Monday, February 8, 2010

The "rice-and-beans" of Brazilian food

Rice and beans are so important for Brazilian cuisine that when we say something is “o arroz com feijão” (the rice and beans) of something else, we mean “the basics”, “the foundation”. So, let me try and explain some of the most basic, general differences between Brazilian and North American eating habits and their food staples to start with.

Brazilians usually have three main meals a day - a light breakfast right after waking up, a substantial lunch between noon and 2 pm, and dinner around 7 or 8 pm - in general, lighter than lunch (a full size soup with bread, or a salad, or some pasta, etc).

For breakfast, most people have coffee (strong coffee!), or coffee and milk (called “média”, when it's lighter, or “pingado”, when it's darker), and “pão francês” (similar to a baguette, but smaller and with a softer center - see picture; I’ll write more about it later) with butter. Some people make the meal more substantial by adding some cheese and ham to it, but bacon, sausage and even eggs are regarded as lunch / dinner (or maybe brunch) items, not breakfast. A variety of fresh fruit and their juices, sometimes mixed with milk instead of water, may be consumed as accompaniments. And there’s also the “pão de queijo” (a savory tapioca starch roll with cheese)... But this is worth a post itself, so I’ll leave it for later (pão de queijo post here).

For lunch, people usually have rice and beans, a small amount of protein (about 5 oz; beef, chicken and pork are the most popular meats), at least one cooked vegetable (frequently braised) - such as pumpkin, chayote, and broccoli, shown in the first picture of this post - and salad greens (lettuce, arugula, watercress), with tomatoes and/or other raw or cold additions, such as grated carrots or beets, hearts of palm, cucumber and sliced onion.

Well, this is the basic “rule” - which means there are countless exceptions. My point here is just to state that: i) rice and beans are the base of Brazilian cooking, and the preferred accompaniment to everyday meals, as opposed to, say, mashed potatoes in the U.S.; ii) although meat is an important part of the meal, it is usually consumed in smaller amounts. In a country where hunger has been an issue for so long, the “rice-and-beans” diet may have saved many impoverished people from starvation and even malnutrition, as rice and beans, when eaten together, constitute a high-quality, or complete, protein - containing the 20 essential amino acids.   

Brazilian rice is prepared more or less like a pilaf, but the fat of choice is vegetable oil (a plain, flavorless one, preferably) - as you can see in the recipe below. Beans are mostly cooked in a pressure cooker with water only and, after that, seasoned with garlic and salt, among other things (later I’ll post the recipe for cooking beans in a pressure cooker; for now, check the recipe with canned beans).

There are many types of beans in Brazil - the largest consumer and producer of the legume in the world, with approximately 3.5 million tons harvested every year. The most popular beans are “feijão carioca / carioquinha” (similar to pinto beans), with 85% of the market, followed by black beans, with 10% (more common in Rio de Janeiro state, but mandatory in the preparation of the Brazilian national dish, “feijoada” - more soon!). The remaining 5% of sales are specialty beans, such as “jalo”, “fradinho”, “rosinha”, “bolinha”, “branco”, “verde”, “azuki” and “roxinho”.

Brazilian white rice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 cup white rice (long grain)
2 cups cold water, approximately (preferably filtered)
1 tsp salt

- If rice is not pre-washed, rinse it until water is clear and let it dry in a colander before using. Beware that you’re probably going to use less water to prepare it in this case.
- Heat oil in a saucepan and add onion. Fry over medium heat until it is soft and translucent.
- Add rice. Fry, over medium heat, stirring constantly, until grains are whitish and chalky (grains start forming lumps).
- Add 1 1/2 cups of the water and the salt. Stir well. When it starts boiling, lower the heat and cook, partially covered, until water has almost completely evaporated.
- Add remaining water (less, if rice was rinsed) and continue cooking until all water has evaporated and the grains are cooked but slightly al dente (cooking will continue after you turn off the heat).
- Cover the pan, remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.

Brazilian beans

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon diced bacon (optional)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 (16 oz) can pinto beans (or small black beans), cooked with salt only
1 cup water, approximately (preferably filtered)
salt to taste
1 tsp green onion or chives, finely chopped

- Place the beans in a colander and rinse in cold water until there’s no more frothing on top of the beans.
- Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add bacon, if using, and fry until golden brown.
- Add chopped garlic and fry until golden brown. Lower the heat.
- Add beans and, using the back of a spoon or ladle, smash some of the beans into a paste.
- Add about 1 cup of filtered water. Bring to a slow boil and cook until the broth is thick (heavy cream consistency) and brown colored - you might need to add a little more water. Season to taste with salt. Add chopped green onions or chives before serving.

Bom apetite!


  1. Hi Elisa! Very nice! I'm getting hungry just reading. Looking forward to more authentic cuisine! Love, Charlotte

  2. Interesting blog! I'm an American living in Brazil (Salvador). Also interested in the work you've done on Brazilian culinary terms (is that what it is?).
    Since you asked for suggestions, I'd like to see more about fruit! Brazil has the most amazing variety of fruit probably in the world. (Most of it doesn't even translate into English, I suppose.)
    Feel free to check out my blog,

  3. wonderful! what a service you are doing us. and so precise. if only we could taste through your blog!

  4. Hello Elisa, the blog is a good contribution!
    I´d like to see more brazilian recipes.
    Abraços/ Luciene

  5. Elisa, Great initiative! Just one thing about this recipe, do you add salt to the water when cooking the beans? I believe if you do that those beans will never cook to be soft enough to be smashed into a paste.

  6. Hey guys!
    Thanks for the comments!
    "Golden Papaya", I'll try and post more about Brazilian fruits - Northeast is the best place to get really nice ones! I'll also post something about the glossary of cooking terms soon (Teixeira, E.D. and Tagnin, S.E.O. Vocabulário para Culinária. São Paulo: SBS, 2008).
    Guga, this recipe is for canned beans, which are precooked and very soft! I've tested the recipe many times and it works fine! ;o)

  7. Uma maravilha seu blog.
    A propósito, adorei a toalhinha xadrezinha!
    Tão mineira... :)

  8. Oi Elisa,
    Muito gostoso!!
    Obrigado, Eric

  9. Love your rice and beans recipe. I grew up in Natal, Mossoro, and Fortaleza. I love Brasilian beans and rice. I have tried so many different recipes that I found on the internet and none came out tasting authentic until yours. Thank you!!! I love it. Uma delicia!


  10. Hummmmm Made the beans and rice twice this past week and now want them again! Muito obrigado pra receita. Eddie

  11. Thanks, Melissa and Eddie, for your comments! Nothing makes me happier than knowing that these recipes work for you and bring you good memories!
    I hope to post another recipe soon, so, come back.
    Um abraço!

  12. oi, Elisa! tudo bem? eu e minha família estamos seguindo uma dieta restritiva por motivos de saúde e nem todos os tipos de feijão são permitidos. em inglês os nomes dos feijões que podemos comer são: white navy (haricot) beans, lima beans, string beans. procurei no google e não consegui relacionar as imagens com os feijões que a gente conhece por aqui, a não ser, talvez, o jalo e o rosinha, mas não tenho certeza. você poderia me ajudar? o arroz foi abolido da dieta, mas sem o feijão também está difícil rs agradeço antecipadamente!

  13. Oi Fernanda, tudo bem?
    Eu sei o quanto é difícil identificar os equivalentes para os feijões nas duas línguas... todos têm o mesmo nome cinetífico (que é o que ajuda a desambiguar, muitas vezes)!
    O "white navy beans" é um feijão branco miúdo, creio que oriundo daquela vagem mais fina e comprida (que chama haricot verts em francês - tem gente que chama de vagem macarrão em português) quando ela amadurece. Dá uma checada no feijão-manteiguinha - talvez seja o mesmo. O "lima beans" (também chamado de "butter beans" no sul dos EUA) é o "feijão de lima", e existe em duas variedades por aqui - baby lima beans (menor) e Fordhook (maior). Tanto pode ser encontrado na variedade fresca, geralmente ainda na vagem (de cor verde vivo) quanto seca (esbanquiçado). Já o "string beans", ou "green beans" é a vagem comum. O termo também é usado para designar uma variedade específica de vagem, chamada "vagem de metro" em português - bem longa e fina.
    Talvez o ideal seja você saber exatamente qual componente dos feijões você deve evitar para que fique mais fácil identificar variedades, entre as brasileiras, que são adequadas para sua dieta... Uma compilação de várias informações sobre o feijão coletadas na rede pode ser encontrada aqui:
    Espero que tenha ajudado! Um abraço e boa sorte com a dieta e o tratamento. :o)

  14. oi, Elisa! com suas infos consegui procurar pela coisa certa no google e encontrei um post no blog da Neide Rigo que indica até onde comprar os feijões!
    muito obrigada e um abraço!
    (a propósito, estamos fazendo a GAPS Diet)

  15. I LOVE your site! My fiancee is from Brazil, and constantly talks about his mother's cooking. Well, I love to cook, so I decided I had better start cooking Brazilian food. The rice and beans recipe is amazing and SO easy! I love how it all starts with the 'refogado'. Anyway, as we were eating it, he commented that 'this tastes a lot like mom's food'. (of course, nothing will ever taste EXACTLY like hers, as she is the best cook, but hey, I was so excited that he even said it resembled his mother's cooking. So thank you so very much. I do hope you will post more recipes soon, as we just got our very first Brazilian supermarket here in Columbus! Obrigada!

    Christina :)

    1. Dear Christina,
      Your message made me very happy! In Brazil, there's no better compliment than someone saying your food "tastes like my mom's"! And you're right, it will never taste exactly like his mom's, because that's not a sensory memory, it comes straight from his heart. One day your children (and even him, when away from home) will say the same about YOUR food!!! :o)
      Do you know from what region of Brazil is his mom from? Maybe I can find you a good regional dish for you to impress him!
      I really hope this year i will have more time to post recipes. If all goes well, at least one this weekend - Casquinha de siri (Brazilian crab cake served on a shell).
      Thanks again for your nice comments!!!

  16. Aw, I'm glad I could make you happy! My comments were very sincere.

    That's a good question about where his mom is from. I think she's from an area called 'Nova Venecia'. My fiancee was born there, then raised in Vitoria, which is in Espirito Santo. That would be awesome if you could find something regional! I know he loves to eat meat, but I guess a lot of Brazilians do. You had a photo of a braised pork loin seasoned with salt, pepper, and lime juice that I know he would LOVE, but I couldn't find the recipe? Do you have that one? He also LOVES something called 'picahna', but I've never made that.

    I hope you have time to post more recipes, too, as I think your recipes are amazing! :) I do remember trying the Casquinha de siri in Rio - it was delicious!

    I will keep checking I said, we just got a Brazilian supermarket here in Columbus, so I am super excited to really get into Brazilian cooking! :)

    Christina :)

    1. Christina, I will get you the recipe for the pork loin! Just give me a few days (busy busy now). Thanks for your reply!!! :o)

  17. i am as Irish as Paddy's pig and love to try new things. Rice and beans recipe just love
    I am an old lady and tired of meat. Keep ur recipes coming Love u and God bless dottie

    1. Dear Dottie,
      Thank you very much for your comments! As you can see, I am a little behind with my recipe posting... But I have plans to add new ones over the Summer (I already have the pictures!), and I am pretty sure there will be some meatless ones :o)
      All the best,

  18. G'day! I LOVED this recipe and made it today! I can highly recommend people do and thank you for "inspiring" me too!

    Here is a photo if you too would like to view!
    NOTE: Reserved the sauce until after the photograph too!

    Cheers! Joanne
    Are you on Facebook or Twitter? Hope you have a good day too!

    1. Thank you, Joanne - your picture made me hungry. Time to prepare lunch! I noticed you mixed brown and black beans for your recipe? (if I could see right). That's an interesting approach, because then you don't have to choose between the pinto and the black beans (I love them both!).
      I hope I can post more recipes soon.
      All the best,

  19. Mmm your blog is making my hungry! Muito obrigada, eu gostei muito!!

    Monica V

  20. Can you tell me what the other things are on that plate in the picture at the top? That orange stuff looks especially delicious.

    And as an initial guess--is that broccoli rabe in top left part of the plate? That's always been staple with my Italian family in Delaware. I didn't realize it had made its way to Brazil. An Italian Paulista thing, I suppose?

    1. Hi Chris!
      Thanks for your comment!
      The orange thing is butternut squash :o)
      And you're right - the dark green stuff is broccoli, but not rabe (broccolini), and then chayote, and some meat.

  21. wow i need to make this

  22. Ola Elisa, gostei muito de seu blog. Estou preparando o jantar dominical para minha familia aqui em Dallas, e quiz fazer arroz "de verdade" para acompanhar o feijao bem brasileiro que faco. Eu tinha duvidas quanto a lavar ou nao o arroz que vem empacotado e a quantidade de agua. Vou lavar e vou colocar um pouco menos do que a proporcao de 1:2, como voce recomenda. Muito obrigada. Parabens. Uma divulgacao da comida brasileira, de categoria! Um abraco, Ana Maria

    1. Querida Ana Maria,
      Que gostoso ler seu comentário e saber que, de alguma forma, participei do jantar de domingo de vocês - um dia da semana muito especial!
      Como ficou o arroz? Sempre que for lavá-lo, deixe que seque bem antes de usar ;o)
      Grande abraço,

  23. Oi Elisa,

    Gostei muito de seu blog.

    Nao existe nada melhor que feijao e arroz nao e? Moro em Toronto mas nasci em SP e tenho muitas muitas saudades da comida tipica brasileira.


    1. Olá,
      Muito obrigada por seu comentário! Eu concordo com você em gênero e grau: não tem nada melhor do que um arroz-com-feijão feito na hora. Nunca vou abrir mão dessa tradição na minha casa. Espero que tenha provado e aprovado as receitas, e que volte sempre, embora as atualizações demorem tanto a sair do forno!..

  24. Hi Elisa,
    Can the beans be make ahead of time and reheated? I am having guests from Brazil for Thanksgiving and wanted to serve them something more native. Thanks, Karen

    1. Hi Karen,

      Thanks for stopping by and for the question. Th best would be prepare the beans right before serving. You can certainly cook it in advance (in plain water, in case you are using dried beans), but do the oil and garlic part right before serving. If you really don't have time to prepare it right before serving, prepare it in advance and, when ready to reheat, heat some water in a pan (about 1/4 cup for every cup of prepared beans) and, once it boils, add the prepared beans. Stir well and let it cook, over low heat, until the broth has thickened up again.

  25. I am brazilian, learning english, i was looking for translation to "feijão carioquinha" (pinto beans) and I saw your blog! I love what you wrote! A big hug from Brazil.

    1. Hi Edléia,
      I'm glad you liked my blog! Good luck with your English learning - cooking terms are certainly tricky, especially those related to regional dishes. Abraço!

  26. Thank YOU, Elisa, for sharing this wonderful recipe. I am so happy that I finally found a red beans and rice recipe that is authentic and delicious! I made it tonight and we were amazed that so few ingredients packed so much flavor.

    1. I'm glad you liked the recipes for rice and beans. I do believe they are a delicious dish on their own - so easy to prepare, and so nutritious!

  27. I went to a Brazilian restaurant and had the most amazing food experience there! my papa is from Jamaica, my mama English and we have our own fusions of food �� I thoroughly enjoyed the Brazilian food and I've been searching for a rice recipe to use! Here in the U.K. most South American rice dishes are named as "dirty rice " which is really a Cajun rice!!! However, I am pleased to have found your blog and will be using some of your help and recipes very soon! ��Thank you so much, Tracey