Hi everyone! I feel like I haven’t posted in forever… well, it’s *only* been 10 days. This is how I know I’m completely hooked on blogging. Life is just not as sweet without it. But I’ve been crazy busy with some very exciting work projects lately, and as a result I have completely and utterly abandoned the kitchen. I barely even know what’s in the fridge these days and have been eating sardines and almond butter for dinner since Sunday. Gasp. It’s completely disorienting. I feel bad, I haven’t even had time to make Freddy a breakfast bread like I usually do every week and he’s one day away from falling back into the comforting arms of gluten.
So I’m here to make amends, with a post I’ve been meaning to write up for a long time now on the quintessential ingredients and foods of Brazil – the Must-tries if you will -, and depending on my inspiration, I might make it a monthly series. So let’s talk about Brazilian gastronomy a little. After a year and a half or so of living here, I have got a pretty good vibe of what the customs around food are here and what the typical ingredients are. Here’s the top 5 of foods and ingredients you just cannot miss on if you are in Brazil or just want to have some fun trying out Brazilian gastronomy.
1. Cachaça: Cachaça is the national Brazilian spirit made from fermented sugar cane. The best cahcaças, as in all spirits, are the traditionally made ones in the regions of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais where you can find very tasty pistachio, cinnamon and banana-flavored cachaças. It is used in higher-end gastronomy to make sauces or desserts, but in a more typical, day-to-day context, you’ll find it in the internationally renowned cocktail, the Caipirinha, made with cachaça, mashed lemon wedges and lemon juice, sugar (or honey) and lots of ice. You can find it anywhere from little street corner bars to fancier places and even in the middle of the day on the beach of Copacabana, and beware, these little babies drink themselves…
2. Petiscos: “petiscos” are the Brazilian equivalent of Spanish tapas. In almost any restaurant menu you’ll have a part dedicated to petiscos. The verb petiscar in portuguese means to snack or to munch. From manioc fries to smoked sausage bits, carne seca (this recipe below) and fried polenta sticks, it’s a common tradition to go out with friends to listen to some live samba music, have some beers and share a few plates of petiscos. My personal favorite is the filé aperitivo, small strips of tender sirloin steak sauteed with onions and parsley.
3. Which brings me to Meat. Lots of it. Brazilians love meat. It’s no surprise that the traditional, national meal in Brazil is Feijoada, a black bean stew made with all kinds of meat parts from pork loin and smoked sausage to chicken hearts, oxtail and tongue. Yum! (Seriosuly, yum if you ask me). There’s an excellent recipe for feijoada on Brazilian Foodie’s blog. Brazil is the place where I learned to cook meat, truly. Not only is it very affordable, but it’s also really that good. Brazilian meat is entirely grass-fed, which makes it naturally high quality and 100% paleo. You can’t go to Brazil without having the experience of a churrascaria, the famous all-you-can-eat meat restaurants where the waiters pass around the tables with huge skewers of all kinds of delicious, juicy grilled meat, steak, spare ribs, chicken wings and pork sausage. One of the biggest weekend traditions for many Brazilian families is to have churrascos, meaning day-long barbecues that start at 12pm and end at 2am or the next day where all kinds of meats are thrown on the grill and shared throughout the day.
4. Cassava (Mandioca): cassava is one of the quintessential ingredients of Brazilian cuisine and replaces the potato as the main source of starch in many parts of the country. Brazilians eat mashed cassava, cassava fries, and transform it into manioc flour for baking or to make a loose flour-like stuffing that goes with meat (farofa), they dehydrate it to make tapioca crepes, and of course it is the base of the famous and inescapable pão de queijo – the Brazilian cheese breadrolls.
5. Açai: Açai is a small berry that comes from the açai palm grown only in certain parts of Central and South America and particularly cultivated by smallholders in the Brazilian Amazon. Açai is known to be a superfood with powerful antioxydant properties and is especially consumed in Brazil for its energizing effect, as an alternative to coffee. Brazilians consume the Açai in the form of “açai na tigela” (litterally: “açai in a bowl”), made of mashed frozen açai pulp (kind of like a smoothie in a bowl) generally topped with banana and granola.
There are so many other ingredients that I wish I could tell you more about and how Brazilians use them such as pumpkin, coconut, seafood, Brazil nut, guava and doce de leite, but I guess I’ll have to wait for another moment because it’s now time to get cooking.
Today’s recipe is a traditional Brazilian recipe from the Northeast region. Carne seca means dried meat in Portuguese, because the Portugueuse missionaries would preserve meat to take along on their long travels throughout Brazil by heavily salting it and drying it. It is like a Brazilian beef jerky and it is typically consumed as a snack (a petisco) sauteed with onions and butter and eaten with bread. In Brazil you will find the dried meat already packaged in most stores though some very admirable people are still keen on making it themselves and drying it up on their clothes lines for two days. Any kind of dried meat will work for this recipe as it is shredded and fried with onions after cooking, only 5 ingredients in total are needed, and I strongly recommend you use a pressure cooker for faster cooking, though I think a slow cooker would also work wonderfully to produce tender meat.
Recipe: Brazilian Carne Seca
1.2 lbs of dried meat (depending on where you live, you might be able to find actual Brazilian dried meat – otherwise any dried meat will do).
2 large onions
3 cloves of garlic
1 liter of water
Coconut oil for cooking
1. Soak the dried meat for 12 hours to desalt it, replacing the water three times
2. Cut the dried meat in two or three large chunks and place in the bottom of a pressure cooker. Add water until the meat is completely immersed, seal the pot and bring to high pressure on high heat. Once the pressure is high, turn heat to medium and cook the meat for an hour. Turn heat off and let pressure release naturally (about 15 minutes).
3. Take out the meat and shred it using two forks, removing and discarding the excess fat.
4. Chop the onion into half-moons and mince the garlic. Heat coconut oil in a large frying skillet and cook the onion for 4 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and the shredded meat and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Do not salt as the meat is already salted, just crack in some fresh pepper and add your favorite condiments for flavor (I put in a dash chili powder and some oregano).