Rural Brazil – Let me introduce you to the DIRT ROADS

The road when it is all chewed up...and it gets worse than this!!!

The road when it is all chewed up…and it gets worse than this!!!

Today I am going to write about something a little bit different and I hope to continue this as a little aside from all of my cooking.. At the end of each month I will share with you a little bit about my life in rural Brazil.

My husband and I have an organic vegetable farm high in the Serra da Mantiqueira, a mountain chain in the southeastern part of Brazil that stretches for approximately 320 km (200 mi) through the states of Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and Sao Paulo and reaches a height of 2,798 m (9,180 ft). Our farm is perched high in the mountains overlooking beautiful mountain views. The air is always fresh and the sun strong. Working in the fields is always a joy as there is always a beautiful view to appreciate. But rural life isn’t all about the views, there is a lot of work that goes into living rurally and country life takes on a very different tone in Brazil.

I am not new to country living. I grew up in the countryside and have spent most of my life as a country gal. I have lived the “rural” life and have always loved to be away from the noise and rush of big cities. But, when I first visited rural Brazil in 2005  it was a completely different type of rural than I was used to. On my first ascent to our farm I arrived rather shell-shocked and needed a little bit of time to acclimate myself to this new rural existence.

Growing up in a rural community in England I knew that things were far away and that it would usually take 20 to 30 minutes to reach a medium sized town. Moving to rural New York State, USA, when I was fourteen, was not such a big change from the country life I knew in England. Maybe the biggest change was that everything was bigger and we needed to drive further.

So, when I first came to Brazil in 2005 I figured that “this rural life won’t be that much different from what I am used to.” But, oh man was I wrong! Rural life in Brazil is nothing compared to that of England and the USA. The first thing that pops to mind when thinking about rural Brazil is DIRT ROADS. Yes, I had seen dirt roads in the USA, in fact to reach my parents house you need to take a dirt road that stretches for about half a mile. But, in Brazil dirt roads are a completely different story: they are horrible bumpy, not well-maintained, and stretch for miles and miles. An intricate network of dirt roads exists!

To reach our farm we need to take a dirt road that stretches for 23 km (14 mi) from the closest town. We all know that 23 km (14 mi) on well maintained roads is not far. That’s not the case in Brazil. Dirt roads can be everything from well-maintained to almost impassable. Generally, dirt roads lean more towards the impassable than the well-maintained and you always need to plan for a trip to take twice as long than it would if the roads were well-maintained. The dirt road to reach our farm is definitely far from well-maintained. Instead of a 20 minute trip up the road it takes us almost an hour to reach our farm. We are able to reach a record speed of 60 km/hr (37 mi/hr) in only a few stretches that probably total 2-3 km (1-2 mi). On average we keep a speed of 25km/hr to 35km/hr (15-20 m/hr) and the whole trip feels like one big roller coaster, especially when my husband decides he wants to try to get to town or home a little bit faster than usual!. Getting onto our road you need to be prepared to be thrown all over the car. If you have hyper-sensitive seatbelts, like my husbands truck has, then be prepared to not be able to move your upper body while your lower body jumps everywhere. I have given-up on seat belts on the dirt road as the belt seems to get progressively tighter as the road gets more bumpy. I now prefer to be tossed around!

Our road goes through various stages throughout the year. In winter we get to experience the best maintained road. That is to say, there is no rain and trucks that drive on the road have an easier time passing, therefore not ripping up the road. The road is not wet and muddy and therefore going up hills becomes much easier for large trucks carrying tons of wood. Instead of mud flying everywhere in the winter we have extreme amounts of dust. Cleaning your car is completely pointless as it will just turn orange after a 5 minute trip. Summer is a completely different situation for us. Heavy rains cause the road to become muddy, trucks can’t get up hills and as a consequence create massive ruts in the road, spit mud everywhere, and leave a muddy disaster for the rest of us to try and pass through. Summer is not fun to drive on the road and trips can become much longer.

What always causes jokes (and frustration) for my husband and I is when the town decides to try and fix the road. They get their big machinery up the road, scrape the top to make it flat and leave it. The next rain always results in the newly fixed area turning into a mud bath and only 4 x 4 vehicles being able to pass through. Fixing the road? Forget about it!

Doesn't look that bad, but trust me it is bumpy!

Doesn’t look that bad, but trust me it is bumpy!

So what is different about living in rural Brazil? Well, getting around becomes much more of a challenge. Knowing that a trip to town is going to take you an hour to get there affects how often you will go to town during the week. Suddenly, 23 km (14 mi) becomes much further and you try to avoid eating anything before taking the bumpy drive to run all of your errands. Getting anywhere means taking a long trip on VERY bumpy dirt roads.

Emergencies from where we live need to be avoided at all costs as we are not reaching a town for about 1 hour. When we do reach the closest town there is not much of a town at all. The closest town has a population of approximately 21,000 but the largest supermarket doesn’t carry half of the items you want or need at home and most of the brands are ones you probably want to avoid if possible. There are small clothes stores, but you are not going to do clothes shopping there, only if you need something for working outside on the land. The closest town for us where we can do a big grocery shopping and find nicer stores is an hour and a half from our farm (one hour on dirt road and half and hour on the highway). Do we get to go to the real town often? Absolutely not.

Living in rural Brazil I prefer to stay on our farm and work in the fields seeding, transplanting, and harvesting. The dirt road trip is only for when I really have to go somewhere (and unfortunately cannot be avoided)!

Farofa

Receita de FarofaIf you travel to Brazil and you eat meat, the chances of being offered farofa are pretty high. But, as a part of the offer to try this dish will be a very kind ‘but I am not sure if you are going to like it.’ There is something about Brazilians when it comes to foreigners and farofa that they do not think these gringos (term used to refer to foreigners in Brazil) will like this manioc flour based side dish. When my husband first offered farofa to me he started with the very kind phrase ‘but I don’t think you are going to like it.’ Well, he was wrong with that one! And it seems that Brazilians are still surprised when they learn that this gringa LOVES to eat and make farofa.

Ok, so you are probably reading this and wondering ‘what the hell is this farofa dish.’ Farofa is a side dish commonly served with meat, rice, and beans and is almost always found at churrascos (barbecues). Farofa is made from farinha de mandioca which is a much courser and less starchy manioc flour than regular tapioca flour (see my post about the different types of manioc flours in Brazil). The farinha de mandioca is slightly yellow and can be found in many different varieties, from toasted to course to flakey (looks a little bit like corn flakes)! The type of farinha de manioca you use depends entirely on your taste buds; there is no right or wrong farinha de mandioca to use when making farofa.

So the base of farofa is a dry and course manioc flour. Because this flour is rather tasteless and not nice to eat on its own, Brazilians use butter, onions, bacon, parsley, eggs and almost anything else you can imagine to flavor this flour and make it in to a deliciously yummy side dish that is paired beautifully with meat.

The secret to a really tasty farofa is the butter. Lots of butter is melted in a frying pan, onions are added and are either lightly sautéd or sautéd until they are brown and crispy. Other ingredients are sautéd next. Lastly, making sure there is enough butter in the pan, the farinha de mandioca is added and mixed with all of the other ingredients. The butter is used to add moisture to the dry flour. The trick is to get just the right amount of butter so as not to make the farinha de mandioca too moist or too dry!

As with all Brazilian dishes everyone has their own recipe for farofa and swears by it. This is my favorite recipe and the one that I make the most. For a different farofa recipe take a look at this one from fellow blogger Sally.

Receita de FarofaIngredients

3/4 cup farinha de mandioca
2 – 4 tbsp butter
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 slices of bacon, finely chopped
1 handful of Cheiro verde or parsley

Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until they are just beginning to brown. Add the bacon and fry for 3 – 4 minutes. Add the cheiro verde together with the farinha de mandioca. Keep over the heat for approximately 1 minute. Remove from the heat and place into a serving bowl. This can be served warm, cold, or room temperature.

Eat with meat (sausage is my favorite), rice, and beans.

For a PDF of this recipe CLICK HERE!

Comments: To make this recipe it is absolutely essential that you use farinha de mandioca. The fine tapioca flour that is used to make pão de queijo will not work. Finding the course manioc flour outside of Brazil is not all that easy. I have found it in the international section of some supermarkets in the USA, but not frequently. You can easily buy it online. Take a look here for links of where to buy it or this link will take you directly to the product! You have the option of buying ‘torrada’ or ‘cruda/crua’. The ‘torrada’ has a stronger more nutty flavor than the ‘cruda/crua’. My favorite brand for farinha de mandioca is Yoki!

Canja de Galinha (Chicken Soup)

Chicken Broth SoupThe other night I had a huge craving for some warm soup and the first thing that came to my mind was chicken soup. But, I decided to make a bit of a different chicken soup: Canja de Galinha. The recipe came from a cookbook that I had been given this week and earlier that day I had skimmed over this recipe and it had stuck in my mind.  At first glance this recipe looked the same as any other kind of chicken soup recipe just with a few more ingredients. But, while I was making the soup my vegetarian brother-in-law asked me if I was going to post this recipe on my blog. I responded quickly, “I’m not sure if canja is really Brazilian.” But as soon as those words left my mouth I started thinking that canja might actually be more Brazilian than I think. Once I started thinking about it I realized that I hadn’t really heard of canja before coming to Brazil. So, once the soup was finished and a deliciously big bowl of it had made its way into my stomach I did a little bit of research.

Chicken Broth SoupIt turns out that the Canja de Galinha that Brazilians make is very typical to Brazil; no other cuisine that makes canja makes it quite like the Brazilians.

The canja is a typically portuguese broth and is known for its simplicity and lightness. The canja is basically a seasoned rice broth with chicken. These ingredients, rice first then chicken, end up being cooked simultaneously with mint leaves added for finishing. Originally, the canja is a very watery soup. Often associated with health and healing canja has been given to sick people and eaten as a means to prevent illness. In Brazil the watery canja changes and instead is turned into a much more substantial soup with carrots and potatoes added to it.

So it is thanks to my brother-in-law that I did some extra research and realized that the Canja de Galinha that is made in Brazil is pretty unique.

 

Ingredients

150 g (3/4 cup) white rice
1kg (2.2 lbs) chicken breast and thighs
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 liter (1 qt.) chicken stock
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
Olive oil
Salt

In a large pan drizzle with oil, sauté chicken. Add salt and celery and cook for a few more minutes. Pour in chicken stock, add carrot and potatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add rice, and cook for 30 minutes longer. Adjust salt and, if necessary, add water or chicken stock. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

You can cook the chicken and rice seperately, here are the changes you need to make! Place the chicken in a pressure cooker, cover with enough water and cook for thirty minutes. Remove the chicken from the broth and shred. Sauté the onions in a large pan with the oil. Add the salt and celery and cook for a few more minutes. Pour in the chicken stock from the pressure cooker and add the carrots and potatoes. Cover and let boil until the carrots and potatoes are fully cooked, add the shredded chicken and cooked rice. Let boil for 5 minutes. Add more stock if needed. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

For a PDF of this Recipe CLICK HERE!

Sources:
What hides behind a chicken broth? It’s canja.

Chicken Broth Soup

Brazilian Style Greens

DSC_0221The first time that I served sauteed collards was at a dinner for friends; they were all blown away by how amazing they tasted. And, honestly, I was blown away by their praise for this simple dish. Sauteed collards have been a staple part of my diet for many years now and hearing from friends how tasty they were reminded me that simple can really be the best! When I explained how I cooked the collards my friends were even more stunned, the main reaction going around the table was WOW!

Since first visiting Brazil, I have adopted the Brazilian way of cooking greens. It is simple to prepare, simple to cook, and most importantly it is difficult to get it wrong…Oh, and it tastes amazing. Yes, Brazilians cook vegetables in many different ways but it has always been the way that they sauté their greens that has appealed to me most. Any vegetable that is sauteed with olive oil, onions, garlic, and salt is heaven to my mouth.

Now, I know that collards may not be the most popular leafy green vegetable in the USA, except in the south. Why, I don’t know, because I can never get enough of this leafy green. If you have never tried collards before, please, run down to your local grocery store and pick-up a bunch of these goodies. If you have tried them and weren’t convinced, try this recipe, you will not be disappointed. Many people I have talked to do not know what to do with collard. Well, here you go, I am about to give you the one thing you will want to cook with every meal.

DSC_0120If you absolutely detest collards or can’t find them, any leafy green such as kale or beet greens will be just as tasty with this recipe. But then again, this is one of those recipes that will work for any vegetable. As you can see from the picture here I made sauteed broccoli raab and they were to-die-for (maybe because they were also organically grown on our farm).

These greens are great when paired with rice, beans, and meat. Take a look at my rice and bean recipes to put together the perfect Brazilian meal!

So, what do you need to do to get these amazing greens on your plate? Well, it is really easy and only takes a few minutes!

Ingredients

1 medium onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tsp salt
2 tblsp tempero caseiro (substitute for onions, garlic, and salt)
2 tblsp olive oil
10 leaves of collard or any other vegetable

Chop the onion and garlic finely (if using tempero caseiro measure out necessary quantity). Wash the collard and lay five leaves flat on top of each other. Roll the five leaves tightly together. Take a knife and slice the collard very thinly, as thin as possible. Repeat until all collard is cut. Pour the olive oil into a large frying pan or pot and heat on medium flame. Once oil is hot place the onions (or tempero caseiro) in the pan and sauté for approximately 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Place the collard into the pan together with the salt and sauté until reduced in size and just cooked; approximately 5-7 minutes. Make sure that the stalk is still slightly crunchy; you do not want to overcook it. Serve hot.

For a PDF of this Recipe CLICK HERE!

Tapioca Flour: What is it really?

Ever since I tried Tapioca (a type of pancake made from tapioca flour, typically found in the north of Brazil) I have been constantly thinking about tapioca flour. In Brazil there is not just one type of tapioca flour, instead there seems to be a gazillion different types (well that isn’t quite true, but it seems that way to me) and each one is used for making a specific dish or to suit different taste buds. Recently I have been thinking more about the advantages of using tapioca flour, one being that it is GLUTEN FREE, and how fun it is to bake with. The part that I like best is that tapioca flour becomes gooey (if you have tried pão de queijo you know what I mean). So, before I dive into tons of recipes that take tapioca flour I’m going to tell you a little bit about what it is and the different flours that you can find in Brazil.

Sagu or tapioca pearls image from www.wikinoticia.com/

Sagu or tapioca pearls
image from http://www.wikinoticia.com/

Tapioca flour, or manioc flour, is made from a woody shrub known as cassava, manioc, or yuca; a native shrub of South America. In Brazil, the cassava plant and the root that is commonly eaten is called “mandioca”, while the starch is called “tapioca”! The name tapioca is derived from the word tipi’oka which is the name for this starch in the Tupi language that was spoken by the natives when the Portuguese first arrived in the Northeast of Brazil. The Tupi word, tipi’oka, refers to the process by which the starch is made edible. The word has been adopted and is now used to refer to the flour in the northeast of the country. In the north and central west it is more commonly referred to as mandioca, and in the southeast and south as aipim.

Polvilho Doce image from www.mysupermarket.co.uk

Polvilho Doce
image from http://www.mysupermarket.co.uk

As I learned today from my mother-in-law and husband, tapioca flour is the primary flour that is used for baking in the northern areas of Brazil. Due to an inability to grow wheat, tapioca has been adopted as the primary flour. Breads, cakes, buns, and pancakes are all made with tapioca flour. I haven’t tried tapioca bread or cake yet, but I know that I will have to.

Brazilians use two types of tapioca flour: a fine flour that is used in cakes and cookies, and a course flour that is used for frying. Obviously, this is not where the story ends. Yes, there are two main types of tapioca flour, but the tree keeps on branching out. The fine flour, referred to as “polvilho” in Brazil has two different types, a sweet and a sour. The course flour, referred to as “farinha de mandioca” also has various types! Let me start by explaining a little bit more about “polivilho”!

Polvilho Azedo

Polvilho Azedo
image from http://www.produtosbrasileiros.co.uk

Polvilho – This is the fine-white tapioca flour. This is the basic tapioca flour you will find. In Brazil there are two different types, the sweet and the sour. So, what is the difference? Well basically one flour is more sour and the other is more sweet. Tasting them side-by-side you can really taste the difference. “Polvilho Doce”, the sweet tapioca flour is more commonly used for baking cakes or cookies. If you are baking anything sweet you will probably want to go with the sweet tapioca flour! “Polvilho Azedo” is fermented cassava pulp that is then made into flour. This flour is sour and is used in recipes like pão de queijo. More commonly used in savory recipes, the sour tapioca flour has a stronger flavor!

Farinha de Mandioca

Farinha de Mandioca
image from http://www.ibahia.com

Farinha de Mandioca – This is the course manioc flour that is used for frying and is commonly used in the side dish farofa (farinha de mandioca fried with butter, onions, bacon/jerked beef, and parsley). I still have no idea how many different varieties of this flour there are in Brazil, but it seems like a lot. Some flours are very course, others toasted for a more nutty flavor, and others have large flakes. Generally it is up to the preference of those cooking or eating the dishes made with farinha de mandioca. They all do the same thing, they just have slightly different textures and flavors!

Besides the tapioca flour you find in Brazil, Brazilians are also very fond of “sagu” or what is actually known in the USA as tapioca: the tapioca pearls. A delicious dessert “sagu” is usually made with grape juice, but you can find almost any flavor.

If you do not live in Brazil it is likely that you will not have access to the endless variety of tapioca flours that you can find here. Instead, you will be able to find the basic tapioca flour, this is probably the “polvilho doce” that we find in Brazil, but can really be used for any type of baking (pão de queijo made with polvilho doce is still a bite of heaven). Finding the “farinha de mandioca” will be much more of a challenge. I have seen it in some supermarkets in the international section, but this was only in the Boston area where there is a large Brazilian population. (Take a look at my links for ordering Brazilian Food online, there are some great places to buy farinha de mandioca!)