Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bobó de Camarão - a velvety Afro-Brazilian stew

Training for my upcoming buffet meal at school the other day, I cooked my first Bobó de Camarão - a velvety shrimp, yucca and coconut stew-like concoction typical of the Northeast region of Brazil, especially the Bahia state, where the presence of African gastronomic traditions are more strongly felt.

I had eaten a few Bobós before, and had a very definite idea of how it should taste. After researching several recipes on the internet, which differed quite drastically, I came out with my own. The Brazilian audience that savored the final result - including a friend from Northeastern region who was visiting us - approved it enthusiastically.

My instructor, on the other hand, told me that the texture may not be very pleasant to the North American palate, as it is reminiscent of porridge, for its thickness and starchiness. But the texture, as well and the coconut, yucca and dendê oil flavor combination, is what pleases me the most.
I hope you feel tempted to try it too, so you can give me your opinion!

Bobó de Camarão
(Shrimp, Yucca and Coconut Stew)

Yield: 60 oz (6-8 portions)
18 oz frozen, peeled yucca
1 cup yucca cooking liquid (plus more, to adjust consistency)
1 can (14 fl. oz) coconut milk
1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp dendê oil
2 Tbsp olive oil
6 oz (1 cup) finely diced onion
1 oz (2 Tbsp) minced green bell pepper
1 tsp seeded, minced jalapeño
1 garlic clove, minced
0.5 oz cilantro stems (from approx. 1/2 bunch)
1 scallion, finely sliced
1 ripe tomato, seeded and finely diced
12 oz (14.5 oz frozen) peeled and deveined 51/60 (or smaller) shrimp
6 oz whole 36/41 shrimp, to garnish
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves (from approx. 1/2 bunch)

- Cook yucca in plain water (no salt) until fork tender. Drain, saving the cooking liquid. Working in batches, purée yucca while still hot in a food processor with the salt, coconut milk and 1 cup reserved liquid (save remaining liquid for thinning the stew later, if necessary).

- Heat dendê and olive oil in a large pan. Add onion, sauté until translucent. Add green pepper, jalapeño, garlic, cilantro stems and scallions and sauté until light golden brown. Add tomato and cook, stirring, until it starts to dissolve. Add shrimp and sauté until pinkish.

- Add prepared yucca cream and stir well to combine. Adjust salt and consistency adding more of the cooking liquid, if necessary.

- On a separate pan and working in batches, sauté whole shrimps in olive oil and a very thin drizzle of dendê oil. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

- Right before serving, add chopped cilantro to stew, saving some to decorate. Top serving dish or individual portions with sautéed shrimps and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro. Serve with white rice.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cuscuz - Brazilian interpretation(s) of couscous

I finally made some time to add another recipe to this blog. I’m sorry for being away for so long, but life has been hectic - cooking classes, academic research, cookbook translation review and now I became a regular contributor to a Brazilian cooking magazine (Sabores do Interior and to a blog about Brazilian food culture hosted by Mapa da Cachaça (, a website about the emblematic Brazilian hard liquor used to make caipirinha.

The term Cuscuz, also spelled cuscus and cuzcuz in Portuguese, refers to several preparations in different regions of the country. The origin of the plate is certainly the Middle Eastern couscous, but once it was introduced to the new tropical culture, several versions using local ingredients began to develop.

Cuscuz can be a plain, steamed, cake-like cereal made with flocos de milho pré-cozidos (yellow, precooked corn meal - “Milharina”, by Quaker, is a very well known brand). Usually served for breakfast, it’s made in the cuscuzeira, or cuscuzeiro (see picture), a steaming pan that has a perforated metal disc with a handle that seats on top of simmering water where you place the corn meal, previously moistened with salt water. This preparation is sometimes called cuscuz nordestino, especially by people that are not from nordeste, that is, the Northeast region of Brazil. It can be served with manteiga de garrafa (a type of clarified butter), queijo coalho (typical cheese from Northeast region), coconut milk, etc.

Then, there’s the cuscuz de tapioca, a sweet, flan-like version of the dish made with manioc/yucca tapioca pearls, coconut and condensed milk - I’ve never tried this one, but the pictures I saw are mouthwatering! And there is the cuscuz paulista (paulista means from São Paulo state), which is also traditionally steamed, but it is a savory dish that uses both farinha de milho (see picture) and farinha de mandioca (manioc / yucca flour).

The recipe I am going to post today is a simplified, more Minas-Gerais-style version of the later. A flavorful broth made with sautéed onion, garlic, tomatoes and your choice of shredded chicken, sardines, other fish and shrimp or vegetables is thickened with farinha de milho. It is then poured into a mold, usually a tube pan decorated with sliced boiled eggs, tomato and other vegetables such as hearts of palm and green peas. Once cooled and unmolded, it looks pretty, on top of being a complete, delicious meal.

Cuscuz de frango com farinha de milho 
(Chicken Brazilian Couscous)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped (1/2 - 3/4 cup)
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp tomato paste
3-4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
4 cups chicken stock or water, or a mix of both
1 chicken breast (approx. 8 oz), cooked and shredded (see the recipe for Coxinha filling)
1/2 cup corn kernels, frozen or canned (drained)
1/2 cup green peas, frozen or canned (drained)
1/2 cup hearts of palm, drained and chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley and scallions or chives
6 oz. (aprox.) farinha de milho (flaked corn meal - see picture)

To garnish:
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1 ripe tomato, thinly sliced
sliced hearts of palm
sprigs of parsley
olives or green peas
lettuce leaves

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic and sauté until both are light golden brown. Add tomato paste and sauté for another minute, stirring constantly. Add chopped tomato and cook, on high heat, for five to ten minutes, stirring every now and then, until tomato starts to melt and release its juices.
2. Stir in stock, shredded chicken, corn, peas, and hearts of palm. Season with salt, black pepper and/or Brazilian preserved chili oil. It should be a little over-seasoned, because you’re going to add the farinha de milho later. Bring to a boil.
3. Meanwhile, lightly oil a tube mold and decorate with sliced boiled eggs, tomato, green olives, hearts of palm slices, peas and parsley sprigs, or any other ingredient you’re using to make the cuscuz or that goes well with the chosen ingredients (such as shrimps and sardine fillets, etc.).
4. Once the liquid is boiling and all flavors are all well combined, lower the heat and slowly add the farinha de milho, stirring constantly with a long handled wooden spoon. Watch out for the bubbles, as cuscuz spatters like polenta - use protective gloves to stir it until the flour is well blended with liquid and the mixture gets thick (it should be thicker than polenta). Then, cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring every now and then, until mixture is creamy and thoroughly cooked. Remove from heat, add chopped herbs and mix well to combine.
5. Adjust seasoning and pour the mixture immediately onto prepared mold, being careful not to displace the decoration. Hit the bottom of the pan lightly against the counter to eliminate air bubbles and smooth the surface with a spatula. Set aside and let cool almost to room temperature before unmolding.
6. To serve, give the mold a brisk shake, place a platter on top and turn upside down. Decorate all around it with lettuce leaves.

- Substitute 2 cans of sardines (drained), or 2 cans of tuna (drained), or 1 cup chopped shrimp and/or white fish fillets for the shredded chicken. Use water or fish stock instead. Garnish the mold accordingly.
- Make a vegetarian version by substituting extra corn, green peas, tomato, shredded carrots, shredded zucchini, sliced green beans, chopped green olives, and/or hearts of palm for the chicken.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Broinhas de fubá - a cross between cream puffs and corn bread?

After all this time (last post was May 2010!), here I come with yet another Minas Gerais specialty - the broa de fubá, or broinha. I prepared some at my mom’s house during my recent 40-day trip to Brazil, and they were delicious!

Fubá, from Kimbundu fuba, is the word in Portuguese for cornmeal, or corn flour (not to be confused with the white powder British English speakers call “conflour”, Americans “corn starch”, and Brazilians amido de milho). There are two main types of fubá in Brazil - the fubá mimoso, very finely ground (like corn flour), which imparts a finer texture to foods such as porridges and cakes, and the fubá grosso, coarser and sometimes simply referred to as fubá (in terms of texture similarity, somewhere between medium to fine ground cornmeal). There are several other kinds of corn flours and meals available, and most of them have a precooked version. Together with manioc (or cassava, or yuca) flours and starches, these are the second choice of starch in Brazil (after rice), and they are also widely used in baking goods both savory and sweet.

The word broa (broinha is the diminutive) is also used in European Portuguese and in some regions of Brazil to name a type of corn bread, large and round, that used to be more popular in the past. I remember being a child and going with my mom or dad buy broa de milho at the tiny armazém near our house in Guaxupé - I was so small I could not see the wood counter top, but I could see and smell the broas de milho, fresh and beautiful, laying behind the counter glass.

It’s hard to make an outstanding broinha like those you buy in some padarias in Brazil (on the left) in a noncommercial oven, as they require high and constant heat to rapidly puff before the steam cracks open the shell and escapes. But it’s worth a try, especially if you don’t know the other version of the treat.

Some decades ago, broinhas were often made with pork lard (some people still use lard), which imparts a nice flavor, aroma and texture to the product. The smell and taste of the aniseeds, though, is what characterizes both broas and broinhas. There are also the ones made with toasted, ground peanuts - DELICIOUS! But I’m still working on that recipe. For now, try this one and let me know how they come up!

Broinhas de fubá 
(Brazilian Cornmeal Puffs)

1 cup filtered water
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter (or unflavored pork lard, if you have access to a good one)
1 cup finely ground cornmeal (corn flour)
1 cup all-purpose flour (plus extra to roll the broinhas)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp aniseed
pinch of salt
5 large eggs

1) Combine corn and all-purpose flour, sugar, aniseed and salt in a bowl.
2) Combine water, milk and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
3) Add corn and flour mix at once and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it forms a uniform ball and pulls off the sides of the pan (see picture). Let cool until warm.
4) Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition to incorporate air in the batter.
5) Preheat the oven to 400oF.
6) Oil the inside of a small bowl or rounded cup with oil. Add 1/2 tsp flour and shake to coat the sides well (do not shake off excess - this flour prevents the dough from sticking to the bowl). Using a cookie scoop or a tablespoon, drop spoonfuls of the dough inside the floured bowl and, working fast and continuously, twirl the bowl so the dough is coated in flour and forms a ball. Immediately turn the bowl upside down onto an oiled baking sheet, placing the broinha at least 2 inches apart from the sides of the pan and the other broinhas (see video - I'm working on a better one, though). Add another 1/2 tsp flour  into the bowl for each unit you make.
7) Bake immediately until deep golden brown. The inside will seem raw, but it’s not - it should be humid and hollow, like puff pastry. Serve warm or cold, plain or with butter, sided by a good cup of piping hot, strong coffee.

TIP: if the dough is too loose to apply this method, or if it starts sticking to the sides of the bowl, use the cookie scoop to place the portions of dough onto baking sheet and, using a small strainer, dust their tops liberally with flour.