7:00am Saturday 20th February 2010
Brazilian food offers the perfect antidote to the grey and cold British winter. We look at how to recreate those samba-inspired dishes in your kitchen.
February can be a hard month for food lovers. Unforgiving weather continues to punish your herbs, Lent looms cheerlessly on the horizon and not even the prospect of pancake day is enough to cheer you up.
But in South America, this time of year is party time. As Lent approaches, carnival towns such as Rio de Janeiro parade their way towards 40 days of good behaviour.
In the UK, Brazilian culture has gradually been seeping into our lives and cook Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, who was born in Ipanema, has written Cook Brazilian, a recipe book containing more than 100 easy-to-follow recipes, from salads, soups and desserts to the classic Caipirinha cocktail.
Schwartz is quick to point out that the culinary tradition of her homeland is rich.
"It is different to, for example, the Argentinean or Venezuelan cuisine, because Brazil was conquered by the Portuguese, not the Spanish. Yet people tend to group all our food traditions together and simply refer to them as, 'South American!'"
Brazilian cuisine is a melting pot of three main culinary traditions.
Portuguese conquerors brought their love of salt cod, soups, stews and egg-based sweets, the Africans their delight in nuts, rice and beans, while the country's native Indians shared their enthusiasm for coconut, fish spices and exotic fruits.
Isabel Groves, head of music at Brazilian venue Guanabara agrees that she can see signs of Brazilian habits entering Britain.
"I recently read that Madonna is drinking coconut water, as she's been hanging with her Brazilian boyfriend. That's funny to me as I've been drinking it since I was born.
"It's a very healthy drink. Although in Brazil you can have it from the coconut itself, not a carton!"
Groves has also seen a traditional Brazilian fish dish called Moqueca appearing on menus.
"I've been to restaurants and seen fish stew with coconut sauce."
Schwartz explains that she has adapted traditional recipes for a modern audience.
"We Brazilians have an awful sweet tooth but when I had lived in New York for a few years and began recreating my favourite dishes from Brazil, I found that my palate had changed and that most recipes tasted just as great with slightly less sugar," she says.
Schwartz was born and raised in Rio's paradise neighbourhood, Ipanema, and grew up eating classic Brazilian dishes such as Pao de Queijo (fluffy cheese bread) and drinking fresh coconut water on the beach.
After moving to New York in 1997 to work in some of the world's top restaurants she became homesick for the food of her childhood and set out to recreate her favourite Brazilian dishes.
Here are a few to try out...
:: Caipirinha (Makes 1 Caipirinha) 2 limes 1tbsp sugar 2-3tbsp cachaca Ice cubes Trim the ends off the limes. Cut the limes into medium-sized wedges.
Using a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon, mash the lime with the sugar, making sure to squeeze all the juices from the lime and to dissolve the sugar in the juice.
Transfer the lime mixture to a shaker. Add the cachaca and ice cubes. Shake well for about 8-10 minutes and pour into a large but not tall sturdy glass.
:: Pineapple Manchego skewers (Makes about 20 skewers) 225g fresh pineapple, peeled and cored 175g Manchego, at room temperature (alternatively, try Roncal, Zamorano or Terrincho Velho cheese) 2tbsp sugar 25g salted butter 1tbsp water 1/8tsp ground cinnamon 1/8tsp ground chipotle chilli Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 20 small bamboo skewers Cut the pineapple into 1cm cubes using a serrated knife. Cut the Manchego into cubes about the same size. You should have about 20 cubes of each.
Place the sugar in a small frying pan and add the water. Cook over a high heat until it turns into a light amber colour, about 2-3 minutes. (Be careful not to overcook).
Add the butter and swirl the pan around. It will splash and bubble, so be careful. When the butter is well blended with the caramelised sugar, turn the heat to low and add the cinnamon and ground chipotle. Cook the caramel until it becomes a little thicker, about 2 minutes.
Add the pineapple cubes and swirl the pan around for about 3-4 minutes, allowing the pineapple to caramelise in the sauce and become lightly golden brown, but being careful not to let it get too mushy. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour the pineapple and sauce onto a flat plate. While the fruit is still hot, place a piece of pineapple on the skewer, then a piece of Manchego. Place the skewers on a serving plate and serve immediately, while the pineapple is still warm.
:: Brazilian fish stew (Serves 4) 550g fish fillets, such as cod, haddock or halibut, cut into 5cm chunks 1 spring onion, chopped 1 small onion, chopped 1 small piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped 5tbsp dende oil 2tbsp extra virgin olive oil 4tbsp freshly chopped coriander 2/3 green pepper, chopped 2/3 yellow pepper, chopped 350ml fish stock 225ml coconut milk 2tbsp tomato paste 1tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 85g canned hearts of palm, drained 2 plum tomatoes, peeled deseeded and diced Prepare the marinade for the fish: in a bowl, mix together half of the spring onion, half of the onion, half of the ginger and half of the garlic. Add 2 tbsp of the dende oil, all of the olive oil and half of the coriander. Place the fish chunks in a zip-lock plastic bag and add the marinade. Rub it around the fish so that it is well distributed. Remove all the air from the plastic bag and seal it well. Place the fish in the fridge, covered by the marinade, and leave for at least 3 hours.
Take the fish out of the fridge 30 minutes before using. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4.
Place the remaining 3 tbsp of dende oil in a large saute pan over a medium heat. Add the remaining spring onion, onion and the green and yellow peppers and cook for about 3 minutes until they are soft.
Add the remaining ginger and garlic and mix well. Cook for another minute or until hot. Add the fish stock and bring to a full boil. Add the coconut milk and tomato puree, and bring to a full boil, then reduce the heat to simmer the sauce gently.
In the meantime, spread the fish and marinade out in a gratin dish. Pour the lemon juice on top and season lightly with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven until almost done, about 10-12 minutes.
Carefully transfer each chunk of fish to the pan with the sauce. Pour in any remaining juices from the fish and marinade. Braise the fish in the sauce over a low heat with the pan covered until the fish is soft and tender, about 5-8 minutes.
Uncover the pan, add the hearts of palm and tomatoes and heat through.
Taste the sauce, then season it with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the remaining coriander. Serve over rice.
Leticia's tip: Serve the fish stew with cheese bread.
:: Molten dulce de leche cake (Serves 4) 115g butter, plus extra for greasing 300ml dulce de leche, at room temperature 2 large egg yolks 2 large eggs 2 tbsp sugar 1/8tsp salt ¼tsp ground cinnamon 1tsp vanilla extract 35g plain flour, sifted, extra for dusting 4 x 175ml foil cake cases or fluted tin cups Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Using a pastry brush, brush with butter and dust the cases with flour. Shake off the excess flour.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a very low heat. When the butter is just melted, remove the pan from the heat and add the dulce de leche. Whisk slowly and constantly until blended, 3-5 minutes.
In another bowl, whisk the yolks and whole eggs together. Add the sugar and salt. Pour the dulce de leche mixture into the eggs and whisk well. Add the cinnamon and vanilla and continue to whisk. Add the flour and fold in gently with a rubber spatula, making sure there are no lumps.
Carefully pour the mixture into the cases, filling each one almost to the top. (This can be done up to 5 days ahead and left in the fridge.) Bake the cases until the edges are set but the centre is still soft, about 6-8 minutes. (Be aware that the cake will not change much in colour during the baking time, nor will it rise.) Remember each oven is different and this is a delicate recipe.
Remove the cakes from the oven. Immediately invert each case onto a plate and serve with vanilla ice cream.
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