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Do you hear that?! It’s getting closer… My God! Your hips… why are they moving like that… it must be… The Samba! Phew, don’t be alarmed, we are just in Brazil and that reaction is perfectly normal, I think.

Brazil is a huge country with a lot of people (5th in population and 5th in area), and although one of the largest energy consumers in the world, much of their power comes from renewable sources, including the largest hydroelectric plant in the world (Itaipu Dam). I’m going to assume you know basic facts like that it is the only South American country to speak Portuguese. Let’s start with a different part of its founding instead. So… which Age of Discovery conquistador claimed Brazil for Portugal? Henry the Navigator? Magellan? Da Gama? Nope… Pedro Álvares Cabral. Exactly, I have no idea who that is either. He was your run of the mill nobleman, military commander, explorer of the time, who was on the heels of Da Gama’s newly found route around Africa. In 1500, he took his fleet further West and discovered what is today Brazil. He has the distinction of possibly being the first human to touch four continents. To settle the claiming of South America between Spain and Portugal, the Pope famously drew a line down the middle, and the land to the East (Brazil) went to Portugal.

Unless you are a trivia buff or just memorized all the world capitals for no good reason, it may surprise you that Rio de Janeiro is not the capital. However, it was the temporary capital of Portugal after 1808 when the royal family fled Lisbon ahead of Napoleon’s invasion. Since 1960, Brasilia has been the capital, a city built at great expense for just this purpose.

When it comes to eating in Brazil, they love their beef. They overtook Australia as the leading beef exporter in 2003 and were only passed this year by India (yes…I know, India… apparently, India exports mostly buffalo which counts as beef in the rankings, but still). So you will be shocked I’m sure to find, not only no beef in my recipe, but no meat at all! This was a bit of a turn for me, but I feel like these dishes gave me a chance to alter the common image of Brazil.

So I made a creamy yam soup that actually does not have any cream in it, and what is affectionately referred to as “tasty sawdust”: Farofa. The yam or sweet potato soup is straight forward and delicious. By blending the yam all the way to the point of puree, the starchiness thickens the dish so there is no need for dairy. The Farofa… is interesting. That is really an understatement but true none-the-less. It is extremely dry and sticks in your throat, the flavor and texture are fascinating though. By using tapioca flour, it absorbs all the moisture from the butter, egg, and onion making a unique kind of paste. I took the dish a step further to farofa tropeiro by adding in some black beans. I’m glad we made it and it did taste good but I’m not sure I will ever get the feeling of that texture out of my mouth. But still, I encourage you to give it a try because you might get something different out of the experience and that is why we are all here in the first place.

I will see you next time in Brunei… the go-to place when you absolutley, positively need a Sultan immediately.

 

  


 

Creamy Yam Soup (Sopa de Cará)

6 servings

Ingredients:

1 lb yam or sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed
6 cups beef stock (or vegetable stock))
3 Tbsp Italian parsley (optional)

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Directions:

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil, then add the chunks of yam and cook for five minutes. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook for about three minutes, or until the onions are soft and starting to become clear. Add the stock, bring to a very slow boil, and cook until the yams are very soft and tender.

Rremove the yam chunks from the broth. Using a potato masher, puree the yam completely, then stir the puree back into the broth. Add the cubes of tomato and cook for a five minutes. Turn off the heat and let the soup stand on the stove for about 3 minutes, then serve in bowls or mugs, sprinkling chopped parsley on the surface if desired.

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Farofa

6 servings

Ingredients:

Black Beans (optional)
1 onion
7 oz. tapioca/cassava flour
2 tablespoons of butter
2 eggs

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Directions:

  1. Melt the butter in a medium-hot pan, then fry the onion.
  2. Add the egg and mix for a moment or two.
  3. As the egg scrambles, add in the flour and mix well to make sure everything is buttery.
  4. Cook for a minute or two then remove from the heat.
  5. Season with salt.

 

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Bolivia…that one South American country you always forget is there (at least that I do). This is really a shame, aside from being one of the only two that are land-locked, it is named for Simón Bolívar, the rebel and freedom fighter who played a huge role in the independence of so many of the South American countries. He was an interesting guy and yet in the US we are taught very little about him or his namesake land. Let’s change that…

First of all, Bolivia’s coat of arms has an alpaca on it, so, right there, it’s better than everyone else’s. If that wasn’t enough it has a lovely palm tree AND a Papa Smurf hat!!! Although, I think the coat of arms predates the Belgian comic…yea that’s right, the Smurfs are Belgian, it didn’t come up when we did that country and now I kind of regret it…but I digress.

2000px-Coat_of_arms_of_Bolivia_(1825).svg

The hat in both instances is actually a Phrygian cap which dates to antiquity. It represents freedom and the     pursuit of liberty, so very appropriate for a country named after Señor Freedom Pants. Bolívar is still a polarizing figure due to his political beliefs. Although he admired American Democracy, he believed it would not work in South America. He thought only a president for life with a firm ruling hand could keep the region under control.

During the Spanish colonial period the country was known as Upper Peru. Its history is littered with instability and the loss of territory to other neighboring countries. Over half of the original lands have been lost. Regardless of its current size, it has the second highest natural gas reserves in South America and has a long term agreement to sell to Brazil. They also produce a lot of coca leaves…for medicinal and religious uses of course. The Pope denied taking some recently to help him cope with the altitudes of the capital… La Paz, not Sucre… Sucre is also a capital…it has two capitals… just deal with it. Instead he said that he opted for nice Mate tea…did the Pope lie??? You be the judge!

Tonight we dine on wrapped up little boys…and no, this is not from the Jonathan Swift cookbook. Niños Envueltos is a really tasty, if difficult to assemble, dish. You are basically using swiss steak/cube steak as the wrapper to put around a host of ingredients. If done correctly, it can be a visually stunning dish and very impressive, and even if not, it still tastes great. The one thing I would do next time would be to pound out the beef even thinner, and make sure it has been out of the refrigerator for some to warm up and make the meat more malleable. Well I just ran out of “M”s after that sentence so I think I will call it a day in Bolivia.

Next time we rendezvous in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I’m sure we’ll have a mouth full no matter what…

 

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Niños Envueltos

3 servings

Ingredients:

6 swiss/cube steaks

1 cup of frozen green peas, defrosted

1 cup carrots, cut into matchsticks

3 eggs, beaten well (mix in a little grated cheese or milk if desired)

1 medium onion (chopped)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 TBS tomato paste

1 tsp paprika

1 bay leaf

Canola oil

1 cup beef broth

1 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

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Directions:

 

  • Cook carrots in pan or microwave until slightly tender, set aside.
  • Cut onion in half then slice into quarter inch slices; set aside.
  • In a large fry pan cook the beaten eggs. Don’t scramble the eggs, let them cook as one large thin sheet.
  • Slice the cooked egg into half inch wide strips; Set aside.
  • Season steaks with salt and pepper.
  • Top each steak with a layer of each ingredient starting with the egg, then bacon, then carrots and peas.
  • Roll the beef and fillings up into a roll and secure meat with toothpicks to prevent unrolling.
  • Brown the beef rolls on all sides in pan with oil.
  • In a pot large enough to accommodate all beef rolls, combine onions, garlic, tomato paste, paprika, beef stock, and one cup water; mix well to dissolve the tomato paste.
  • Add beef rolls to pot; bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover and cook until beef is tender and cooked through.
  • Adjust seasoning by adding salt and pepper to taste.
  • Turn off heat; remove bay leaf; move beef rolls to a platter.
  • Blend remaining liquid and onion mixture with stick blender/food processor/blender until it becomes a smooth sauce.
  • Top beef with sauce.