Rural Brazil – Trees and Potatoes

Araucaria Tree: The Brazilian pine tree

Araucaria Tree: The Brazilian pine tree

Last Sunday of the month and that means it’s time to tell you a little bit more about rural life in Brazil. I can’t believe it is almost the end of November and that summer is really here. Days are getting warmer and it seems as though there is no time in the day to do anything else then to tend to the ever growing vegetables and weeds. We are already harvesting lots of vegetables and our fridge and freezer are full to bursting. We have zucchini, spinach, collard, broccoli, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, and tons and tons of blackberries that I am starting to turn into yummy jam! More vegetables are coming and soon I will hopefully be able to harvest lots of tomatoes.

Being a certified organic farm is wonderful, my husband and I really feel that every time we put something in the ground we are working to build up the soil; we are making it better. A constant topic of conversation in our house and in our work is ‘what do we need to do to make our soil better’. We are always adding things to our soil to make it better and to guarantee that our vegetables will continue to grow healthily and we are maintaining the earth where we work and live. But, we are a little island in the region where we live. We live in a region that is comprised of farmers and people who work the land. But, we are one of the only organic farms.

Two of the primary sources of work in the region where we live is logging and potato planting and harvesting.

Pine trees in the process of being cut down.

Pine trees in the process of being cut down.

All around our farm you see signs of forestation. From my office window I look out onto areas of land planted by eucalyptus and pines. Trees grow fast here, within six years eucalyptus can be harvested and ten years for pines. I always find it sad to see these forested areas as the natural forest of the region where I live is so beautiful. There is so much plant and animal diversity in the natural forests and with the planting of eucalyptus and pine trees these forests are being destroyed.

Looking up to the top of an Araucaria tree

Looking up to the top of an Araucaria tree

One of the native trees to Brazil that I like the most and that suffers due to the forestation is the Araucaria. This is a strange looking pine tree. With a very long trunk and a cluster of branches with large pine needles on the end it is a tree that is so unique to Brazil. The araucaria is not a fast growing pine tree and takes years and years and years to grow. Because of the planting and harvesting of trees in this region a lot of araucaria trees are damaged, primarily during the harvesting because the felling of the pines or eucalyptus causes the araucaria to fall. Unfortunately to replace these trees will take many many decades!

Logging is a big industry here. Driving into town on our dirt road always means at least one encounter with a huge truck carrying an ungodly amount of wood.

The other primary source of work is potatoes. It seems as though this is slowly changing and broccoli crops seem to be creeping into a lot of the fields, but still, there is lots of land that is planted with conventional potato crops. Because the region is so mountainous no potato field is beautifully flat. This year, about 10 minutes from my farm, is a potato field on a vertical hill. No kidding, the field just seems to drop down vertically. It is fully planted with potatoes and while they were preparing the field I would see the tractor making the treacherous trip down the hill tilling the soil. It seems as though there is a challenge between the potato farmers here ‘who can grow on the steepest fields’. This year it is that guy who is winning, it is by far the steepest field I have seen!

The area next to the tilled land (brown soil) is where potatoes are planted this year. It may not look steep from this picture, but trust me, it is!

The area next to the tilled land (brown soil) is where potatoes are planted this year. It may not look steep from this picture, but trust me, it is!

Conventional potatoes are a crop that seem to constantly need spraying with chemical and it is usually this that makes me extremely nervous, worried, and sad. You see here when chemicals are sprayed onto the fields it is not done with the necessary protection that is needed when handling such toxic chemicals. The last month seems to have been potato spraying season and every time I passed a field where people were spraying potatoes I would notice that the only protection they were using was a simple dust mask. A DUST MASK.

Besides destroying the soil with all of the chemicals that are being sprayed onto the potatoes the people who apply these chemicals face serious health risks. I always shudder to think about the people applying those chemicals and hope that one day things will change.

The brown tilled soil is a steep field where potatoes were planted one year!

The brown tilled soil is a steep field where potatoes were planted one year!

What are Hearts of Palm?

When I first came to Brazil in 2005 I had never heard about hearts of palm. My husband was quick to introduce me and I immediately fell in love with them. Hearts of palm are mild in flavor, tender, and perfect in salads, pies, or with pasta. Hearts of palm are considered a delicacy because of the labor intensive process of harvesting them. You can find them in almost any supermarket in the USA and if you haven’t tried them before I highly recommend running to your local supermarket, grabbing a jar, and adding them to your salad for lunch or dinner. I can never get enough of hearts of palm and use any excuse to add them to a dish. But, what exactly are hearts of palm?

Simply put, hearts of palm are the inner core and growing bud of the palm tree. The stem of the palm tree is harvested and the bark is removed leaving a layer of white fiber around the central core. This fiber is removed leaving the center core of the heart of palm which is eaten. The fresh hearts of palm tend to be crisp and crunchy whereas the canned hearts of palm lose their crunchiness and are much softer.

Here is a great video showing the whole process of harvesting to packaging the hearts of palm.


There are various varieties of palm trees that the heart of palm is harvested from, this includes the palmito juçara, açaí palm, sabal palm, and the pejibaye. The palmito juçara used to be the most popular uncultivated (wild) palm tree that was harvested for the heart of palm. Brazil was the largest producer of this heart of palm variety until the 1990’s when there was a lot of poaching for these popular stems which resulted in the threatened extinction of the wild palmito juçara. Today Ecuador is one of the highest producers of hearts of palms together with Costa Rica. The majority of hearts of palms that you find in the supermarket now are from domesticated (farmed) palm trees.

When the stem of the palm is harvested for the inner core the palm tree dies. The most common palm trees have only one stem and when it is cut the tree has nothing remaining to keep it alive. It is because of the single stemmed palm trees that palm trees with multiple stems, such as the sabal palm and the pejibaye, were domesticated (farmed) so as to prevent the killing of the palm tree when its stems were cut for the inner core. Today, most hearts of palms come from large farms which harvest the inner core of the palm from a tree that can have up to 40 stems. The multiple stems of the domesticated palm trees prevents the killing of the tree and harvesting hearts of palm becomes much more sustainable.

In Brazil hearts of palms are called palmito. In English there are several different names, some of which I had never heard of: hearts of palm, peach palm, burglars thigh, and swamp cabbage (not sure where burglars thigh comes from, anyone know?). Hearts of palm can be used in so many different ways, my favorite ways to eat hearts of palm is to slice them and add to a salad, cut in half and stand them on a plate and drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt, or to make a pie like this torta de palmito!

Resources
http://www.wisegeek.org/what-are-hearts-of-palm.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_of_palm
http://www.buzzle.com/articles/hearts-of-palm.html

MOQUECA a Brazilian Seafood Stew

Brazilian Seafood StewThe first time I tried moqueca in Brazil, and I think the only time that I have eaten it at a restaurant here, was quite a long time ago at the beach with my husband. He had hyped-up this dish like crazy and told me how much I was going to love it. Unfortunately when our moqueca arrived we were both disappointed and I did not fall in love with it. The restaurant was a tourist trap and I did not get to experience this absolutely delicious dish. Instead, I learned to love this dish when my husband made it for me back in the USA. I couldn’t get enough of it and wanted to eat it almost all the time. While living in Boston we found a wonderful moqueca restaurant (Muqueca Restaurant, Cambridge MA) and ate there several times. It was so delicious that we kept wanting to go back for more.

Brazilian Seafood StewSo, Brazil hasn’t yet showed me the best of their moqueca but believe me this is an amazing dish and if you get the chance to try it while in Brazil definitely jump on the opportunity. If you are a fish lover like me you will not be disappointed.

Moqueca is a dish traditionally from the northern states of Espirito Santo and Bahia. It is a seafood ragout or stew made with any combination of fish and shell fish.There are countless recipes for moqueca and everyone has their own favorite recipe. Moqueca is a dish that was influenced by the Brazilian native indian, African, and Portuguese cuisines. The name comes from the native indian word POKEKAS. Traditionally, moqueca is slow cooked in a clay pot known as the ‘capixaba‘. Moqueca that is cooked in the clay pot is called ‘moqueca capixaba‘. The capixaba is a handmade pot made from black clay and mangrove tree sap and adds a beautiful flavor to the moqueca.

Brazilian Seafood StewAgain, moqueca is one of those Brazilian dishes that can be made hundreds of different ways and as long as you have the basic ingredients you cannot go wrong!

Some asides about this recipe and what to eat moqueca with:

  • Moqueca is traditionally made with cilantro, but since there are some people who absolutely hate the taste of cilantro (my husband) you do not need to use it. I always substitute cilantro with parsley and it works perfectly.
  • This dish can be made with ANY type of fish. I generally use a simple white fish like tilapia and shrimp. But feel free to use any fish you have at home or would like to use instead!
  • Make sure that the coconut is not too strong. You want to have an equal blend of tomato and coconut.
  • Once the fish has been added DO NOT STIR.
  • I eat moqueca with rice and farofa. I make a very simple farofa usually just with onions, but again, any farofa recipe works perfectly.
  • Most importantly: have fun with this recipe!

Brazilian Seafood StewIngredients

1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5tbsp tempero caseiro (substitute for onions & garlic)
olive oil
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
16oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes
8oz can coconut milk
400g/880oz shrimp
500g/1lb tilapia, or other mild white fish
1 cup parsley or cilantro
1-2 tbsp chili flakes
salt

Prepare all of the vegetables: chop the peppers, onions, garlic, and parsley or cilantro (if using tempero caseiro measure required quantity). Place a the capixaba, clay pot, or cast iron pan over medium heat and warm-up the olive oil. When oil is warm add the onions and garlic (or tempero caseiro). Sauté until fragrant, approximately 3-4 minutes. Add the pepper and sauté for another 6-8 minutes or until slightly tender. Add the crushed or diced tomatoes and leave to simmer with the lid off for approximately 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk, stir well, and bring to a boil. Add the salt, chili flakes, and half of the parsley or cilantro to taste (you do not want the dish to be too spicy). Lower heat and keep mixture at a low boil. Prepare the shrimp and tilapia; take off the shrimp tails and cut tilapia into medium sized chunks. After mixture has boiled for approximately 10 minutes add the fish. Once the fish has been added do not stir the mixture anymore. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. Add the remaining parsley or cilantro. Serve with rice and farofa!

For a PDF of this recipe CLICK HERE!Brazilian Seafood Stew

Truckers Rice – a great variation to white rice

Arroz CarreteiroSo Brazilians seem to have a variation to almost everything, and rice is no exception. Plain white rice is just not enough! Mixing rice with all kinds of goodies makes for an even more elaborate and tasty dish. That is just what arroz carreteiro (ah-hoyz ka-hay-tay-ro) or truckers rice aims to do. Primarily found in the south of Brazil, arroz carreteiro is almost a meal in-itself with vegetables and meat adding beautiful flavors to an already fragrant white rice.

I don’t make arroz carreteiro on a regular basis. I usually make it when I want my rice to have just a little bit more to it or I don’t want to make beans. This week I decided to make arroz carreteiro to accompany grilled pork chops and farofa. There are many different recipes for arroz carreteiro and I am not quite sure which is the original or best one. But never mind, I am going to share with you my recipe for arroz carreteiro and lucky me it has past the approval test of Brazilians from Rio Grande do Sul (the south of Brazil where it is commonly found).

Ingredients

2 cups basmati or jasmine white rice
4 cups boiling water
1 onion finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
3 tblsp tempero caseiro (substitute for onions, garlic, & salt)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup bacon chopped
1/2 cup carne seca, dried meat (optional)
1/2 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley

Wash the rice until water runs clear and set aside to dry. Boil enough water for four cups. Chop the onions and garlic. If using tempero caseiro measure out the necessary quantity. Finely chop the peppers, bacon, carne seca (optional), and parsley. Place a medium sized pan over medium heat and heat-up the olive oil. Fry the onions and garlic, or tempero caseiro until fragrant, approximately 3-4 minutes. Add the bacon and carne seca and fry for an additional 5 minutes. Add the pepper and fry for another 4-5 minutes. Add the parsley and rice together and fry for an additional 5 minutes, making sure that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the boiling water and salt and cover to cook for 5 minutes. Lower the heat to low and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes until the water has evaporated. If the rice is not properly cooked add a little bit more water and cook until done!

For a PDF of this recipe CLICK HERE!

Escondidinho

The last few weeks have been crazily busy for me and trying to get a lot of cooking done has not been easy, especially when I am trying to learn how to cook new dishes. Writing posts at the end of a busy work day has been almost impossible, so you will have to excuse my tardiness this week with my posts.

EscondidinhoToday I decided to dig into my collection of food that I have already made and share with you a wonderful dish for a cold day. When I made escondidinho a few weeks ago it was not my best cooking day, to say the least. While cooking the mandioca (manioc or yucca) I stupidly decided not to use my pressure cooker and ended up burning my pan because I did not put enough water in to properly cook the mandioca. As a result, I only half managed to cook the mandioca. Mashing the mandioca became a whole other headache: I couldn’t properly mash the mandioca because not all had been properly cooked. So, to make a smooth mixture proved very difficult and I decided to use my food processor to help me out. Oh man was that a mistake. After successfully pureeing the first batch the second load was too much for my small food processor to manage and smoke started to leak from the motor. I quickly turned it off and decided to settle with a lumpy mixture! I am not sure if my processor is actually working properly as I have not dared to try it again; I couldn’t bare to have to throw it in the trash. Anyway, the mandioca part of this recipe proved to be a challenge. It didn’t need to be, I just had a bad kitchen day and didn’t have my cooking hat on! But, to my surprise dealing with the rest of this dish was a breeze.

So, with my rant of the difficulties that I encountered with this recipe over, let me tell you what escondidinho is. The easiest way to describe escondidinho is by saying that it is similar to a Sheppard’s Pie, but at the same time it is really nothing like it. Escondidinho is made with carne seca, a dried, salted meat similar to jerked beef, and manioc/yucca. It is baked in the oven and perfect for a cold night or with beer. From what I have been told, escondidinho is not a dish that is commonly made at home, but instead can be found in bars. Popular in the state of Minas Gerais and other states in the northeast of Brazil it is simple and tasty. According to wikipedia it mentions that escondininho was invented for two young boys, Adolfo and Norberto Canelas who were hungry and only had manioc/yucca and carne seca. Out of these simple ingredients was born this wonderfully simple dish.

EscondidinhoNow, before I share the recipe with you, I have to be completely honest that this was not my favorite dish that I have made or tasted. Although I had the reassurance from my wonderful husband that I had done a really good job with making the dish and it tasted exactly how it should, I did not really like it. I figured out pretty quickly what I didn’t like about this dish and it was the mandioca. Mandioca has a slightly bitter flavor and although lots of people may like this, I cannot bring myself to enjoy the bitterness of it. On the other hand though, the carne seca was absolutely amazing and I couldn’t get enough of it. I think that next time I will put a european twist on this dish and make it with mashed potatoes!

But, I have not given-up using manioc. This week I tried out a manioc bread and it turned out wonderful. I will be sharing the recipe soon, once I have fine tuned it:)

Carne seca is not easy to find outside of Brazil. A solution that some people making escondidinho have come up with is using ground beef. Take a look at this wonderful recipe from Tiffany at A Clove of Garlic, A Pinch of Salt. Or if you are determined to make this the right way you can buy carne seca online.

Here you are, after all of my ramblings I give you the recipe for Escondidinho! Enjoy.

Ingredients

1Kg carne seca
500g manioc/yucca
200g cream
1/2 cup milk
2tbsp butter
salt
1 onion
parsley

Put the carne seca in cold water and leave to soak for up to 24 hours to remove all of the salt. Cook the carne seca in a pressure cooker for approximately 30 minutes. When cool shred the carne seca and set aside. Cook the manioc/yucca in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes. Remove from the water, remove the hard fibre in the middle and mash. Add the cream and milk to form a smooth mixture. Set aside. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the onions. Sauté until the onions are soft but not brown. Add the carne seca, salt, and parsley. Sauté for up to five minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C/390F. Using an oven proof dish put the carne seca mixture on the bottom of the dish and cover with the manioc mixture. Smooth the top. Place in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top is crisp and brown.

For a PDF of this recipe CLICK HERE!