Wednesday, February 17, 2010

“Refogar” - a quintessential technique in Brazilian cooking

            Nearly all Brazilian dishes start with a “refogado”, that is, chopped onion and/or garlic (see variations below) sautéed in vegetable oil - or some other fat - until golden brown. To this, the ingredients to be cooked are added and briefly sautéed before the addition of liquids (if any). It is that simple, but it can make a huge difference in the final dish. For example: it is this initial step that sets Brazilian rice apart from other rice cooking methods, giving the grains a chewier and firmer texture, as well as a sautéed onion flavor.

            “Refogar” (the verb) can be the initial and, sometimes, the only cooking technique used to prepare a vegetable, as you will see from the recipes bellow. But most often it works as the “browning” step for braising (to cook food slowly in a small amount of liquid), a technique which is also widely used in Brazilian cuisine.

            The secret to a good “refogado” is: i) chop all the ingredients about the same size, so they will cook uniformly; ii) add garlic (if using) after onion, as it browns much faster; iii) sauté onion, garlic, etc. until golden brown, over moderate to high heat, without covering the pan - to sweat them (cook slowly in fat without browning) will not produce the desired taste and appearance.

            The fat of choice is, again, vegetable oil, although it was pork lard until a few decades ago, before vegetable oil became more readily available - very tasty, but not very healthy considering nowadays lifestyle. You can also use olive oil, butter (preferably clarified, so it will not get burned) and bacon drippings. Here are some other ingredients to include in your “refogado”:
  • chopped bacon (use less oil, add onion, etc. only after bacon is golden brown)
  • chopped scallion / green onions (add green parts after white ones, if using)
  • celery (finely chopped)
  • leek (sliced, white parts first)
  • green bell pepper (finely chopped, in small quantities)
            Now, a couple of very simple recipes for you to try. They all pair well with Brazilian rice and beans and the protein of your choice (braised pork loin seasoned with salt, black pepper and lime juice, in this picture).

Abóbora refogada
(Braised Squash / Pumpkin)

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 Tbsp thinly sliced onion
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
3 cups 1-in cubed peeled pumpkin, butternut or acorn squash
1/2 cup water, approximately
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 Tbsp chopped parsley and/or cilantro

1. In a heavy pan, heat oil over medium heat.
2. Add onion and sauté for a few seconds. Add garlic and sauté until golden brown.
3. Add squash and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
4. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add half the water, to start with, and stir well. 
5. Lower the heat and cook, covered, adding more water if necessary, for 15-20 minutes, or until most of the water has evaporated and the squash is tender and begins to fall apart.
6. Right before serving, sprinkle with chopped parsley and/or cilantro.

Verdura refogada
(Sautéed Green Leaf Vegetable)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp finely chopped onion
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
4-5 cups finely shredded collard greens, or kale, or escarole, or mustard greens, or cabbage, or any other tough, green leaf vegetable
salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a large, heavy pan, heat oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add onion and sauté for a few seconds. Add garlic and sauté until golden brown.
3. Add shredded vegetable and toss well so the onion and garlic are not in contact with the bottom of the pan anymore (or they will get too brown and become bitter).
4. Lower the heat, cover the pan and let cook for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally (or to the doneness of your preference - I like mine al dente). Add a few drops of water, if necessary.
5. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper (Brazilians would probably add pepper only to the cabbage) and serve.
Tip: if you are preparing cabbage, add 1 ripe tomato cut into wedges or cubed to the pan before covering it.

Bom apetite!


  1. Wonderful!
    Seu inglês está maravilhoso também...! :)
    Nunca achei couve quando morei por essas bandas daí há 15 anos. Dá pra encontrar agora? By the way, parabéns pelo aniversário também! Grande abraço!

  2. Telma, obrigada pelos parabéns!
    Yes, you can find collard greens and kale in most supermarkets around Dallas. But I remember it was quite difficult to find them in Boston, some 10 years ago. Either the leaf vegetable is more "globalized" nowadays, or it is a regional favorite...

  3. Looks delicious!
    I'm going to try this recipe this week and tell you how it turns out. Well... sem a costeleta de porco :-)

  4. this post is very nice and I am very happy to visit at this blog
    Jual Obat Bius say many thanks to you who have shared quality articles Greetings and good luck and good health

    1. Thank you very much! I wish I had time to write more, but it's on my plans to be more active in this blog. Please, come back for more!