Grande do Norte sits on the western shore of the tropical South Atlantic Ocean, so there's plenty of the basic material of salt - salt water. And Rio Grande do Norte's climate, which for most of the year is hot, cloudlessly sunny and reliably windy makes for rapid and efficient evaporation of sea water. As they say in Rio Grande do Norte, salt practically makes itself here.

Most of the salt harvested in the region, whether for industrial use or for human consumption, is made by pumping salt water into large pools (called salinas in Portuguese) up to two meters deep and exposing it to the constant sun and wind, waiting for the water to evaporate and leave only the salt behind. The mineral is then harvesting and refining into the type of salt required by its intended use.

Until recently, in Brazil, salt intended for human consumption was refined for purity, then packaged and sold without differentiation or variety. But in Brazil, as in the rest of the world, in the past decade or so humans have begun to show an interest in unrefined or natural salts, in salts that reflect regional differentiations, and in salts with different crystalline formation. One of the most popular of these "gastronomic" salts is called fleur du sel, a French term meaning "flower of salt", though in Brazil is it translated into Portuguese as flor de sal.

Although imported French fleur du sel has been available for quite a few years in gastronomic emporia in Brazil's big cities, it's only been in the past four years, since 2008, that domestic Brazilian flor de sal has become available, and it's only now that it's becoming widely available. All of that flor de sal comes from Rio Grande do Norte.

The term fleur du sel refers to a specific crystalline formation of salt, one that has a characteristic lightness and crunch and one that is suitable for garnishing a dish at the last minute or for a dish in which the cook wants only a part of the dish to be salty. The technique of making fleur du sel originated in Brittany, in France as much as a millennium ago, and it is this ancient technique which today produces Brazil's own flor de sal. Water is pumped into a series of pools, and as it evaporates, it is moved from pool to pool, becoming more concentrated with each step. When the water finally becomes a super-concentrated brine, and only under perfect climatic conditions of abundant sun, heat and wind, a fine web of hollow salt crystals forms on the surface of the brine and can be cafeully scooped from the surface. This is flor de sal. Formed of fragile, hollow, light crystals, flor de sal is pure salt in its most delicate  natural form. The hollowness of the crystals is what gives flor de sal its typical crunch and what differentiates it from garden-variety salt.

Making flor de sal is difficult, hot, backbreaking work, and it depends on perfect weather conditions - if there isn't enough wind, or there are passing clouds, the crystals won't form on the surface of the water. So in Brazil, as elsewhere, flor de sal is significantly more expensive than table salt. However, since production commenced four years ago, Brazilian consumer acceptance of flor de sal has grown every year, and today there are three firms producing it in Rio Grande do Norte and selling it throughout the country. Today the market is purely domestic, but there are plans to increase production and develop the export market for Brazilian flor de sal. The potential for growth in this industry is enormous, as Rio Grande do Norte is blessed with all the ingredients for making flor de sal. Some other locations, such as the world's large deserts, have plenty of sun and wind - it's the water they are lacking. Others, like Pacific Islands, have all the salt water they can handle, but are too cloudy or humid for the crystals to form. When it comes to flor de sal, Rio Grande do Norte, apparently, has it all.

With material translated and adapted from Paladar, Estado do S. Paulo newspaper.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

INGREDIENTS OF BRAZIL - Feijão Manteiga (Butter Beans)

If the Lord's Prayer were colloquially translated into Brazilian Portuguese, those who recited it wouldn't ask for their "daily bread" but rather for their "daily rice and beans." In the biblical prayer bread represents the food required to sustain the body, and for millions of Brazilians, rich or poor, it's not bread that they eat every day of their life, it's rice and beans.

The beans that Brazilians eat on a daily basis are not, of course, green beans. They are dried legumes that have been reconstituted and cooked in liquid until tender. In fact, Brazilians don't even use the word feijão (which means bean) when referring to green beans. They have another word, vargem, for this vegetable and don't consider it a bean at all. Beans mean dried beans, full stop.

There are numerous varieties of dried beans eaten in Brazil, ranging from black beans to white ones, and from large kidney beans to small pea-shaped varieties. The choice of bean is often regional, and most people in Brazil do not eat one type of bean on Monday, another on Tuesday, etc. The bean they eat is always the same. If a Brazilian was raised on black beans, that's likely all he or she eats, and if it was carioca beans served at the family table, that'll be the bean of choice forever.

One bean that is very strictly regional is called feijão manteiga, which translated literally into English means butter bean. However, the bean is not the same as the lima bean, which is called butter bean in many regions of the USA. That bean is called feijão-de-lima in Brazil. The bean on which Brazilians have bestowed the moniker feijão manteiga is a medium-size, light brown bean about the size and shape of a pinto bean, but without the mottling that gives that bean its name.

The Brazilian butter bean is well-named, for it has a rich creaminess when properly cooked, and this richness gives it the mouth feel of butter, though there is almost no fat in the bean. The taste is also characteristically nutty with a hint of sweetness. It's one of the most flavorful and delicious of all the thousands of varieties of dried beans.

Feijão manteiga is eaten primarily in Brazil's north and northeast, and in the state of  São Paulo, and is not well known in other regions of the country.

In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, we'll publish a traditional recipe from São Paulo for this delicious legume.

Friday, November 23, 2012

RECIPE - Grilled Lobster (Lagosta Grelhado na Casca)

As with many other foods, lobster cooked and served simply is often the best - better than when hidden in a thick cream sauce or a spicy tomato sauce. In a simple presentation, the sweet and succulent flavor of the lobster shines through, something that doesn't happen when this subtle meat is combined with strongly-flavored sauces.

For most North Americans and Europeans, especially those who are dealing with a true lobster (click here to read more about the lobster family), lobster cooked simply means boiled lobster. However, in Brazil it's not common at all to see boiled lobster on restaurant menus, or at the family table. In Brazil, lobster cooked simply means grilled lobster. Grilling a lobster in the shell is an excellent way to showcase the flavor of the crustacean. Unlike boiled lobster, which adds no flavor at all to the meat, grilled lobster adds the note of smokiness that is characteristic of grilled foods. This hint of smokiness doesn't mask the flavor of the lobster, just makes it a bit more complex. And as far as Brazilians are concerned, this also makes it even more delicious.

Here's a recipe from the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará, one of the principal sources of Brazilian lobster. It works best with spiny lobster (the tropical one), but is also suitable for true lobsters as well.
RECIPE - Grilled Lobster (Lagosta Grelhado na Casca)
Serves 4

4 whole spiny lobsters (thawed if frozen)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt to taste
fresh lime wedges
Cut each lobster into two pieces, cutting on the longitudinal axis from head to tail. This is best done with strong kitchen scissors. Do not remove the meat from the shell. Sprinkle the white wine and a bit of salt over the cut side of each piece and reserve while the grill heats to medium heat.

Using a grill brush, brush the olive oil on the grill to prevent sticking.  Place the lobster tails on the grill, meat side down and grill for a few minutes, or until the meat is opaque and the surface has just begun to brown. Turn the tails over, and grill with the shell side down until the shells have turned bright red. Remove from the grill.

Serve immediately, with a green salad and boiled potatoes or white rice. Accompany with plenty of fresh lime wedges for squeezing over the lobster.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

SEAFOOD OF BRAZIL - Spiny Lobster (Lagosta)

Brazilians love lobster - who doesn't? But in the relationship between Brazilians and the tasty crustaceans, there's a problem: too much love. Lobster stocks are threated by overfishing, and although regulations to protect the fishery are in place, they are often flouted. Flavors of Brazil will feature this issue in upcoming posts, but first we thought it would be good to focus on exactly what is (and what isn't) a Brazilian lobster.

Unlike the true lobster (zoological family Nephropidae), which dwells in icy waters, Brazilian lobsters are warm-water inhabitants and belong to a separate family the Palinuridae. The Palinuridae are commonly known as spiny lobsters, and can be found in warm-waters seas around the world - places like the Caribbean, South Africa, Australia and, of course, Brazil.

Besides their habitat, spiny lobsters are distinguished from true lobsters by the lack of claws on their front legs and by the presence of of two long, thick and spiny antennae. They are an ancient group of animals, and there are spiny lobster fossils that are more than 110 million years old which don't differ significantly from current species.

Spiny lobsters prefer to live in crevices in rocks and coral reefs, darting out of their shelter to eat, and then retreating to safety. This habitat has caused them to also be called rock lobsters (thanks, B52s!). Recently scientists have discovered that spiny lobsters have the ability to navigate via the earth's magnetic field - i.e. they carry their own internalized compass when they move about.

Brazil is a significant producer of spiny lobster, ranking third in the world in production, coming behind the world's largest producer, the USA, and Australia. It is this important commercial fishery that is threatening Brazil's lobster population. We'll provide more details on this issue in our next post.

Monday, November 19, 2012

RECIPE - Mixed Vegetables in Coconut Milk (Legumes Cozidos ao Leite de Coco)

Here's a Brazilian solution to an age-old dilemma - how to jazz up a side dish of vegetables and turn them into something special. We all know that a good serving of vegetables is an important part of a nutritionally balanced a dinner plate, but night after night of meat and two veg can be deadly boring.

This traditional Brazilian recipe uses one of the most important ingredients in the Brazilian larder, coconut milk, to give mixed vegetables (or even single vegetables) a spark of life. If we were Mad Men, we'd say that the coconut milk puts the "extra-" in ordinary vegetables.

It's easy to keep a can or tetra-pak of coconut milk on your pantry shelf, so this recipes great when you're lacking inspiration. Just choose a mix of vegetables to suit, add the coconut milk and you've turned your meal tropical.

Note: The vegetables indicated in the recipe below are simply suggestions. You can change them, use only one or two, or even just one vegetable. Just make sure the total weight remains approximately the same.
RECIPE - Mixed Vegetables in Coconut Milk (Legumes Cozidos ao Leite de Coco)
Serves 4

1/2 lb boiling potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 lb carrots, peeled and cubed
1/4 lb green beens, cut into 1 inch lengths
1/4 lb broccoli crowns, cut into florets
1/4 lb cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1 Tbsp finely minced fresh Italian parsley
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
Put all the vegetables in a large saucepan along with the bay leaf and the piece of ginger. Add just enough water to come about half way up the vegetables. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pan, reduce heat and cook just until the vegetables are tender. Add the coconut milk, increase the heat and cook uncovered until the liquid reduces by about half. Remove from heat, remove the ginger and bay leaf, season to taste and serve immediately, spooning a bit of the liquid over each serving, then sprinkling a bit of parsley on top.

Recipe translated and adapted from Portal Sabores website.

Friday, November 16, 2012

It's Definitely Kitsch, but Is It Lewd? The Strange Story of Sacanagem

Flavors of Brazil didn't live in Brazil in the 1970s, but according to numerous Brazilian friends that decade was the era of a party appetizer with the very strange name - sacanagem.

According to the UOL/Michaelis online Portuguese to English dictionary, sacanagem is a noun meaning:
1 filthy behaviour, dirtiness, unfairness. 2 derision, raillery, mockery. 3 lewdness, licentiousness.

And in the authoritative Houaiss Portuguese-only dictionary, sacanagem is defined variously as "dirty trick", "peverse act", "libidinous behavior" and even "the act of masturbation."

One wouldn't think that this word would be used to name any dish that a self-respecting hostess would want to serve at a chic cocktail party, but in the 1970s (and at times even today) you can spot a dish of sacanagem on a Brazilian buffet table, or offered with cocktails. If you ask Brazilians about the dish (and we have), none of them can tell you how it came to have such a strange name, but they all remember sacanagem nostalgically, even as they admit that it really should be considered more kitch than cuisine.

Sacanagem isn't very far removed from some North American cocktail-party treats of the same vintage, particulary those parties that were called luaus or puu-puu parties - those with a Polynesian theme. Although there are numerous variations on sacanagem, boiled down to its basics it consists of toothpicks or small skewers on which are threaded slices of hot dogs, cubes of cheese, an olive and perhaps a cherry tomato, those picks then being stuck into some round ball-shaped object to hold them decoratively.

The ball-shaped holder for the sacanagem was sometimes a half of a watermelon, though the most popular was a half of a head of cabbage. At the most chic gatherings, the cabbage was covered with tin foil, giving the dish a Sputnik-like appearance.

Although the list of ingredients that can be employed to make sacanagem is large and includes things such as pineapple or watermelon cubes, everyone agrees that the only item that must be included in a proper sacanagem is chunks of hot dog - not fine charcuterie either, real mystery-meat hot dogs.

We won't be publishing a recipe for sacanagem like we usually do for Brazilian foods we discuss here on the blog, as the description above and the photos below should give you sufficient information to go wild and create your own sacanagem for your next cocktail party. You can be sure that your guests will ask you what is that bizarre looking satellite-type thingie sitting on the coffee table and whether it's safe to eat. You can amaze and surprise them by telling them its an exotic Brazilian dish from the 1970s. You can even tell them it's called sacanagem in Portuguese - just don't tell them what the word means.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

RECIPE - Jambo Compote (Compota de Jambo)

One of the very simplest, and most delicious, ways to handle fruit that you don't want to or can't eat fresh is to turn it into a compote. A compote is nothing more than pure fruit and sugar, cooked down until the fruit is softened and the sugar is dissolved. Done.

In the past, in the days before refrigeration, compotes were an important method of preserving fruit and they allowed the harvest surfeit to be enjoyed long past the season. Today, compotes are eaten mostly because they're delicious, but their preservative powers shouldn't be neglected. When a seasonal fruit is at it's peak of ripeness and flavor turning it into a compote locks in that flavor, allowing you to enjoy it when that fruit isn't in season.

Compotes, unlike jams and jellies, aren't made for canning. They can be kept for a few weeks in the refrigerator and can be frozen for up to several months. The fact that you don't have to deal with sterilizing jars, rings and lids makes them much less of a task than jams or jellies.

Compotes can be served as is as a dessert or breakfast dish. They also make wonderful toppings for ice cream, turning a good-quality vanilla ice cream into a marvelous sunday.

This traditional Brazilian recipe for jambo compote is a good guide to making compotes. It can be adapted to almost any other kind of fruit - just remember that you can not eliminate the sugar, nor even reduce it very much. It's the sugar that acts as a preservative.
RECIPE - Jambo Compote (Compota de Jambo)

4 cups chopped, seeded jambo (do not peel)
3 cups granulated white sugar
Combine the fruit and sugar in a large saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and the fruit has completely softened.

Remove from heat and let cool completely. Store in refrigerator until ready to use, or freeze for up to several months.

Monday, November 12, 2012


jambo rosa
It's been some time since Flavors of Brazil has added new material to our series of posts called FRUITS OF BRAZIL. That doesn't mean that we've exhausted the list of fruits that are cultivated and eaten in this country - not by a long shot. The list is enormous, and there are still many fruits that are quite common in Brazil, or at least in certain regions, that we haven't discussed. So it's time to get back to the tast at hand.

jambo branco
The fruit that Brazilian call the jambo (botanical name Syzygium jambos) has many names in English. Depending on the region, it is known as Malabar plum, plum rose, water apple, jambrosade, rose apple or Malay plum. The names Malabar plum and Malay plum indicate the fruit's original habitat - the tropical zones of South and Southeast Asia. The fruit was carried from Asia back to Portugal by early Portuguese navigators, and thence onward to Brazil, where it flourishes in the tropical regions of the country.

There are many varieties of jambo, but the three most commonly seen in Brazil are distinguished by their color - jambo vermelho (red jambo), which is a dark winy reddish-purple, jambo branco (white jambo) which is an icy, glossy white, and jambo rosa (pink jambo), which is light rosy pink in color.

jambo vermelho
The fruit of jambo is smallish, about the size of a child's fist, and slightly elongated - either pear-shaped or bell-shaped. The skin is waxy and thin, and the hollow core of the fruit contains one or two seeds. The flesh is white and is crispy and juicy like an apple. The fruit isn't highly flavored, though it is sweet. It is very aromatic, and the similarity of the fruit's aroma to roses accounts for such English names as plum rose or rose apple.

Jambo isn't highly commercialized, and is usually only seen in markets in areas where the fruit is cultivated. Most of the fruits consumed are eaten fresh, although jambo can be successfully preserved in syrup or made into a compote.

We'll publish a recips for jambo compote in our next post here at Flavors of Brazil.

Friday, November 9, 2012

RECIPE - Duck with Sauerkraut (Pato com chucrute)

It's a safe bet that the majority of this blog's readers never expected to find a recipe that included sauerkraut in a blog dedicated to exploring Brazilian cuisine and gastronomy. However, the recipe below for duck served with sauerkraut is authentically Brazilian. Like many other recipes that come from the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, the recipe came to Brazil with the thousands of German immigrants who settled in Santa Catarina in the early 20th century and over the course of the next hundred years became thoroughly Brazilianized - without losing their Teutonic heritage. Santa Catarina has Brazil's highest percentage of population who can trace their roots to Germany, and in the interior of the state there are many cities where German is commonly spoken and understood, along with Portuguese.

The recipe was created by a more recent German immigrant to Brazil, Heiko Grabolle, who was born in Germany and trained in that country, but who now lives in Florianopolis, the capital of Santa Catarina, where he teaches cooking and gastronomy.
RECIPE - Duck with Sauerkraut (Pato com chucrute)
Serves 4

1 whole duck
2 Tbsp butter
2 medium onions
1 Fuji apple
1 lb. prepared sauerkraut
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
Cooking the duck:
Preheat the oven to 325F (160C). Season the duck inside and outside with salt and pepper. Place the duck in a non-stick roasting pan and roast the duck for two hours, basting the pieces every fifteen minutes with the accumulated pan juices. Remove from the oven and cut the duck into four serving pieces - two breasts and two legs.

Cooking the sauerkraut:
While the duck is roasting, chop the onion and peel, core and cube the apple. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and when the butter is hot add the onion and the apple. Cook for about five minutes or until the onions and apples are softened and the onion is transparent. Drain and rinse the sauerkraut, the add it to the pan. Pour the chicken broth and wine over, mix thoroughly and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the sauerkraut is done (The sauerkraut should have the consistency of risotto, neither soupy nor dry. It should be moist and creamy. Add a small amount of water if necessary during cooking to keep the sauerkraut moist). When the sauerkraut is done, turn off the heat, cover the pan and let rest for at least a half an hour for the flavors to develop.

Preparing the dish:
When the duck is close to being done, reheat the sauerkraut. Put a quarter of the sauerkraut on each of four dinner plates, and top with one of the pieces of duck. Accompany the duck with mashed or boiled potatoes, or with white rice.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

RECIPE - Wild Duck with White Wine (Marreco com Vinho Branco)

Most recipes for duck, whether Brazilian or not, can be made using either domesticated farmyard ducks - the big white ones - or with wild ducks - brightly colored ducks such at mallards or teals. Both types are eaten in Brazil (as detailed in this post on Flavors of Brazil), and many Brazilian recipes suit both types of birds. But the two birds are not identical, and sometimes one or the other is better suited to a particular recipe.

Farmyard ducks (called pato in Portuguese) have milder-tasting meat and are generally much more fatty than their wild cousins (marreco in Portuguese). The wild birds boast of leaner meat, also much stronger in flavor, much gamier. Whether you prefer the milder taste of pato or the stronger taste of marreco is a matter of personal choice, but because the animals have differing levels of fat, recipes must take this difference into account.

This Brazilian recipe is best made with wild duck, or marreco. Since there is relatively little fat in wild duck, you needn't drain away fat or worry that the dish will be overly rich. The dish is high in flavor, but not heavy. When wine is combined with duck, red wine is usually called for in recipes for farmyard duck, as the stronger-flavored wine can stand up to the rich meat. On the other hand, wild duck, being less fatty, combines well with white wines, as in this recipe.

In southern Brazil, where this recipe comes from, the duck is often served with cooked red cabbage and apple sauce. Either mashed potatoes or buttered noodles are also appropriate.
RECIPE - Wild Duck with White Wine (Marreco com Vinho Branco)
Serves 6

6 whole wild duck legs (thighs and drumsticks)
4 Tbsp butter
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 lb (250 gr) black olives, pitted or unpitted
4 fresh sage leaves
4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and melt the butter together. When hot, add the rosemary and sage leaves, then the duck legs. Cook until the legs are nicely browned on all sides. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat, add a tew tablespoons of water, and cover the pan. Cook over low heat just until the duck is cooked. Test for doneness by piercing a thigh with a sharp paring knife. When the juices run clear the duck is cooked.

Un cover the pan, increase the heat. Bring the dish to a boil and boil until any liquid evaporates. Add the white wine and the olives and continue to cook at high temperature until the wine reduces to a few tablespoons.

Serve immediately, spooning a bit of sauce and some olives over each leg as you plate it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

RECIPE REPOST - Duck in Tucupi (Pato no Tucupi)

As promised in Wednesday's post about ducks (pato or marreco in Portuguese) in Brazilian cooking, Flavors of Brazil is offering up some traditional recipes that show how Brazilian cooks have dealt with that delicious bird.

By far, the most famous Brazilian recipe for duck is something  called Pato no Tucupi, meaning simply Duck in Tucupi - tucupi being a yellow sauce extracted from wild manioc which is one of the identifying flavors of the cuisine of Brazil's Amazon region.

Flavors of Brazil has previously posted a recipe for Pato no Tucupi, as part of our On The Road series on posts about the city of Belém, Pará. You can find a this recipe by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What the Duck? Untangling Patos and Marrecos

Although chickens are by far the most-commonly consumed poultry species in Brazil, just like everywhere else, they aren't the only birds that end up gracing the Brazilian dinner table. In certain regions of Brazil, for example, guinea fowl (capote or galinha d'Angola in Portuguese) are highly valued for their it's-chicken-but-it's-not flavor and are an important ingredient in traditional cooking. In fancy restaurants in Brazil's metropolises you can sometimes find squab (pombo) on the menu. Goose doesn't really have a place in Brazilian kitchens, perhaps because it's fatty richness is a bit overwhelming in tropical heat.

One bird that bridges the gap between traditional, countryside cooking and contemporary gastronomy in Brazil is the duck. Ducks can be found waddling around the simplest homestead in the backland - easy and cheap to raise - and end up roasted or stewed without fuss or muss. At the other end of the spectrum, magret de canard is considered the ne plus ultra of haute cuisine in Brazil, just as in France or the USA.

The Portuguese word for duck is pato (as in Pato Donald, the Brazilian name for Donald Duck). However, in supermarket freezers, in the pato section, one will often find something that looks an awful lot like duck but which isn't labelled pato. Instead, it's called marreco. If you ask the clerk or the market's butcher what the difference is, he or she is likely to say there isn't any - that pato and marreco are the same thing. Asking Brazilian friends the same question will get you the same response.

But, as Flavors of Brazil has found out, patos and marrecos aren't the same thing, though they are very similar. Since Brazilians are as confused as anyone about what distinguishes these two species, there are numerous attempts at disambiguation (that favorite Wikipedia word) of these two birds on Brazilian food and wine websites, in blogs and in Portuguese dictionaries. The majority opinion, which isn't a 100% consensus, is that, in the culinary sense, pato refers to the larger, white farmyard duck, the one known as a Peking Duck, and marreco is a smaller, more compact, brightly colored bird, often identified as the bird English speakers call teal.

In the kitchen, pato is considered to be fattier than marreco, and with a milder flavor. Marreco has a slightly gamier, wilder flavor and appeals to those who want a leaner bird. But Brazilians tend to use both meats interchangeably and Brazilian cookbooks will tell you that you can substitute one for the other in almost any recipe. We'll publish a couple of traditional Brazilian recipes for duck (or teal if you can find it) in upcoming posts on Flavors of Brazil.

Monday, October 29, 2012

FREVO - Home of São Paulo's Best Beirute

Named after the frenetic dance whose rhythms drive the Carnavals of Recife and Olinda in Brazil's northeastern state of Pernambuco, Frevo restaurant has been a luncheonette institution in São Paulo since it first opened its doors in 1956. Frevo, situated on the city's toniest shopping street, Oscar Freire, has been the restaurant of choice for hungry shoppers for years, and has spawned branches throughout  the city.

Frevo's decor is something to behold. Call it retro-diner mixed with elements of 1950's Brazilian design, all preserved marvelously. There is the obligatory counter, of course, with stools upholstered in red naugahyde. The same material covers the dining chairs in the restaurant's table-service area. On the white walls float wire-and-wood scupltures of frevo dancers, some lifting high the small umbrella that frevo dancers use to balance, just like tightrope walkers. It's worth a visit to Frevo just to see the interior design.

However, the crowds that fill the restaurant daily don't return time after time to admire the decor. They are back because of the food. No restaurant can flourish for 55 years on design alone - only good food merits that kind of success.

The menu at Frevo features pizzas, sandwiches and burgers, plus sundaes, pies and other diner standards. The most popular of Frevo's sandwiches is their take on a beirute, a Syrio-Lebanese pita-bread sandwich that has become a Brazilian favorite. (Click here to read more about the history of the beirute). The restaurant's beirute is so well-loved that it was named São Paulo's best in this years Best of São Paulo competition. The prizes in this competition are awarded based on public votes, not on the votes of food professionals or journalists, as are some other gastronomic competitions.

At Frevo, they serve a classic beirute, without pretention and with no 21st-century additions. It's simply roast beef, melted cheese, sliced tomato and a dusting of oregano, all served in a toasted pita. There are two sizes - the large (enough for two normal eaters) which sells for R$22 (about USD $11) and the small (individual) which goes for R$12.30 ($6.15).

If someday you happen to be shopping in Oscar Freire street's designer stores - Calvin Klein, Cartier, etc. - and suddenly feel a pang of hunger, stop off at Frevo for a beirute and a look at the decor. You'll be glad that you did.

Friday, October 26, 2012

RECIPE - Brigadeiro Cake (Bolo Brigadeiro)

Give the depth and intensity of the Brazilian obsession with the small fudge-like ball of chocolate called brigadeiro, it's no surprise that the essential ingredients of a brigadeiro - chocolate, sweetened condenses milk, chocolate sprinkles - show up in other dessert treatments. Think of them as tributes to the glories of the original brigadeiro. Some of these treatments are relatively straightforward reimaginings while others are high-concept flights of fancy.

One popular way to recreate the brigadeiro is to turn it into a rich, moist chocolate cake. The cake part is usually some sort of standard chocolate cake, the brigadeiro part being found in the frosting. The recipe below, which was created by Brazilian chef Raphael Despirite and is featured on the website of Brazilian food and wine magazine Prazeres da Mesa, is just such a creation - a chocolate sponge-cake with a brigadeiro topping. The resulting dessert is rich and moist, and since a small slice goes a long way is perfect for a fairly large crowd.

NB. This recipe calls for creme de leite, a thickened, unsweetened cream that is a staple in all Brazilian kitchens. You can find creme de leite, UHT-treated or canned, in Brazilian groceries in cities that have a Brazilian immigrant community. Alternatively it is sold in almost all Latin American markets under the Spanish name media crema and the English name table cream, most often manufactured by Nestlé. It is also available online from numerous sources, including

RECIPE - Brigadeiro Cake (Bolo Brigadeiro)
Makes 1 8-inch cake

For the sponge cake:
6 large whole eggs, free-range preferred
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
6 Tbsp unsweetened dry cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the topping:
1 1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
4 Tbsp unsweetened dry cocoa powder
2/3 cup creme de leite (see note above)
chocolate sprinkles
Make the sponge cake:
 Preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Beat the eggs, vanilla and sugar together with a cake-mixer for 10 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Fold in the flour and cocoa powder, taking care not to overmix. Pour the batter into an 8-inch springform cake pan, ungreased, and bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.

Make the topping:
Combine the sweetened condensed milk, the butter and cocoa powder in a double-boiler and heat, stirring constantly, until you have a thickened, consistent mixture. Remove from the heat, then stir in the creme de leite. Let cool.

Frost and decorate the cake:
When the cake and the frosting are cool, spread the frosting on the top of the cake, then cover the frosting with chocolate sprinkles. Remove the sides of the springform pan to expose the sponge cake. Leave the cake resting on the bottom of the pan and place it on a decorative serving platter for cutting into slices and serving.

Monday, October 22, 2012

On the Road - Salvador - Pt. 7 - The SENAC Restaurant-School

In Salvador, one obligatory stop for anyone interested in Bahian gastronomy and cooking is the SENAC Restaurant-School, located in a historic colonial house on the Largo do Pelourinho, the sloped square which is the epicenter of the Bahian universe. SENAC is a national Brazilian institution which teaches vocational skills in centers throughout the country, and the Salvador Restaurant-School is part of SENAC's cooking faculty in Salvador.

The restaurant was opened in 1975, and since then has served as an introduction to classic Bahian cuisine to hundreds of thousands of tourists and as a review of the riches of the cuisine to local residents. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, and is invariably very busy, although it's almost always possible to get a table fairly quickly. (One thing to note - there are, in fact, two SENAC buffets housed in the same mansions. On the street level is a small buffet that serves standard Brazilian dishes, those that can be found in almost any pay-by-weight restaurant in Brazil. The Bahian buffet is up two flights of stairs on the top floor of the house.)

As the restaurant fuctions as a teaching facility as well as a restaurant, the cooks, bartenders and wait staff are all students at SENAC working under the supervision of the faculty's teachers and professors. Because of its non-profit status, the school's charge for the unlimited-serving buffet is a reasonable R$40 (about USD $20). There are cheaper Bahian restaurants in town (and there are definitely more expensive, too), but at no other will you be able to sample such a wide variety of Bahian dishes in a single location. Every day there are at least forty dishes available on the buffet, including an amazing selection of traditional desserts, something that Bahian cooks have been noted for for centuries. The number of dishes one can sample is limited only by one's appetite and capacity. You'll find abará and acarajé, of course, but also almost a dozen types of moquecas - everything from traditional standards like fish and shrimp up to moqueca de fato (fato meaning entrails). There are numerous rice and bean dishes, steamed fish and vegetables, sweet potatoes, various treatments of manioc and three or four traditional Bahian pimentas (hot sauce). A word to the wise when it comes to SENAC's pimenta; the restaurant makes no concessions to non-Bahians' limited tolerance for hot peppers. SENAC's hot sauces are very hot indeed, so be careful.

The service staff is hardworking and earnest, though it must be said that as it is composed of students, the service isn't always what one might call polished or speedy. But what the waitresses and waiters may lack in velocity they make up for in charm and friendliness.

The food at SENAC is good, at times very good. It may never be the best Bahian food on the planet, but it is the spot for newcomers to Bahian food to discover which dishes they love, which ones they like and which they'd prefer not to return to. A visit to SENAC should be made early in one's trip to Salvador. Later, in other restaurants, armed with what you learned at SENAC, you can knowledgeably read a Bahian menu and revisit those dishes that particularly appealed to you.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A quick apology

Flavors of Brazil hasn't posted new material for the past week, and we'd like to apologize to those regular readers of the blog who might have checked in with us once or twice during the week and found that there was nothing new to read

A domestic move resulted in a lack of internet service for most of last week - thanks to great customer service on the the part of our (unnamed) Internet Service Provider, we spent two afternoons and a morning at our new home waiting for the promised arrival of an installer to get us back online - to no avail. No one came. It was only on our fourth attempt, Friday afternoon, that someone did show up and reconnected us to the Internet universe.

So, as they say in Portuguese "desculpem". (Sorry) We'll be back tomorrow, Monday, with a regular schedule of postings. We'll wrap up our series on the gastronomy of Salvador, then move on to some new topics.

Thanks for visiting Flavors of Brazil, and thanks for your patience.

Friday, October 12, 2012

On the Road - Salvador - Pt. 6 - Museum of Bahian Gastronomy

The Museum of Bahian Gastonomy, Largo do Pelourinho, Salvador
Located in a beautiful historic house on the most famous square in Salvador, the epicenter of Bahian culture Largo do Pelourinho, the Museum of Bahian Gastronomy (Museu da Gastronomia Baiana in Portuguese) testifies to the importance of food and cooking to Bahia's cultural identity. Opened in 2006, the museum was the very first gastronomic museum in Latin America and one of the first in the world.

Managed and operated by SENAC, a Brazilian vocational institute with branches in all major cities in Brazil, the museum is conveniently situated next door to SENAC's Faculty of Gastronomy with its famous Bahian training restaurant.

dendê display
Although the museum is small, the exibits are very well displayed with all notations and graphic material in both Portuguese and English. Display cases showcase antique cooking utensils and equipment as well as porcelain and silverware for table service. Ingredients which are essential parts of the Bahian pantry - things like grated coconut and dendê palm oil are displayed and technique for extracting and using them are demonstrated.

One door down, in the neighboring structure, the museum operates a small bookstore with an excellent supply of books on Bahian and other Brazilian cuisines, including an almost complete selection of SENAC's own cookbooks. Although most of the books are in Portuguese, those published by SENAC have English translations of their texts and recipes at the back of the book, something which is of great benefit to foreign travelers. The bookstore also has a small espresso bar.

The house on the other side of the museum, on the uphill side of the sloping Largo do Pelourinho, contains the SENAC cooking school and restaurant. Next post in our On the Road - Salvador series will feature both.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On the Road - Salvador - Pt. 5 - Dona Mariquita's Moqueca do índio

Among the numerous "endangered" dishes to be found on the menu at Restaurante Dona Mariquita in Salvador, Bahia, is an intriguing appetizer called Moqueca do índio (Indian Moqueca). (Click here to read more about endangered dishes) The dish is described on the menu as "Pititinga roasted in banana leaf with toasted manioc crisps", but there's much more to the story of the dish than that.

Pititingas are very small silver fish found throughout northeastern Brazil - small enough that they fit in the palm of your hand. In this dish they are combined with spices and hot chili peppers, lots of them, wrapped in fresh banana leaves, roasted over coals in a tin-can oven and served with small crispy manioc crackers as an appetizer. The dish is very spicy, smoky and with a pronounced but not overwhelming fishy flavor that is balanced by the blandness of the manioc crackers. At Dona Mariquita, the moqueca is served with the fish still in its banana leaf, surrounded by crisps. Diners simply place a couple of fish on a crisp and pop the whole thing in their mouth.

According to the restaurant's website, moqueca do índio was once common in Salvador where it was one of the traditional staple dishes of the baianas who have sold acarajé on the streets of the city since time immemorial. Today the dish has completely disappeared from Salvador, except at Dona Mariquita. In the rural districts of Bahia that surround the Bay of All Saints, from which Bahia gets its name, traditional foodways have survived longer than they have in the capital,however, and it was in those districts that Dona Mariquita's owners rescued the recipe and returned it to Salvador, where it once had been so popular.

According to the bible of Brazilian historic gastronomy, História da Alimentação no Brasil, by Luís da Câmara Cascudo, moquecas (roasted or stewed fish and seafood) were eaten by indigenous tribes in Brazil long before the arrival of Europeans in the middle of the second millennium, and can lay claim to be among the most ancient dishes of Brazilian gastronomy. Thanks to the effort of Dona Mariquita you can still eat this most primitive, and most delicious, dish at her eponymous restaurant. It behooves the diner to consider the immense age of this recipe and to hope that although Moqueca do índio may be endangered, it will not become extinct.

Monday, October 8, 2012

On the Road - Salvador - Pt. 4 - Dona Mariquita's Endangered Dishes

Walk down the long narrow one-way street called Rua do Meio in Salvador's happening Rio Vermelho neighborhood, away from the leafy Largo da Mariquita square which is home to Dona Cira's best-in-the-city acarajé stand, and you'll eventually come across a small unprepossessing restaurant named Dona Mariquita. It's on the right as you leave the square and is adorned only with a simple sign with its name. It's easy to miss, or at least it was for our taxi driver on the windy and rainy night we visited Dona Mariquita recently. He had to circle around and try a second time, but armed with the address and a trusty GPS we were able to find it second time around.

Even on a damp, raw evening - a rarity in tropical Salvador - the interior of the restaurant radiated warmth, human warmth. We were greeted with a smile by the entire waitstaff (it was still early, at least by Salvador standards), given our choice of seats and were helped to settle in, candles were lit. and menus were distributed. All of which made the effort we'd made to locate Dona Mariquita on such a stormy night worthwhile. The large room felt indeed like shelter from the storm.

Dona Mariquita had been on our to-do list for Flavors of Brazil's gastronomic tour of Salvador, Bahia ever since we'd begun planning the trip a couple of months ago. It's not the most famous restaurant in the city, nor the most chic. Neither does it perpetually top social network review sites. But with limited time, we'd chosen Dona Mariquita for one of our dinners - our "traditional Bahian cuisine" dinner - for one reason. Just as Diane Fossey provided sanctuary and shelter in Africa for her beloved gorillas, or as ethno-musicologist Alan Lomax recorded folktunes and spirituals as sung by black field hands in the Southern USA before they were lost forever, Dona Mariquita has as its purpose the preservation of "endangered dishes" of traditional Bahian cuisine. We wanted to see and taste the work of this interesting gastronomic project.

Dishes and recipes, as with any other cultural object, don't always have an unlimited lifespan. Whether it's Bahian food we're talking about, or Russian, or Chinese, dishes disappear from kitchens, tables and menus of even the most traditional gastronomic cultures to be replaces by new ones. In medieval Europe, swan was a traditional banquet centerpiece, though it's almost never eaten today. Italian pasta sauces from the same period, before explorers brought tomatoes back from the New World, have been changed radically by the arrival of that fruit. Bahian food is no exception to this rule, and some dishes that were common in earlier times are just not to be found in 21st-century Salvador, or anywhere else in Bahia - except at Dona Mariquita, that is.

The restaurant's "mission statement" which is published in Portuguese on its website says:
Opened on November 23, 2006, Dona Mariquita has as its purpose the preservation of traditional regional dishes of Bahia; dishes once served at fairs and festivals, street food, what you might call "roots food."...
Returning from a voyage to our gastronomic origins, Dona Mariquita has rescued original recipes and ingredients, bringing seafood from the Recôncavo da Bahia (the region surrounding Salvador), as well as seeds and leaves, blending together indigenous, African and countryside
influences in search of the true flavor of our history. (translation by Flavors of Brazil)

Arroz de Hauçá
On the website, there is a very interesting article about the restaurant's efforts to preserve Muslim elements in Bahian culture, an influence that generally goes unnoticed in most discussions of the food of Bahia. Many of the black Africans who were forceably brought from West Africa to Brazil to slave on the colony's sugar plantations and in its mines were Muslims. Over time and under pressure from Catholic owners and authorities, most of these slaves became Christians in Brazil, and their Muslim heritage was lost or hidden. The restaurant features some dishes that can be traced back to Muslim West Africa, dishes like Arroz de Hauçá, variations of which are still common in Africa.

Dishes which are under the restaurant's protection are identified as such on the restuarant's extensive menu, which also features many of the non-endangered jewels of Bahian gastronomy such as Xinxim de Galinha and Moqueca de Peixe. We were unable to sample them all, due to limited time and stomach capacity, but did make sure that our menu choices focused on those dishes that, but for Dona Mariquita's efforts, might have disappeared entirely from Bahia's gastronomic history. Our next post  in this series will focus on these dishes. 

In the meantime, we applaud Dona Mariquita's noble effort and encourage readers of the blog who might be in the neighborhood in the future to do themselves the favor of enjoying the restaurant's unusual dishes while surrporting the preservation of Bahian food history at the same time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

On the Road - Salvador - Pt. 3 - The FIFA/McDonald's Scandal

It's hard to overstate the cultural value of the humble acarajé to the citizens of the Brazilian state of Bahia. This unprepossessing, fist-sized black-eyed-pea fritter has become the icon of Salvador in much the same way that the Eiffel Tower represents Paris, or Guiness represents Ireland. When tourists and returning locals exit the Salvador airport terminal on the arrivals level, they are immediately greeted by the unmistakable aroma of acarajé frying in a pot of dendê oil - the sidewalk in front of the terminal is home to several stands of baianas selling acarajé. That haunting aroma, the marvelous taste of the fritter and the traditional and ritualistic way in which it is sold are cultural touchstones of Salvador, and have been recognized by all levels of Brazilian government as important cultural patrimony worthy of protection.

So what does acarajé have to do with FIFA, McDonald's and the scandal referred to in the title of this post? As the governing organization for the 2014 World Cup of Football/Soccer, which will be held in Brazil, FIFA has control over many aspects of the Cup. Things like stadium capacity and required facilities, transportion of players and sponsorship of the Cup. Because the McDonald's corporation is one of the largest corporate sponsors of the World Cup, FIFA wants to prohibit the sale of acarajé within 2 km (1.2 miles) of Salvador's Fonte Nova stadium during the World Cup, in order to protect the interests (and hamburger sales) of McDonald's.
Could this....

become this???
This potential disruption of acarajé sales has created an uproar in Salvador. Rita Maria Ventura dos Santos, the president of Associação das Baianas de Acarajé e Vendedoras de Mingau (Abam), the official association of acarajé vendors, calls prohibiting sales of acarajé "absurd." She notes that at present there are eight acarajé stands within 2 km. of the stadium, and wonders what will happen to the women who own these stands when the Cup comes around. Community groups in Salvador are calling for a boycott of McDonald's to protest the move, and news of the prohibition and the boycott is spreading rapidly across all the Internet social networks.

The FIFA/McDonald's prohibition has not been confirmed yet by the Brazilian organizing committee or by Salvador's municipal authorities. The Bahia state Secretary in charge of World Cup arrangements has been quoted as saying no decision has yet been made, but will only confirm that the role of baianas and of acarajé in the World Cup is "under consideration."

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On the Road - Salvador - Pt. 2 - The Joy of Abará

As Julie Andrews once warbled, "Let's start at the very beginning, A very good place to start...". So, we're beginning our reportage on our recent visit to Salvador, Bahia with the item that's always first (alphabetically, at least) in any list of traditional Bahian dishes - abará. It's hard to think of anything that might proceed abará in an alphabetical listing of dishes - except aardvark, and they don't eat aardvarks in Bahia.

 Abará  is one of the foods that is most closely associated with the Afro-Brazilian religion of Bahia, Candomblé, and it's also one of the items that can always be found for sale by baianas, the traditionally-dressed black women who sell Bahian food, most notably acarajé, on streets, squares and beachfronts of Salvador.

In the rituals of Candomblé, which preserve the religious traditions brought from Africa to Brazil by slaves, abará is a favorite food of the orixá (divinity) Iansã, and offerings of food made to her invariably include abará. Iansã is the orixá of the River Niger in Africa, and of the wind, hurricanes and tempests. She is considered to be one of the most agressive of the female orixás and has dominion over the dead. In the syncretic tradition of linking orixás with saints of the Catholic church, she is identified with Santa Barbara and is worshiped as such in the Catholic churches of Bahia.

 There's nothing complex or complicated about abará - it's not a fancy or delicate food. But it does combine many of the most important ingredients of the Bahian pantry, which was large inherited from Africa. Basically, an abará is a soft batter made from black-eyed pears, flavored with bright orange dendê palm oil and cooked by being steams in a banana-leaf package. Sometimes ground dried shrimps are added to the batter for additional flavoring, but this isn't obligatory. Readers familiar with Mexican tamales will have a very good idea of what an abará is, as the two dishes are very similar. They differ in the mass used to create the dough - ground corn in the case of tamales and ground black-eyed peas in the case of abará. Although tamales are often stuff with a meat or chicken filling, abarás are not and resemble most closely those unstuffed tamales called "blind."

The list of ingredients that go into making abará is almost identical to acarajé. Both are based on the same batter, though in acarajé the batter is deep-fried in dendê whereas abará is steamed rather than fried and a small amount of dendê is stirred into the batter to flavor it. This makes abará slightly more healthy eating than acarajé, though it could never be considered health food.

In Salvador we sampled  abará at the famed Bahian buffet of SENAC, the public-private vocational school that can be found in any city in Brazil. In our next post, we'll look at the 40+ dish SENAC buffet in more detail. It's an edible encyclopedia of Bahian cuisine and an essential part of the Salvador experience.

(Click here for a recipe for abará  from an earlier posting on Flavors of Brazil).