In London’s Southbank Centre, the 2016 Rio Olympics party started long before the opening ceremony.
Since May, the U.K.’s popular Cabana chain has been hosting a pop-up restaurant on a beachy outpost of trucked-in sand, and the carnival atmosphere will run through the end of the Paralympic Games in September.
The menu includes chimichurri steak with rice and black beans and what Lizzy Barber, marketing manager and one of the co-authors of “Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond,” calls “cheesy dough balls” – because it’s easier to say than pao de queijo (PAWN-dee-kay-zhew).
Wait! Chimichurri? Isn’t that the national steak sauce of Argentina? Blame the cross-cultural confusion on the cultural melting pot that is modern Brazil: Yes, the parsley-heavy chimichurri – an Argentinian creation – has become the No. 1 sauce at Brazilian-style steakhouses, Barber says.
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In a vast country where there are many regional cuisines but no tradition of haute cuisine, home cooking is the status quo. That also means every cook has his or her own version of a recipe – “no carbon copy recipes exist” – and the country’s immigrant roots are reflected in its dishes, such as the popular stroganoff, originally from Russia.
“Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond” aims to “replicate the flavor and vibrancy” of Brazilian food in London without copying it, Barber says during a recent phone interview. That approach makes the book’s 80 recipes both appealing and adaptable.
I’ve been married to a Brazilian for 29 years, and for nearly as many years the signature cocktail at Casa Silva has been the lime-and-sugar-muddled caipirinha. When we have friends over for a barbecue, my husband grills churrascaria-style meats. He also makes huge pots of the pork and black bean stew known as feijoada every August (which reminds me, I will be chopping 10-pound bags of onions very soon).
I have always been a helpful spectator and an enthusiastic and knowledgeable eater, but I’ve never really taken control of the menu. A few weeks ago, I grabbed the colorful “Cabana” cookbook (it has a different name and cover in the U.K.) that had been on my bookshelf since 2014 and began thumbing through it, searching for recipes that would work nicely when hosting a Rio-themed Olympics watch party.
In addition to traditional skewers of meat, I wound up making my first batch of coxinhas, a snacky chicken croquette shaped like a drumstick that is typically served at botecos and barzinhos, literally “little bar.” (The Brazilians add “-inho” to practically everything to show affection.) The coxinhas were, if I may brag, among the best I’ve ever had. Bonus: I got over my fear of deep-frying.
My non-Brazilian girlfriend, who has been partying Brazilian-style with our family for nearly three decades, is so smitten with Brazilian food that she made learning how to make the cheesy bread a New Year’s resolution.
Inspired by her success – I taste tested for quality assurance – I wanted to learn to make them myself. She found a ridiculously simple version on simplyrecipes.com and she remains the official head pao de queijo maker of our party group, but when I get a craving, it’s good to know I can make my own.
I also made my own caipirinha, and I tested a sangria with a slug of cachaca at a recent potluck. Let’s get this Rio party started!
Cocktail party trivia
▪ Brazil is spelled Brasil in Portuguese. Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish. They are Latinos but not Hispanic.
▪ The country is larger in land mass than the contiguous United States.
▪ The capital of Brazil is Brasilia.
▪ Brazil is a melting pot, with African slavery and subsequent immigrant groups from around the world shaping its cuisine in ways that are similar to the southern United States. Pork is an important meat, and collard greens are a staple. There is no Mexican influence, tortillas or spicy peppers, other than the malagueta pepper table sauce.
▪ Brazil’s largest immigrant population is the Japanese; it is home to the largest population outside of Japan.
▪ The national dish is feijoada, a black bean and pork stew created by African slaves and typically served in homes on Saturdays.
▪ The national cocktail is the caipirinha, a potent, rum-based cocktail.
▪ Churrasco, or Brazilian barbecue, is rubbed with rock salt and cooked over high heat.
This recipe from “Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond” was adapted to use tri-tip beef roast (similar to picanha) instead of lamb, which is actually more typical. I also substituted Gourmet Garden’s Chili Pepper Stir-In Paste for the malagueta peppers.
3 tablespoons red chilies or chili paste
5 to 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons mirin (Japanese rice wine)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 heaping teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
1/2 teaspoon fresh or dried oregano
1/4 cup light olive or sunflower oil
2 pounds tri-tip roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
14 ounces canned palm hearts, drained, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Put chilies, garlic, mirin, vinegar, salt, cumin, oregano and oil in a small food processor and blend until it forms a smooth, wet paste. (Use immediately for this recipe; keep excess in the refrigerator in a clean, sealed jar for up to a week.)
Place meat cubes into a ziptop bag, add 6 tablespoons of the marinade and let marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.
Light the grill and let the flames die down. Thread skewers alternating with meat and hearts of palm pieces. Season lightly with salt and pepper and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, turning the skewers a few times to brown evenly. (Brazilians prefer their meat rare.) Serve skewers with remaining marinade, if desired.
Cachaca grilled chicken
Cachaca is a Brazilian-style rum that is available at large liquor stores. It is the key element of the caipirinha, a refreshing cocktail made with lime and sugar.
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
3 garlic cloves, finely crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried or fresh chopped oregano
4 tablespoons cachaca
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Italian parsley sprigs, finely chopped, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish
Open the chicken thighs and place them on a cutting board. Cover them with plastic wrap and lightly bash them with a meat mallet or rolling pin until the meat is of even thickness. Place meat in a zip-close bag. Add garlic, oregano, cachaca, olive oil, salt and pepper. Use your hands to toss and coat the chicken, working the marinade evenly into the flesh, then place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minute before cooking and let it come to room temperature. Light the grill and let the flames die down. Thread the chicken on metal skewers and grill for 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Let the thighs rest for 5 minutes before sprinkling with parsley. Serve with lime wedges on the side.
Per serving: 211 calories (54 percent from fat), 11 g total fat (2 g saturated), 81 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 19 g protein, 554 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber.
Easy Brazilian cheese bread
Makes 24 cheese puffs
Pao de quejo – literally translated from Portuguese as “bread of cheese” – is a delectable cheesy puff that gets its chewiness from tapioca (sometimes called cassava or manioc) flour. This Simply Recipes version whips the batter up in a blender. The batter can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator up to 2 days. Be sure you have mini-muffin pans on hand.
Vegetable cooking spray
1 egg, preferably at room temperature or warmed in hot water
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups tapioca flour (available in the health food area of well-stocked grocery stores)
1/2 cup packed grated hard Italian cheese (choose Parmesan, Romano, Asiago or a combination)
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray 2 mini-muffin pans with vegetable cooking spray.
Put all the ingredients into a blender and pulse until smooth, using a spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender. You can store the prepared batter in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Pour batter into prepared mini-muffin tins, not quite to the top; leave about an 1/8 inch from the top.
Bake tins in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until all puffy and just lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for a few minutes. Cheese bread is best served warm.
Per cheese puff: 72 calories (49 percent from fat), 4 g total fat (1 g saturated), 11 mg cholesterol, 8 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 127 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber, 49 percent of calories from fat.