A specialty of Bahia, this is a bean fritter made from black eyes peas (feijão fradinho) grinded with garlic and onions and then fried in dendê oil. Acaraje looks like a big oval meatball with a dark brown crust and a grainy soft bean puree on the inside. When the fritter is fried, the baianas split it in half with a serrated knife and ask what kind of filling you would like. The options are: a salad of red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and red peppers; vatapá, or caruru, made with okra, dried shrimps, coconut, cashews and peanuts.
Açai’s look is similar to a blueberry in color and size, with a seed the diameter of a pea. One berry holds very little pulp, but fortunately, the fruit grows like a weed, on a type of palm tree with a slender trunk generally 25 meters high. Just about every part of the tree can be used: the fruit and its seeds, the roots, the hearts of palm, and the fruit stalks. But the most esteemed harvest is the fruit itself, which produces the açaí juice, extracted by a process of maceration. Once harvested, the fruit must be quickly processed due to its quick fermentation. The berries are soaked in warm water to soften and loosen the flesh from the seeds. Most of its production is handled by American and European companies that boasts hydro powered cleaning, de-pulping and pasteurizing machines as well as freezers that are stacked with barrels of frozen puree that are shipped to the United States and Europe. These companies installed headquarters in Brazil, most specifically in Belem, the capital of Pará. Brazilians have long enjoyed the unusual taste and nutritional benefits of açaí berries as a staple in our diet, but this miracle fruit only made a buzz into the United States after best-selling author and dermatologist Nicholas Perricone listed açaí at the top of his list of 10 anti-aging foods. He stated, “The açaí berry is one of the most nutritious and powerful foods in the world…nature’s perfect energy fruit.” From Dr. Perricone to Oprah Winfrey’s show, the fruit is now among top supermarkets trends according to trend-spotting firms. The most common way Americans consume açai is in mixed drinks, smoothies and beverages, and I am the first one to admit that I became addicted to them, thanks to companies like Sambazon, Bossa Nova, and Bom Dia – applauds for them, açaí drinks are ready available in regular supermarkets everywhere. In Brazil, we like to eat açaí cold in a bowl with granola. Or, we like to use it in recipes for sauces (like Talapia with Açai Sauce), mousses, fudge, etc. For cooking purposes, the fruit must be bought in its frozen pulp version, then thawed before using.
From the Indian vocabulary, angú refers to corn flour prepared in a soupy way with water and salt. In the US, we could easily use polenta whenever you see a recipe that calls for angú.
A creamy sauce from Bahia, prepared with coconut milk, egg yolks and sugar. It can be served as a sauce or as a pudding eaten by it self, depending on the consistency. (Recipe for Baba de Moça is in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook.)
A small chocolate fudge ball, made with condensed milk and chocolate, rolled in chocolate sprinkles. (Please find recipe in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook.)
A shrimp stew prepared with coconut milk and yucca among many other ingredients (like garlic, onions, fish stock, etc). In this dish, the yucca is mashed and used as a thickening agent (Please find recipe in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook).
It’s pretty much the Brazilian version of chicken soup. It’s made with rice instead of noodles (Please find recipe in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook).
Jerk meat is a huge part of Brazilian cooking. In Portuguese we also call it carne de sol, referring to dried, and salt cured meat. Most jerk meats comes from a lean cut, such as a top round, because too much marbled fat (what gives that buttery richness we want in our cooked meats), makes the dried meat too tough. Most pieces of jerk meat are cut against their grain to make them tender rather then leathery. While many of the ingredients found in the US are very comparable to those found in Brazil, jerk meat is the exception so it might taste a little different from the one eaten in Brazil. In most Brazilian stores in the US, you will find a version of carne seca, that has been made in- store, but it’s still a good product. Weather you use carne seca or any jerk beef, most likely you will have to reconstitute the meat by soaking it in cold water and changing the water.
This is a popular dish in Brazil made with crab, onions, garlic, coconut milk, and bell peppers. It is prepared in a crab shell, topped with a light farinha de mandioca crust and baked in the oven. (Please find recipe in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook.)
Is the Brazilian version of barbecue. Although it is characteristic of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, churrascarias are spread all over the country serving different cuts of meat seasoned only with rock salt and roasted in skewers over fire. In most churrascarias, there is no limit to how much a person can eat. Typical side dishes are white rice, farofa, and vinaigrette.
Cachaça is a distilled beverage from Brazil, as important to the country as vodka is to Russia and tequila is to Mexico. Essentially it is an aguardente- a spirit distilled from fruits or vegetables- in this case, the juices of the sugar cane. Cachaça is different from rum though, which is made from the molasses.
The most famous Brazilian drink, it’s prepared with cachaca, lime, sugar and lots of ice. (Please find recipe in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook.)
The king of the jungle fruits, this large, melon shaped, dusty browned fruit is a sister of Theobroma cacao, which gives us chocolate. Its flesh is sweet and very aromatic. (Please find recipes using cupuaçú in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook.)
This oil is the mainstay of Bahian cuisine, and is the product extracted from the dende palm tree, which was brought to Brazil by African slaves, back in the XVII century. The fruit and the pit are used in two different ways. The dendê oil used in cooking is extracted from the fruit pulp; first it is cooked in steam, then it is dried completely in the sun. Following this process the fruit is crushed to release its oil. It is very normal to see some sediment on the bottom of each bottle. To make it liquid again, simply place the bottle of dendê in a bowl with warm water and let sit for 20 minutes. The result is a bright orange-red colored oil. The pit is also used to extract oil of a different kind, with a transparent color, mostly used for cosmetics for its similarity to cocoa butter. The dendê palm tree is one of the most oleaginous in the world, producing more oil then soybeans, peanuts or coconut. It grows abundantly in the state of Pará, Amazon and Bahia.
Although very similar in concept, empadas are different from empanadas- the half moon shaped turnover from Argentina well known in Latin cuisine. The word comes from the Spanish verb empanar (the same word in the Portuguese language), which means – “to wrap in dough”. They are a common snack all over the continent, and fillings range from chicken, meat, cheese, spinach, and beyond. The difference between the Brazilian and Argentinean version is the shape and the method of cooking; in Brazil the mold for empada (formas de empadas in Portuguese) is quite similar to a muffin mold of different sizes: small (called empadinhas), medium (empadas) or large (empadão). The top is also covered with dough, just like a double-crusted pie. The naming of the pastry is different again, depending on the cooking method; the half moon shaped pastry is called either pastel when it’s fried or burreca when it’s baked, which further depends on the dough used. If this is too much fuss about the name and shape, don’t be bothered by it. What matters is that this is a delicious savory deep dish tart. Common fillings are chicken with catupiry, shrimp, hearts of palm, and cheese.
First, let’s clarify: farofa is the name of the dish , farinha de mandioca is the name of the ingredient. Most Brazilian eat manioc flour on a daily basis in farofa dishes, but very few care to know where it comes from or how to make it, since it’s such a staple pantry ingredient with a long shelf life. Farinha de mandioca (in English manioc flour) is made from the yucca vegetable. The vegetable is ground in a food processor, squeezed in a cheese-cloth to remove any liquid, pressed into a tight block, and wrapped again in cheesecloth. It sits at room temperature with bricks on top for 24 hours. The next day, the vegetable is unwrapped, sifted, and spread in a flat tray to air-dry for another 24 hours. The following day, it is lightly toasted on a skillet over low heat. Farofa is one of the most common side dishes in Brazil. It is served even when there is already a carbohydrate on the plate. Basically, farofa is manioc flour cooked in butter until it becomes lightly golden brown. Many times, onions, garlic, scallions, and other spices are mixed in. In my opinion, farofa is great by itself when mixed with lots and lots of other ingredients. As a side dish, however, I find that farofa absorbs all the juices from any liquid or sauce with a tendency to dry it out. So, more often than not, I recommend not using farofa as a side dish and going with something like-rice. (Please find recipe in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook).
One of the most famous dishes from Brazil, the Feijoada is a stew of black beans with lots of different kinds of meats cooked inside. In Brazil we use a wide variety of meats including pig’s feet and pig’s ears. Finding the specialty meats for feijoada can be difficult (see sources) but the most important thing is to use a combination of salted, smoked and fresh. A typical Brazilian Feijoada is served with farofa, collard greens, and orange sections. Like churrasco, it’s mostly consumed as a combination of lunch and dinner. (Please find recipe in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook.)
Very close to the cherimoya, this fruit is pricy even in Brazil. Its sweetness is divine and its consistency very creamy. Many chefs use its pulp to prepare exotic ice creams and desserts with this fruit.
This very common fruit in Brazil achieved popularity with the preparation of the very traditional guava paste. Like quince paste, it’s usually paired with cheeses, almonds or even some desserts. The guava fruit is delicious eaten plain and extremely healthy.
Looks like a blueberry but it tastes nothing quite like it. This amazonian fruit is larger and pulpier then an American berry. It has a very sweet and sour taste and it’s commonly used in the preparation of ice creams and jellies.
Is a type of sausage typical from Portugal and brought to Brazil during colonial times. Today linguiça is the most adored sausage in Brazil served in churrascarias (our barbecue restaurant) as an hor’s doeurvres, and in dishes such as feijoada, farofas, soups, and braises. The robust sausage is made from cured pork meat and flavored with onion, garlic and condiments. When cooking linguiça, never polk a the link – you don’t want any fat to escape, as this is what makes the linguiça taste so moist and tender in the center. If you can’t find it, you can use chorizo or fresh sausage as well.
A small and very hot red bell pepper native to Brazil and very typical in our cuisine. It’s quite hard to find it here in the US so I often use paprika and cayenne in my recipes because they remind me of pimenta malagueta. The truth is there is a world of small bell peppers (technically, they are a berry fruit) that are interchangeable and used as a condiment. From cayenne, to jalapeno, malaguetta or habanero, all these peppers are hot and full of seeds inside.
This root vegetable has many other names: cassava and yucca in English, aipim and mandioca in Portuguese (don’t ask me why). The preparation and use of this vegetable is as wide as one can imagine: flour, tapioca, povilho doce, povilho azedo, pirão, tucupi and couscous, are just a few of the many uses of mandioca.
A fish stew prepared with coconut milk and dendê oil. There are many variations of this Bahian dish: shrimp moqueca, crab moqueca, fish moqueca, and even, in my cookbook a Chicken and Plantain Moquecaso on.
Is our version of peanut butter, though it is not puréed and spreadable but rather the peanuts are crumbled then pressed with manioc starch and wrapped as a candy.
Thanks in large part to the popularity of Brazilian all-you-can-eat steakhouses called Churrascarias, Americans are paying more attention to this wonderful vegetable. Hearts of palm (or palmito in Portuguese) is a vegetable harvested from the inner core of certain palm trees such as juçara, açaí and pejibaye. It has a nutty, almost artichoke-like flavor, an interesting texture, and it pairs well with an almost endless variety of ingredients. It can be found in a regular supermarket in either a can or a jar, preserved in a citric-acid solution. In Brazil the most praised kind of palmito is the pupunha, from yet a fourth kind of palm tree called pupunheira, typical in the Amazon region. It is much larger and meatier then the ones we find here in the US in cans or jars. If you ever go the Brazil, please make sure you try the fresh palmito pupunha!
Half moon shaped fried dough. It can be filled with a variety of combinations, sweet or savory.
Sweet custard made from coconut, egg yolks and sugar. It’s usually served individual, though it can be prepared in a spring form pan- is then called quindão. (Please find recipe in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook.)
Originated in the state of Minas Gerais, this dish is another variation of meat and beans. Here, the beans are crushed and thickened with manioc flour and served with meats like pork, oxtail, sausages, and cabbage.
A fish puree prepared with fish, coconut milk, ground cashews and peanuts, dendê oil, tomatoes, onions and garlic. (Please find recipe in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook).
A stew with simple ingredients and an exotic result. This favorite Bahian combination of chicken and shrimp comes in a creamy sauce with lots of coconut milk, ground cashews and peanuts, tomatoes, onions and garlic, etc.(Please find recipe in The Brazilian Kitchen cookbook.)