I heard the twist of the lid being loosened followed by the gulping sound of hot, sweet coffee filling the mug. I looked over my shoulder from the bedroom and saw Renato with the neon green coffee thermos by his side, his hand hidden by the steam. His other hand bulged full of the small, coin-like cookies, and he made his way towards the couch. Still peering over my shoulder I watched my husband toss each cookie into his mouth and listened to his hand shuffle the next victim into the slot between his index finger and thumb.
Cravings. Powerful desires for something that, more often than not, link us back to memories, feelings, longings. They can be triggered by anything: a familiar face, a similar taste, the weather. Before when it was just Renato and I, I would try to recreate my cravings for my mother’s cooking and Filipino food, and whatever craving of his that I could not fulfill we would dream about until our next visit to his mother’s house. Now that we live here in the sertão, all my maridão has to do is mention bolacha de nata, and I hear the crack of an egg and the plomp of a cupful of nata (heavy cream) into the bowl, my Brazilian mother-in-law (a whole other post), rushing to her son’s demands.
Bolacha de Nata
Nata is cream…but it’s unprocessed. Nata is that fatty skin that hovers over milk after it is boiled. In its original form it is wholeheartedly unappetizing, however I’ve seen wonders created with this fleshy layer: manteiga de garrafa, requeijão. The idea is to collect the nata everyday after boiling and keep it in the refrigerator. Once there is enough for at least a cup, the secret is to beat the nata until you reach a creamy consistency.
2 cups of nata (or heavy cream)
4 cups of sugar
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of lime zest
a pinch of salt
enough polvilho doce to reach a good rolling consistency (about 1kg)
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, except the polvilho doce, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Slowly add the polvilho doce, cup by cup, until it reaches the right consistency– it should be soft and moldable, but should not stick to your hand. How you form the bolachas is up to you. Some choose to flatten with a fork, others create twists and cones and a variety of other shapes, some create mini-doughnuts. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet and bake in an oven at 375 F for up to 20 minutes.
Or Japonese Potato Salad. Not like I’m into over-generalizing things or anything, and political-correctness aside, when living in the good old US of A, we basically assume all Asian people are Chinese. Maybe that’s me. Anyways, the funny thing is, in Brazil, Chinese is not the generic Asian brand, but Japonese. Brazil is home to the largest number of Japanese people outside of Japan and that’s why, when coming here, I was repeatedly referred to as a japonesinha ou japão. Of course, with all my frescura, I corrected the innocent commentators, “I’m Filipina.” “…………ah, é..?” was the normal response. Okay, I’ll take Japonese.
Since Brazilians have found a way to make vegetables delicious, most of my meals consist of rice, a style of beans, some sort of meat, and a few salads. However, because my husband has the palette of a 12 year old, the only “vegetable” he is willing to eat are potatoes. The best part of this potato salad is that it’s simple, relatively healthy and when you call it “Japonês” it gives it a nonnative, labor-intensive air.
How to Make Maionese Japonês:
1 kg potatoes
2 japonese cucumbers (or 1 large English cucumber), grated (or cut into fine discs)
1 small onion, diced
1 large egg or 4 quail eggs, hard boiled
1/2 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
First, grate the cucumber, mix it with salt and place it in a colander drain the water. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes (whole) and carrots (whole) until fork tender. Remove the skin from both the potatoes and the carrots. With a fork, mash the potatoes (that’s the secret). Cut the carrot into thin, coin-like slices. To the potatoes, add the carrot slices, the diced onion, the shredded cucumber and the hardboiled eggs. Add the mayonnaise, salt and pepper and give it a good mix. Allow everything to marry together in the refrigerator before serving.
Making Your Own Brazilian Pimenta
In Brazil, it’s common to make one’s own hot sauce. It’s not difficult to do and there are so many wonderful varieties of chilis to choose from in Brazil that you can make several for your kitchen arsenal – each one just different enough from the next to earn its own place on the shelf. Even in non-tropical countries, finding fresh chilis isn’t much of a problem these days. Supermarkets sell them, and every type of urban ethnic market will have its own selection. It’s fun to experiment using different chilis. One hot sauce might turn out not to be very hot at all, and the next might be nuclear. Once you’ve found a combination that you like, homemade hot sauce also makes wonderful and inexpensive presents.
The Portuguese word pimenta is used to refer both to the family of plants that are called chilis or chili peppers in English, and to the table-top sauce made from the fruits of these plants.
A tremendous number of different chilis are grown in Brazil, and the taxonomic confusion is enormous. The same pepper might have two different names in different regions – or two totally unrelated peppers might share a single name. To add to the confusion, some common Brazilian chilis are also used in other national cuisines, but with different names. In Brazil, whether in a restaurant or at home, a bottle of pimenta stands in the middle of the table, like salt and pepper might in North America, ready to be used by any one who wants to spice up a dish on their plate. If it’s not on the table at a restaurant, it can always be obtained on demand.
RECIPE – Homemade Hot Sauce, Brazilian Style (Pimenta Caseira)
This recipe for Brazilian hot sauce comes from Brazilian culinary expert Neide Rigo’s marvelous blog Come-se. Search out fresh chili peppers in your hometown, make a bottle or two of Come-se’s hot sauce and guaranteed, you’ll want to send Neide a big obrigado (thank-you). Enjoy. The end result will look like this (the color varies depending on what kind of peppers you use):
For a visually-attractive hot sauce, it’s best to stick to red, orange and/or yellow chilis. Green chilis have can have marvelous flavor but their color darkens and dulls a blended hot sauce. If the color of the sauce isn’t important to you, go ahead and add green chilis.
For the aromatic infusion:
1/3 cup good-quality vinegar, any type (plus more if needed to reach proper consistency)
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup cachaça
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh oregano
1 or 2 fresh leaves basil
1 tsp salt
For the solid ingredients:
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp garlic, finely chopped
3 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
about 5 oz (150 gr) small hot chili peppers, ideally a mixture of two or three types, washed and stemmed
Prepare the infusion – Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat slightly to a slow boil and let boil for two minutes. Remove from heat, cover the pan and reserve.
Prepare the solid ingredients – Heat the olive oil in another pan, add the garlic and fry until just lightly brown – do not let burn. Reduce the heat, add the chopped onion and cook until the onion is transparent and soft, but not browned. Add the chili peppers. Add the infusion, pouring through a fine sieve to remove the solid spices and herbs. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for about five minutes or until the chilis are soft and tender. Remove from heat and reserve, letting cool completely.
Pour the reserved chilis and their liquid into a food processor or a blender. Blend until completely smooth. Remove the cover and let the sauce rest – avoid breathing the fumes if possible. After an hour, pour the sauce into a large measuring cup with a lip, passing the sauce through a fine sieve to remove any solid bits remaining. Add extra vinegar if required to obtain a liquid consistency. With a small funnel, pour the sauce into small bottles. Close the bottle tightly and store the sauce in the refrigerator or on a cool, dark shelf in a cupboard or in the pantry. Before using, shake well, and add to any dish drop by drop testing after each addition for potency and piquancy.
RECIPE - Conserva de Pimenta Malaguetinha
Here’s an alternative (very simple) recipe for those who are interested in making a hot sauce with the solid peppers preserved in the bottle. This recipe is made with just red chili peppers (pimentas malaguetinhas) but you could also experiment with different kinds of peppers. The end result will look something like this (depending on the mix of peppers you put in):
What you will need:
1 sterilized glass bottle/jar
4 chopped garlic cloves
olive oil OR vinegar (white or wine) OR cachaça (you can choose which liquid you wish to conserve the chilis with)
In a bowl, let the peppers soak in water and wash them off. Then, let them dry off. While they are drying, heat the olive oil in a pan, add the garlic and fry until just lightly brown – do not let it burn. Then, put the clean peppers into your bottle or jar, leaving about two inches of room at the top. Pour in the olive oil and the still-hot garlic until your bottle or jar is full to the top. Seal your bottle or jar and keep it in a cool location for around 60 days.
Just How Cold Do Brazilians Like Their Beer?
Brazilians are very particular about beer. First and foremost, it needs to be as cold as possible without being frozen (or maybe just a little frozen is OK), and being served beer that is not this cold is absolutely unacceptable. People in the US don’t seem to care when their beer comes in a glass that feels like it was just pulled out of a piping hot dishwasher. In Brazil, this would be an offense, an outrage, it would be sent back immediately and appologies would be issued. No, I change my mind – in Brazil this scenario wouldn’t even happen. It’s common in Brazilian bars to see large refrigerators behind the bar used only for storing bottles of beer, and most of these refrigerators are branded by one or another of the Brazilian breweries. These fridges normally have a digital thermometer prominently displayed near the top of the door. This allows the bartender or waiter (and discerning customers) to monitor the temperature inside the fridge.
Not only that, but when you order a liter of beer in Brazil, called a litrão to share among friends at the local bar or boteco, it comes hidden in a giant plastic cozy , called a porta garrafa to preserve the “right” temperature for even longer:
When asking for a beer, most will tell the waiter that they want the beer to be bem gelada (well chilled), geladinha (quite cold), or even estupidamente gelada (stupidly cold).
Brazilians, who by the way are the least wasteful people that I know, will throw out a beer if it has been sitting around for too long. Most Brazilians won’t finish the last inch of beer they have in their can (lata) or bottle (garrafa), simply because those last sips are just too warm by the time they get to them. Even the way you hold a beer is important, because if you grasp a bottle of beer in the middle, it will warm up faster. So, you are supposed to hold a bottle of beer by the bico - the neck. This is the correct way to hold a beer in Brazil:
Draft beer in Brazil is called choppe. It is important to remember that in Brazil you can specify the amount of foam, espuma, that you want when you are served your draft beer. “Dois dedos de colarinho” means “two fingers of foam” – a good amount. Most bars in Brazil now also offer the option to order a torre - a “beer tower” which looks like this:
And lastly, in Brazil, ideally even the glasses should be served cold:
Brazil is one of largest beer manufacturing countries in the world, and the most popular beers in Brazil are Skol and Brahma. However there are many others like Bohemia, Itaipava, Devassa, Baden Baden, Nova Schin, Antartica, Kaiser, and Xingu. They also have Heinekin in Brazil, but it is imported and expensive and also thought of as more “high class” among normal people. It isn’t found as often as the other Brazilian beers, Brahma and Skol being ubiquitous in Brazil. Here’s a little guide to the top brands of beer in Brazil:
Brahma: This beer is the top selling beer in the country, most bars with draft beer, will have Brahma as their draft beer. Taste: Low fermentation, very smooth, neutral aroma.
Skol: This beer is big in Rio. Because “cariocas” drink excessive amount of beer, it is quite light and their slogan is “it goes down round (or smooth)” so you wont get sick of it. Personally I think it’s too watery.
Bohemia: The first beer of the country! This beer is light and refreshing. One of my favorites!
Itaipava: This beer is quite similar to Bohemia, however a little more incorporated.
Devassa: This beer was just recently launched about 2 years ago with Paris Hilton as the face of the beer. Its become a great hit in the country, its taste is a little on the bitter side.
Antarctica Original: Very traditional beer, created in 1906, hints towards a bitter tastes, but is quite smooth. The beer comes in a 600ml bottle, it’s a good choice to get at a table with friends.
Brazil also has microbreweries, they are just hard to find on the market. That seems to be changing a bit recently. For example, there is Green Cow IPA, produced by Seasons Brewery, in Porto Alegre and Colorado Vixnu or Ithaca Imperial Stout, from Ribeirão Preto, in the state of São Paulo.These three beers are among the best produced in the country, according to Gordon Strong, president of the Beer Judge Certification Program, a reference in beer contests around the world. He just visited several Brazilian brewing centers and summed up his impressions, published in O Estado de São Paulo. Generally speaking, Strong said that the Brazilian (artisan) beers he drank were mostly correct and he praised both their “basic qualities and boldness”. But he complained that they were served excessively cold in a festival he attended in one of the country’s beer meccas, Blumenau, in the state of Santa Catarina, and that this compromised their balance. Well, it’s just a Brazilian thing I guess.
Oktoberfest in Blumenau
Every year, for half of the month of October, the largely German populated city of Blumenau in the Brazilian state Santa Catarina has hosted the largest German party in Latin America. In international terms, it only loses out to the original Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany and the second biggest in Ontario, Canada.
In 2010, an estimated 600,000 people attended the Blumenau festival, and although 22% less people showed up than in 2009, they drank 25% more alcohol. According to last year’s numbers, each person drank around one liter of beer, an average that’s on par with the event’s bigger brother in Germany.
Although typically from the Northeast, escondidinho is now considered standard, buteco fare all over Brazil. It is probably most comparable to Shepard’s Pie, however the name escondidinho (“little hidden one”) lends itself to an inappropriate amount of naughty jokes (ugh, Brazilians). When I lived in Minas Gerais, I had a friend whose mother was a native Baiana, her escondidinho evidence of her roots. Before I left Brazil last year, my Baiano’s coworker made us dinner and I will never forget the image of the bubbling, cheese covered glass pan with creamy, chunks of meat spilling out of the side. Most of all, I will not forget the way Renato shamelessly filled his dish three times with the hearty concoction, my blood boiling every time he raved about his colleague’s culinary abilities.
Escondidinho is essentially a layer of shredded meat hidden in between two layers of purê de aipim/mandioca/macaxeira (cassava puree) or purê de batata (potato puree), sealed together with layers of cheese. Everyone has their own version: some add pots of requeijão in between layers or swirl the creamy cheese into the purees; some use creme de leite, some add extra layers of cheese and bacon. I’ve made escondidinho de carne de sol (salted beef- classic), escondidinho de carne moída (ground beef) and today, lunch consisted of a very well seasoned escondidinho de frango.
For the cassava puree:
1 kg aipim
2 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
1 small onion, grated
First, peel the mandioca/aipim/macaxeira, making sure to remove the thin, blush-colored layer as well. And for the love of god, peel the root away from you, not towards.
Cut the mandioca in half lengthwise, and then into 4-5 smaller segments. In either a pressure cooker (faster) or a pot of salted, boiling water, cook the mandioca until fork tender. Once tender, the long, stringy fibers of the cassava should come out easily. Remove them and pour out the boiling water.
In a separate pan, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter and add the grated onion. On low heat, allow the onion to cook a bit and next, add 1 cup of milk. Stir until the cream thickens and then toss it into the pot with the aipim. Some people like to puree the cassava in a blender or an emulsifier if you’re fancy, I use a hand held potato masher (or in Brazil, otherwise known as a fork), because I prefier a lumpier consistency.
For the filling:
For a chicken escondidinho, simply boil around 500g of chicken breast. Once cooked, shred finely and sautee with onion, garlic, tomato, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, saffron and toss in a few chopped green olives. If you like, add a touch of creme de leite (heavy cream), to the mix for a creamier filling.
Mounting the escondidinho:
In a heat-proof baking dish, first add a generous layer of puree. At this point you can add a layer of requeijão or catupiry, or even a slice of mozarella cheese. Next, add the meat filling, top with more cheese, one more layer of puree and finish off with an extra-thick layer of cheeses. Finally, allow the cheese to melt and the top to brown in the oven on about 400 degrees.
Serve with white rice and a salad (so you feel less guilty)
Who doesn’t love a good salgadinho? Roughly translated, “tasty little salty things” (tasty was my own literary addition, because they’re delicious), salgadinhos are indispensable at any children’s birthday bash, wedding or post-party munch fest.
I remember Laurena and I navigating our way through the salgadinho counter at the Brazilian bakery in Marlborough, Massachusetts, trying to figure out which golden, breadcrumb coated, meat and cheese filled pastry would be worth the 3 mile jog to follow. I settled on a coxinha and I believe Laurena went for a pastel de carne. Ever since then I dreamed about coxinhas, ate them at every opportunity I could find. If you were to ask me why I love Brazil, I swear to you that coxinhas would be in my top 10, and probably 4 places before my husband.
So when my husband told me that his mother, who used to own and operate a lanchonete, makes coxinhas on the reg., it was a done deal. I didn’t even know people made coxinhas. To me they just appeared in paper-lined, plastic food baskets, perfect and delicious, like Smiley Face Potatoes or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. They just are. People make coxinhas?
And when she finally offered to teach me how to make coxinhas I was apprehensive at first. Did I really want to spoil the magic? I imagined it would be as if the children with the Golden Ticket had entered Willy Wonka’s factory only to find an assembly line of white-coated figures lifting and placing balls of chocolate with their plastic wrapped fingers. But then Renato painted an image of us two sitting in our little kitchen surrounded by bowls of recently fried, sizzling coxinhas full of shredded chicken and catupiry, and I was game.
To make the dough:
If you have homemade chicken stock, use that! If not, a few bouillon cubes in hot water works, or a box of store bought chicken stock is fine as well. Using half a liter of chicken stock, add half a liter of milk and allow the mixture to boil. Good massa is seasoned- taste for salt. Once the liquid is boiling add about 1 cup of flour (these things are always estimated) and stir until the dough forms. If it is too sticky, add some more flour. The dough should be thick and malleable but should not stick to your hands. Hate to say it, it should be playdough-esque.
To make the filling:
First, boil chicken. You can use any part you like, but chicken breast is always good, I’d use about 1 kilo
Once the meat is boiled, remove it from the liquid (reserve this liquid) and with your hands, shred finely.
In a skillet, heat the oil and add chopped onions and garlic. Give it a good stir and add the chicken, more salt and pepper.
Now here, the seasoning is up to you: some people add saffron and cumin and paprika (very Bahia), while some will add a dollop of tomato paste and some garlic powder. If the chicken dries out, add a ladle-full of the reserved chicken broth.
Assembling the coxinha:
Start by taking a small piece of dough and forming a ball. Flatten the ball and in the middle place a small portion of the shredded chicken. Don’t overfill, but don’t skimp out, either…a coxinha lacking in filling is really sem graça. Now, fold the dough in half and then, pinch the two ends together…use your hands to mold and roll the dough into a teardrop (coxinha means “little thigh”) shape. Roll in breadcrumb and fry in hot oil until golden brown.
Some foods are so particular to a small, micro-region, that they remain unmentioned when speaking about the food of a larger, geographical region. Arroz Vermelho (red rice) is one of these foods. Arroz Vermelho is a dish that is neither representative of typical Northeastern cuisine, nor is it part of quintessential Bahian fare. It is, above anything, food of the Chapada Diamantina, or Brazil’s Lost World.
Arroz Vermelho is one of those dishes that has remained traditional. A food of the garimpeiro, it is flavorful and hearty. The rice itself is known for its cholesterol-reducing and diabetes-preventing properties much like brown rice or oatmeal. Often cooked with pieces of carne de sol or beef and eaten for jantar (dinner), arroz vermelho is never served without tangy lime wedges and a peppery hot sauce.
2 cups red rice
300 g carne de sol (or beef seasoned with salt), cut into cubes
6 garlic cloves, smashed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3-4 pimenta de cheiro (fragrant peppers, if unavailable, take one chili pepper and mince)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon saffron
1 teaspoon paprika (or achuete or colorau)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 box beef stock
In a medium pot, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and brown the beef. After 2 minutes, add the vegetables and allow them all to simmer together for about 5 minutes. Next, add the rice and the spices and with a wooden spoon, make sure to stir everything through. Allow the rice to toast a bit, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Add enough beef stock to cover the rice and allow to cook cover, on low heat. Every once in a while stir the rice so it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. As the liquid starts to evaporate, taste a grain of rice, is it crunchy still? pasty? or soft? If it is not soft, continue adding beef stock to the pot until the rice is soft with a porridge-like consistency. Serve hot with a slice of lime and hot sauce.
Dry, salted beef. It doesn’t sound that appetizing – why would I want to eat beef that has been over-salted and left to sit in an only slightly refrigerated butcher shop window? Because it’s delicious. Carne de sol, different, but similar to carne seca and charque, is a food born out of necessity. In this case, lack of refrigeration. While extremely common here in the Northeast, in Minas Gerais, carne de sol was a bar novelty, a salty, fatty accompaniment to an ice cold beer, usually served with fried mandioca (minas) / aipim (bahia). Now, however, carne de sol is a staple in my refrigerator: it lasts long, it can be cooked in minutes and does not require long stretches of marination. So, on a lazy day like today instead of scampering around the kitchen trying to prepare lunch before my husband gets home from work, I waft into the kitchen, heat up yesterdays rice and beans, chop up a salad, fry the boiled aipim from last night and whip up some carne de sol.
The beauty of these meats is that you don’t need seasoning, persay.
500g carne de sol chopped to your liking (strips, cubes, slices…i like strips)
1/2 large onion, chopped in rings
1/2 green pepper, in rings
1/2 large tomato, in rings
In a skillet, heat about two tablespoons of oil and drop in the meat. Once browned on both sides, add the vegetables and dry until transluscent.