In Brazil, Eternal Summer
A Multicultural State Produces Recipes that Mirror its Decades of Colonization
By Habeeb Salloum, A Taste of Homesteading Around the World
I was visiting my relatives on the farm in southern Saskatchewan when a family friend from Brazil remarked, “I can’t stand the cold! I don’t know how you can live in such icy weather. My hands just about froze when I walked out of the house this morning. It’s a different world where I come from. At least, in Brazil, the entire year is an eternal summer.”
I smiled. “The climate is quite different here in Saskatchewan. We seem to literally have an eternal winter with some breaks of good weather.”
A few decades later when on my first trip to Brazil to vacation in Recife, as I stepped off the airplane, the hot weather hit me. At that moment, I remembered the words of our Brazilian visitor while he shivered in the unheated prairie farmhouse in the middle of a Saskatchewan winter.
During my three weeks in Recife, I truly experienced an eternal summer: every day was the same—hot, somewhat humid, and generally pleasant. I did not miss the Canadian cold of February during that winter. Recife seemed like a paradise in the sun.
Built partly on a peninsula and partly on islands, created by the Capibaribe and Beberibe Rivers, and connected by canals and bridges, Recife is often called the “Venice of Brazil.” The capital of Pernambuco State and the most important city of the Brazilian northeast, it is considered to be the soul of the country. A vibrant metropolis that incorporates a combination of the old and new, it is an example of the Brazilian past, but also a window for the future.
With a metropolitan population of more than 3,700,000, Recife, situated at the easternmost point in South America where Brazil bulges into the Atlantic Ocean, is closer to Europe than any other urban center on the continent. The Portuguese first came here in 1548 and the site was briefly held by the British in 1595, then occupied by the Dutch from 1630 to 1654, before it returned to Portuguese rule.
In 1637, the Dutch founded the present day city after they had razed the nearby town of Olinda. In its early years, Recife prospered due to the processing and export of sugar produced in the surrounding large estates by slave labor. At one time it was the center for the slave trade and had huge slave markets where millions of Africans were channeled into the sugarcane fields. These slaves, the indigenous people, and their Portuguese masters intermarried to give birth to the Recifians of today.
This mixture of races gave impetus to great creative activities. Much of Brazil’s popular folk arts, cooking, folklore and music originate in this part of the country. It is also a center for painters and sculpturers but, above all, it is noted for its festivals with their colorful and appealing dancing, music and singing. Outshining by far all these folkloric events is the annual Carnival with its distinctive dancers and singers.
The city is built partially on the mainland and on three interconnecting islands: Santo Antônio, Boa Vista and Recife—all joined by bridges. The most historic of these, and the main commercial center, is Santo Antônio, saturated with traffic-filled narrow streets, ancient churches and office blocks. Boa Vista includes both residential quarters and a commercial section where one can find reasonably priced hotels and entertainment establishments.
Recife is the fourth-largest city in Brazil, but less modern and cosmopolitan than its more famous counterparts. It is an important transportation center with a busy port. In the last few decades, the city has also become a tourist destination.
High rises as well as at least 60 colonial churches mostly built in the 17th and 18th centuries and peoples’ markets intermingle in the city—a blend of the old and new. Skyscrapers nudge out picturesque colonial mansions, edged by white sandy beaches—lined with coconut palms.
But it was the old city that captured my heart. With its many tiny one-way streets, wonderfully ideal for walking, I was able to explore some of the more important sites such as the soothing Parca da Republica; the historic Basilica of Our Lady Penha; the Cathedral de Sao Pedro dos Clerigos with a beautifully sculptured front; the Basilica of Our Lady of Carmo with a very impressive interior; the imposing 19th century Teatro Santa Isabel; Cinco Pontas Fort, built by the Dutch when they ruled the town, now housing the City Museum; the colourful Mercado do Sao Jose (Saint John’s Market); and the Casa da Cultura de Recife (Recife Cultural Center), once a prison, but now the top regional craft center in the northeast of Brazil.
The resort-town is an enchanting combination of warm weather, excellent beaches, topnotch hotels, the best of restaurants and replete with the wonderful hospitality of its people. The warm beach waters are protected by a long coastal reef from that Recife, the Portuguese name for reef, derived from the Arabic “rasif” (causeway), gets its name. It holds back the violence of the waves and serves to turn the warm waters washing the beaches into placid pools in which bathers can relax. The heat from the bright sun shining in an ever-blue sky is tempered by the ocean breeze.
The affluent Boa Viagem, the city’s most popular district and beach with a striking view of the Atlantic, is home to the upper middle class. It is the center of the city’s social life and includes a wealth of fine restaurants and a glittering hot spot of nightlife—topping the whole northeast of Brazil in entertainment establishments.
With its sea temperature hovering constantly around 77°F year-round, Boa Viagem’s five-mile long beach is always crowded, especially on Sunday. Like colonies of ants, Recifians and tourists alike mill about the wide sands of this enormous beach appearing to occupy every square inch of it. Vendors capitalize on this mass of humanity as one after another offer the sun worshippers coconut milk, cold beer, rum cocktails, a variety of fresh fruits, ice cream, straw hats, and all types of sun lotions. For me, all this was sheer pestering, that is until I found vendors selling fresh seafood, both raw or cooked and ready to be eaten.
Every night, this crowning jewel of Recife’s beaches is lit by a special lighting system that allows for swimming at night. Granted there are a number of other beaches around, Boa Viagem is Recife’s top seaside drawing card and tourist mecca.
Compared to the beach activity in Recife, growing up on the western prairies on a Sunday where a farmer’s choice was to attend a church service or the odd picnic in the sun, it was a world of activity and excitement. Here I did not have to listen to a preacher’s boring sermon or eat simple sandwiches in the sun.
However, all is not bliss in this South American resort. Swimmers must be careful to avoid injury near the sharp rocks of the reef, and many parts of the beaches are very crowded and strewn with litter. Visitors should guard their belongings on the beaches and they must be careful when walking in the city at night.
Adding more temptation for tourists are the numerous excursions offered in this vibrant resort. One can rent a jangada (old Brazilian wooden sailing craft) on some of the beaches and go fishing or sail the coastal waters. From the hotels, numerous travel agencies offer a good number of tours. The most worthwhile of these are: Island of Itmaracá Cruise, Lover’s Island Picnic, City Tour, Hinterland Trip to Caruaru and new Jerusalem, and the trip to the southern beach of Porto de Galinhas.
Above all, to feel the pulse of the country is to experience its ethnic mixture and the diversified climate of Brazil, which have been responsible for the creation of one of the most varied kitchens in South America. For centuries, Brazilian cooks have borrowed from the foods of other people and then combined them with their own to produce an interesting and fascinating wide-ranging culinary world.
Aboriginal, West African and Portuguese (both influenced by the Moors), and other ethnic foods such as German, Italian, Japanese, Syrian, and others have entered into the cuisine of this vast country of some 209 million.
Before the white man arrived, the Indigenous people cultivated beans, corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes and manioc root—their principal food. Rice was introduced into the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs and was subsequently brought to Brazil by the Portuguese while bananas, coconuts and yams came along with the African slaves. In the subsequent years, rice and especially beans became the basic diet of the Brazilians, so much so, that Brazil became known as “the land of beans.”
All these influences combined to give Brazil a rich and varied kitchen.
The epitome of the Brazilian kitchen is feijoada—a medley of countless ingredients and the national dish of the country. This complicated mixture of beans, salted meats, sausages and rice is considered by the inhabitants to be the king of all eatables. However, its preparation is time consuming and, therefore, it is extremely hard to find in restaurants. When it is, it is probably the most ordered item on the menu. Traditionally made with every part of the pig, from the ears, the tail and the nose, times have changed for tourists’ tastes and in restaurants, usually only the best part of the pork is used in its preparation. In homes, it is traditionally served only at noon on Saturdays.
In the past, feijoada, in which today Brazilian food reaches its culinary height, was known as a lowly peasant food and most of the well-to-do were ashamed to offer it to guests. Today, it is a different story. Even in the best of homes it is served, especially to large festive gatherings. When prepared, this dish, as its name feijoada completa implies, is by itself a complete gourmet meal.
Complete Bean and Rice Meal
Feijoada (Bean Dish)
4 tablespoons cooking oil
2 medium sized onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 ½ pounds hot sausage, any type, whole
1 ½ pounds uncooked corn beef, cut into 2 pieces
1 ½ pounds lean beef, cut into 2 pieces
2 ½ cups dried black beans, washed (other types of beans can be substituted)
6 cups water
2 cups grapefruit juice
½ cup finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
Heat oil in a large saucepan, then sauté onion, garlic and hot pepper over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add sausage, then stir-fry for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and increase the water, if needed, to at least 1 inch above the beans and meat, then bring to a boil. Cook over low heat for 2 1/2 hours or until the meat and beans are well done, adding more water if necessary.
In the meantime, prepare the following side dishes:
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 ½ cups white, long grained rice
3 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Melt butter in a large frying pan, then stir-fry onion and garlic over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Add rice, then stir-fry for another minute. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 12 minutes. Stir and turn off heat and re-cover and allow to cook in own steam for 30 minutes. Place on a serving platter, but keep warm.
Cooked Collard or Kale
4 tablespoons cooking oil
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bunch collard or kale, about 1 ½ pounds, washed, thick ends removed, then chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons lemon juice
Heat oil in a large frying pan, then stirfry onion and garlic over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Add collard or kale then sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Cover, turn heat to low and cook for 25 minutes. Stir in lemon juice then place on a serving platter, but keep warm.
3 medium sized oranges, peeled and thinly sliced, then placed artistically on a serving platter
How to Serve
Remove the meat and sausage from the beans then slice. Place each type of meat on separate platters and the beans in a serving bowl.
After placing all the dishes on the table, each person should place rice in the middle of their plate, then top with beans. Surround, separately, with the meat, collard or kale and orange slices.
NOTE: This Feijoada Completa meal serves about 10.
Quindins De Yáyá (Coconut Muffins)
MAKES 24 MUFFINS
This dessert and almost all other Brazilian sweets are of Portuguese origin with strong Moorish overtones. They are a good macaroon-type dessert, airy and chewy—a good way to end a feijoada meal.
2 ½ cups shredded and sweetened coconut
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place coconut, sugar, flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine.
Thoroughly mix butter, eggs and almond extract in a small bowl then slowly stir into ingredients in the mixing bowl, continuing until a batter is formed.
Place in greased muffin trays, half full, bake for 20 minutes or until done. Remove and allow to cool before serving.
THE WORLD TOUR
Join HABEEB SALLOUM during the next several issues as he takes us around the world to six continents, describes their homesteading culture in every city he visits, and presents us recipes from the region. In the next issue, he will take us to Morocco.