SO, WHAT IS Brazilian cooking? Fact number one: Brazil is the world's biggest producer and the world's largest consumer of beans. Fact number two: there's an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. Fact number three: Brazil nuts, too. In the perennial farce, Charlie's Aunt, his cover about to be blown, Charlie bluffs that he's been in Brazil. "Brazil," is the memorable response, "where the nuts come from?" Correct. Though in Brazil they are known as castanhas do Para - being the produce of the northernmost Brazilian province of Para.
But nuts, coffee and beans aside, what you eat really depends on where you live. Brazilians in the equatorial north-east don't know the dishes of the cool gaucho south and vice-versa. In the middle there are two of the world's largest cities, Sao Paulo (17 million) and Rio de Janeiro (11 million) where the most fashionable restaurants are French, Italian and Japanese, in that order - Brazilian food not being con-sidered sophisticated enough to attract the well-to-do. In Sao Paolo there are not hundreds but thousands of sushi bars, this city being host to the largest Japanese community outside Japan.
Brazil is the largest country in Latin America, on a par with the United States in terms of size and population. The diversity of climate from north to south equates with the difference between the damp Loire valley and the steaming rain forests and arid deserts of West and Central Africa.
So you find cowboy types cooking steak on grills and barbecues (the churrascaria) in the south like their neighbours in Uruguay and the Argentine. In contrast, in the north, the meat they usually eat is probably carne de sol or carne seco (meats dried in the sun), though otherwise they enjoy a wealth of Amazon fish, wild game from the forest, uncommon vegetables such as chayote and jicama and exotic fruits such as ciriguela (an acid fruit with a stone), graviola (succulent custard apple), jubuticaba (grape-like berries), durian (delicious-tasting fruit with a shocking smell), breadfruit, jackfruit, carambola (sharp-tasting star fruit), not to mention mamao, papaya mango, pineapple, guava, passion fruit.
In the rainforest grows the guarana bush, whose bursting ripe berries stare like unblinking human eyes, giving rise to wonderful fables. When processed, it is the main ingredient of one of Brazil's most popular soft drinks.
But how about the cooking? The national dish is, well, beans and rice. It's called feijoada (fay-sho- ada) and it's a feast of black beans stewed with half a dozen kinds of fresh, smoked and salted meats. It is colourfully served with white rice, yellow farofa meal, green stir-fried kale, and rounds of sliced orange. It is always prefaced by a searingly strong rum sour called caipirinha, made with chopped limes crushed with sugar.
This is a dish which Rio has made its own, but another region of Brazil does boast an elaborate style of cook-ing which is joyfully, exuberantly and uniquely Brazilian. It's known as cozinha Baiana, that is to say, the cooking of the state of Bahia. Bahia is in the north-east, where San Salvador, the first Portuguese capital of Brazil, sits on a great bay, the bahia. It is said to be large enough to accommodate all the world's navies at the same time. Salvador de Bahia became a significant slave trading post through which millions of Africans passed on their way to the Caribbean islands and Louisiana. Over the centuries, a million slaves were retained in Brazil to work the sugar plantations.
There are historians who say that the Portuguese were more sympathetic slave masters than others, having had their own imperial memories of the Moors in earlier centuries. Certainly, some wives of the Portuguese plantation owners would release their women cooks at weekends to sell produce in town. These were mainly sugary, egg-based cakes, the recipes taught to them by convent nuns who had, in turn, learnt them from the Moors, coconut replacing the almonds used in Europe.
This tradition lives on, and Brazil boasts hundreds of similar little desserts with evocative names like Maiden's Kisses, Memories, Longings, Dreams, Sighs, Angel's Cheeks, Angel's Hair as well as comic ones, such as Mother-in-Law's Eyes (olhos de sogra), prunes stuffed with a white of eye coconut mixture - cloves making the pupils.
What we see in Bahia is an early example of Fusion cooking. The Portuguese came to Brazil, annexing the produce of the indigenous Indians, limes, avocados, corn, sweet potato, pumpkins, pineapples and peanuts. And for their part, the Portuguese brought European foods, rice and sugar, olives and olive oil, coriander (the universal Brazilian herb) and, above all, the pig, and thus cured hams and sausages and lard for cooking.
The Africans in their turn introduced several kinds of palm from West Africa, one producing palm-nut oil, a thick, highly-saturated reddish oil known as dende which contributes perfume and flavour to dishes cooked using it.
The coconut palm provided multi-purpose nuts which contain the milk which is such a refreshing and cooling drink on a hot day. The grated white flesh is not only featured in savoury and sweet dishes in its own right, but, soaked in boiling water, it yields "milk", used in soups and stews to moderate the bite of fresh chillies.
Most significantly, since the hot north-east is alien to the growing of wheat or rice, the Africans, needing a starchy base for subsistence, brought over cassava, a hairy, thick, white-fleshed root. Converting it into flour (farinha) or meal (farofa) is laborious because the root contains toxic quantities of prussic acid. It must be peeled, chopped and squeezed free of juices before boiling. Then it's drained, dried and pounded to make a powdery flour, a starchy base for many purees. The coarse farofa, when toasted, is like breadcrumbs, and fried in butter (farofa amarela) is sprinkled, like a condiment, onto many dishes.
The coast of Bahia is rich is sea-food, and the Africans brought with them their techniques for sun-drying fish. Sometimes prawns are brushed with dende oil and part-fry as they dry in the sun. So it was, that when these food cultures and disparate ingredients met, there was a gastronomic Big Bang and Cozinha Baiana was the result.
Today, a visit to the old town of San Salvador is one of the folkloric experiences of the world. Tourists watch spellbound as pairs of bare-chested male dancers perform the capoeira dance, a dangerous ballet as their legs scythe close to each other's necks. It evolved in slave days when fighting was punishable by death and so they settled personal feuds with a fight which they managed to disguise as a dance.
In contrast, a more peaceful form of theatre is in evidence. Turbanned ladies in ballooning white cotton dresses, take up stations at the roadside with trays of delicious snacks. The most prized street food in Bahia is acaraje (a-carra-shay), a bean fritter. Made with soaked black-eyed beans and onion and rolled with ground dried shrimp, it is deep-fried in dende oil. It must be a form of Middle Eastern falafel which has migrated.
More than 90 per cent of the people of Bahia are descended from the slaves, and they cook with gusto. The most popular dishes are seafood and shellfish, fish soups (with coconut milk, lime juice, coriander, chillies) and a simple fish stew (moqueca, pronounced mok-ekka) with sliced onions toma- toes and green peppers, dyed yellow with dende oil.
There are so many piquant dishes; ceviche, raw fish pickled in lime juice with hot, green chillies; sweet and savoury baked stuffed crab (recheados de siri), fried squid (lulu) and grilled fish smothered with a spicy paste.
Fish is sometimes poached and served in a creamy, yellow shrimp sauce known as vatapa, thickened with breadcrumbs, or farofa. Less to European tastes is the leaning to bland purees, using pumpkin and sweet potato. And they love the gooeyness of cooked okra, another food with African credentials.
The food of Brazil is both very hot and not at all hot. For the most part, the fiery element is not cooked into the food, so it's your choice to add or not to add. Every restaurant will serve freshly-made hot chilli sauces or salsas at the table. They are mostly made from the malagueta pepper, a witheringly hot, very small variety native to Brazil, mashed with tomato or onion and lime juice or vinegar and sometimes with some liquid from a stew.
Brazilian food may not be famed around the world, but Brazilians are mad about food, and eat morsels all day long. Salgadinhos, as they are called, are bite-sized snacks, like tapas or hors d'oeuvres. The most common are the empaditas and empadinhas sold on every street; these are baked or fried pastries, stuffed with chicken or ham, cheese, vegetables. At a party the salgadinhos constitute a meal, with dozens of toasts (torridinhas) spread with savoury pastes and mashed prawns or tuna in mayonnaise, deep-fried bolinhos, little mixtures of mashed potato and chicken, or tuna or dried cod (bacalhau).
In the towns and cities most Brazil-ians eat in a lanchonete, a help- yourself bar with a choice of maybe 50 dishes. In some, you may find they operate a rodizio in which waiters circle the room bearing skewered crispy roast chicken, pork or lamb. There will be a chilli salsa on every table.
Desserts are adored in Brazil and served at every meal. A breakfast spread in the Meridien hotel in Copacabana offered caramel pudim (or flan), coconut cream puddings (quindim and quindao), manjar blanco (a deliciously cool wedge of blancmange made with coconut milk), breads made with maize, banana and coconut; and unusual preserves featuring caramelised beetroot, carrot, pineapple, mixtures of pumpkin and coconut, guava paste.
As if the ripe, tingling fresh tropical fruit wasn't dessert enough. In street bars you can stop for juices made with unsweetened fruits and milk shakes prepared with pureed fresh fruit. And you must believe Brazilian sorbets are among the most delicious in the world.
In the UK we're open to every sort of style of cooking, east and west, but Brazilian cooking has barely registered here. Divorced from the picture postcard beauty of Sugarloaf mountain in Rio, away from the wide sandy strands of Copacabana and Ipanema with their athletic beach footballers; away from the mood of Carnival, the beat of the samba and the heat; and detached from the colour of the Bahian people, the magical world that is Brazilian eating quickly fades to a dream. But perhaps when Brazil run out in their famous green and yellow strip this week, for many it will not only be an appetite for football which will be whetted.
The following recipes are extracted from Michael Bateman's `Street Cafe Brazil' to be published next Spring by Octopus Conran
THE NATIONAL DISH
Brazil's feastday dish of beans and rice. Rio claims it as its own, but the origins derive from the plantations where slaves made use of every scrap of meat not utilised by their masters. The pigs' trotters, to be sure, add a gelatinous quality, but you might expect to find, as I did (in the Casa de Feijoada in Rio), along with some luscious cuts of meat, a pig's tail, its ears and snout.
500g/1lb black beans
500g/1lb stewing beef (half might be sun-dried, jerky, or salted beef)
250g/8oz smoked pork ribs
175g/4oz chunk of smoked bacon
2 pigs trotters (and any optional bits, such as ears, tail and especially salted tongue)
175g/6oz chourico (spicy cooking sausage) or chorizo
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large tomato, skinned, deseeded
2 cloves garlic, crushed, chopped,
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
bunch of spring onions, the whites chopped
chilli pepper, deseeded (optional)
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon oil for frying
Rinse and wash beans, then soak in plenty of water overnight. Soak any salted meats overnight in several changes of water to reduce salt content.
Bring beans and meat (except chourico) to boil in large separate pans, with the bayleaf in the meat pan. Turn down and simmer for one hour (both need skimming in the early stages). Remove meats and put them in with the beans and continue to cook for half an hour or until beans are mushy (beans and meat should cook in about the same time). In a frying pan, cook the onions in oil till they change colour, then add the tomato paste, chopped chourico, garlic, spring onions and chilli. Ladle some beans from the cooking pot with their liquid into the pan. Mash up well before returning to the main pan, to thicken the cooking liquid.
To serve, remove all the meats, slice into six pieces so that each guest gets a variety, and lay on a large platter, dribbled with some of the cooking liquid.
BAKED STUFFED CRABS
One of the most popular dishes in Brazil, originating in the north east.
4 medium sized crabs, meat removed, shells retained
125g/4oz grated hard cheese
juice of 2 limes
1 onion, chopped finely
2 large tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed and chopped
sprig of parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
hot malagueta pepper, or a splash of Tabasco to taste
50ml/2fl oz sunflower oil for cooking
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Mix the lime juice with the crab meat and salt and pepper and leave to marinate for 30 minutes. Gently cook the onion in oil till it softens, then add the crabmeat, with tomatoes, parsley, hot pepper and breadcrumbs. Cook for a few minutes to blend flavours, moistening with a little water to stop it sticking. Stir in the chilli or splash of tabasco, and continue cooking for a few minutes.
Preheat oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6. Fill the crab shells with the stuffing, sprinkle with grated cheese. Cook on a baking sheet for 10 minutes or until cheese begins to brown. Serve at once.
MARINATED RAW FISH
The Portuguese and Spanish have always known escabeche, a hot vinegar pickle for cooked fish. This modi- fied version, using very fresh raw fish and lime juice, is universal in Latin-America and is continues to be very popular in Brazil.
Serves 4 as an appetiser or first course
450g/1lb fillets of sea-bass or fine quality fresh fish
For the marinade:
juice of 4 limes (or lemons, or some of each)
1 mild red onion or whites of a bunch of spring onions
2 fresh red chillies
1 clove of garlic, crushed and chopped
2 stems coriander, chopped
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 large tomato, skinned, deseeded and diced
1 stem coriander, leaves kept whole
2 spring onions, white and green, roughly chopped
2 green and 2 red chillies, whole
Cut the fillets in flat strips about 2.5cm (1in) long. Slice onions thinly. Slit red chillies lengthwise and scrape out seeds and membranes. Chop into fine crescents. In a shallow dish, combine the lime juice, onion, garlic, coriander and seasoning. Toss the fish in this marinade, reserving in the fridge for at least 30 minutes but not longer than two hours, until fish turns opaque.
Drain the fish, discarding the marinade. Mix with the tomato, and serve with decorative garnish of quartered lime, coriander leaves, spring onions, whole red and green chillies (for effect).
These delicious titbits are cooked by street vendors in Bahia who set up stall on the pavements, dropping the ready prepared black-eyed bean balls into simmering pans of dende oil, where they quickly cook to golden. Usually served with a creamy yellow shrimp sauce, vatapa (see following recipe).
Makes about 20
450g/1lb black-eyed peas
60g/2oz dried shrimps
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
dende or corn oil for deep-frying
12 teaspoon of malagueta pepper, or cayenne pepper or chilli powder
Soak peas in plenty of water overnight.
Drain, then rub them between your hands vigorously to remove hard skins. In a bowl of water, the skins rise to the surface and can be skimmed off. Cover the dried shrimps in water and soak for 30 minutes. Drain. Chop roughly. In a blender, in small batches, puree the peas, shrimps and onion to make a thick paste. Season with salt (carefully, as the shrimps may be salty) and chilli powder.
In a chip pan or similar, heat a 7cm (3in) layer of dende or cooking oil to 350F/180C. Using a dessert spoon press the paste into compact oval shapes, smoothing them with your fingers. Deep fry in small batches, five or six at a time, so as not to depress the temperature of the cooking oil. After each batch bring the temperature back to 350F and skim off any detached crumbs of bean cake with a slotted spoon. Put cakes to drain on absorbent paper, and keep in warm place such as low oven. Serve as they are or split open with a spicy dipping sauce, a molho de acaraje or a vatapa. At home it's attractive to stuff a crispy fried prawn into each one with its sauce.
CREAMY SHRIMP SAUCE
The most famous sauce of the north-east, served with prawns or poached fish (or both) or accompanying acaraje . Unusually, it is thickened with both breadcrumbs and pounded nuts.
35g/1oz breadcrumbs from a day-old white loaf
70ml/214fl oz coconut cream (first pressing)
600ml/l pint coconut milk (second pressing)
125g/4oz dried shrimps
2 onions and 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
250g/8oz peeled almonds and cashews (half and half) or roasted peanuts, skins rubbed off
2 green chillies, seeds removed, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
300ml/12 pint fish stock (optional)
dende or olive oil
salt and pepper
Soak breadcrumbs in coconut cream. After half an hour squeeze into a pulp. Soak dried shrimps for 30 minutes, drain, and chop. In a little oil, fry onion for 10 minutes over medium heat till starting to colour. Add garlic and cook for one more minute without colouring the garlic. In a blender (or electric coffee grinder) pound the nuts to a smooth paste. Then puree the shrimps with the green chillies. Fry with the onions for a few minutes, stirring well, then add the breadcrumbs, lime juice and seasoning. Pour in the coconut milk and fish stock, and simmer (over a heat diffuser) for 15 minutes while it thickens.
A married couple is the concept of this Sao Paulo dish, the prawns arranged head to tail. They are stuffed and skewered with cocktail sticks before cooking.
Serves 4, 2 pairs each
16 fresh raw unshelled prawns
4-6 limes and quartered limes, to garnish
1 clove of garlic, crushed and chopped
salt and pepper
1 dessertspoon of chopped coriander
30g/112oz farinha de manioc (coarse cassava meal)
butter and sunflower oil for frying
Marinate the unshelled prawns, removing the whiskers, in the lime juice, garlic, coriander and salt and pepper, in a cool place for one hour. Mop dry with kitchen paper. In a frying pan prepare the farofa by heating the farinha de manioc, stirring in butter and cooking till it takes on a golden colour.
With a sharp knife make a deep in- cision the length of the stomach of each prawn, and stuff with the farofa. Using toothpicks, skewer pairs of prawns together, head to tail. Fry in very hot oil for at least two minutes each side till crispy and pink. Serve two pairs to each person, garnished with quartered limes.
PAO DE BANANA
Most home breads in Brazil are made with baking powder rather than yeast. This is one of many tasty fruit breads which Brazilians love.
Makes 1 loaf
250g/8oz white flour
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
125g/4oz unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg, beaten
pinch of salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
12 teaspoon grated nutmeg
12 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g/3oz seedless raisins, dusted in flour
3 tablespoons roughly chopped nuts (Brazil or pecan)
Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4. In a bowl, cream the butter and the sugar, stirring till thick and fluffy, then beat in the egg thoroughly. In another bowl mix the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Mix some of the mashed banana into the egg and butter mixture, beating well, adding the vanilla. Then beat in some of the flour mixture and continue alternately till everything is beaten in. Stir raisins and nuts into the mixture. Pour into a greased bread tin 20cm by 11cm (9x5in) and bake for one hour. Test with a metal skewer for doneness. It should come out clean.
Fresh grated coconut is used universally in savouries, cakes and desserts. This is a classic dish sold in shops everywhere, served in almost every restaurant. The mixture is also put in small cake pattie tins, baked for slightly less time, and known as quindim.
Makes 1 20cm (9in) tart
12 eggs (two whole ones, and the yolks of 10)
600g/1lb 4oz caster sugar
225g/8oz fresh grated coconut
15g/12oz butter, plus extra for greasing
5 tablespoons water
pinch of ground cloves
Beat eggs, yolks and sugar till the mixture thickens. You can do this in an electric blender, allowing a good five minutes. Add grated coconut, the cloves and the melted butter. Beat for one minute more. Add enough water, a tablespoon at a time, to make a stiff dough.
Preheat oven to 325F/170C/Gas 3. Spread mixture on to a buttered non- stick flan tin, 20cm (9in) across. Stand it in a larger pan, filled with hot water to just above half-way up the sides of the flan dish. Bake for 40 minutes, checking towards the end to see if it is done. The top should be dry, and a skewer pushed into will not be sticky. If necessary, bake a few more minutes till done.
Leave to cool for at least 15 minutes before attempting to turn it out. Loosen with a palette knife, then cover with a plate and tip it it out, upside down.
The small quindim can be made in individual cake moulds, and need to be checked for doneness after 20 minutes.
CREME DE ABACAXI
AVOCADO CREAM DESSERT
The avocado is usually considered an ingredient for salad or salsa. But in its homeland, the native fruit of Brazil is enjoyed as a dessert too.
3 ripe avocados
125g/4oz caster sugar
juice of one lime
6 tablespoons of milk
3 tablespoons of port wine
pinch of salt
Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, removing the stones. Spoon out the flesh from the skins, roughly chop, and put the pieces in a bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and lime juice and leave for 15 minutes in the fridge. Place in a liquidiser and blend with the milk and salt. Pass through a sieve, using the back of a spoon. Stir in the port and heap into appropriate glasses. Place in freezer for at least one hour. Serve chilled.
THE FLAVOURS OF BRAZIL
CERTAIN ingredients define Brazilian cooking. The coriander leaf is used in abundance. Like Mexico, the lime is the ever-present souring agent (they grow no lemons but if you have limes, you don't care). The hot malagueta chilli and camaroes - prawns, both fresh and dried are common ingredients. Avocado is used in salads, salsas, and in a dessert blended with sugar and lime juice. Red tomatoes, sweet red onions. Tropical fruit beyond imagining. And coconut. Grated coconut is used abundantly in cakes and puddings. Almost more than any other people Brazilians have made a food culture out of the coconut. Wherever crowds gather, you'll find the coconut vendors and their mountain of young, green coconuts, whose tops they slash dangerously with a machete, to offer you its contents with a straw. We would call the contents coconut milk but they call it agua de coco (coconut water) since coconut milk has another role.
They cover the grated flesh with near-boiling water and leave for 30 minutes, before pressing through a sieve to produce coconut cream. They steep it a second time, and call the second, more dilute liquid coconut milk. So a recipe might call for one, or a combination of both.Reuse content