World Cup 2014 kicks off in Brazil today with a match between host country Brazil and Croatia.
It's hard to top the spirit that Brazilian soccer fans display as they wave their green-yellow-and-blue flags, dance to a samba beat, and sing – endlessly. You could argue they have just as much passion for their national dish, feijoada, a hearty meat and black bean stew.
A few years ago I experienced the making of feijoada when a couple of Brazilian friends, Ana Paula and Evelin, thought it would be a fun idea to teach me how to make a full Brazilian meal in my tiny kitchen. It was laborious! The whole event spanned three days but we had a lot of fun in the process and the feijoada was delicious. I was mostly on fan duty (you'll find out why) and a careful observer but it has been an experience I've never forgotten.
Feijoada, as Evelin explained, is a dish that was created by Brazil’s slaves (who were emancipated in 1888). Rice and beans were their staple foods, and they would add whatever leftover meat (“the ears, the tail”) they could find to the pot. Well, it smelled so good and tasted so savory that as the former slaves infiltrated Brazil’s free communities, the dish was widely and enthusiastically adopted by all classes. Today, feijoada is on the menu of every São Paulo restaurant, particularly on causal Fridays, when it is gobbled up by executives taking their long lunches. (Other sources attribute its origins to Europe.)
If you had all day, you could make this for dinner. But here's how it looked when we juggled a busy weekend and a workday as we made the feijoada.
Ana Paula and Evelin arrive at my apartment Saturday evening laden with groceries from the Brazilian market and a pressure cooker. I hustle the bags upstairs and stuff my fridge with more meat than I have seen in six months. Per my instructions, I set my alarm in order to soak the beans by 8:00 a.m. on Sunday so that they will be ready to cook midday.
Sunday afternoon Ana Paula and Evelin arrive to begin cooking the feijoada. Evelin, being the practical person that she is, dons a plastic shower cap and explains the cap is to protect her hair “from the smell.” Huh? Sure enough, as we get cooking the beef, two kinds of sausage, salty pork, and bacon in olive oil and butter, my tiny apartment gets a bit … pungent.
This is when I go on fan duty, trying to blow the steam/smell/grease out through the deck door before the smoke alarm sounds and the building will have to evacuate and call off the fire department (thankfully, that didn’t happen).
The cooking is taking some time and we are hungry. So after we cook the beans and the meat and then let them rest, we eat a simple lunch of rice, sausage, and onion and a green salad with dill dressing. We chase that down with mango sorbet, blueberries, and squares of dark chocolate.
In case you are wondering, the feijoada isn't done yet. It needs to rest.
Evelin meets me after work and we journey home on the subway together to finish up the meal. The meat and beans have been "resting" all this time, mingling their flavors, in my fridge. Back goes on the shower cap, the apron, and … the fans. The meat and beans are set back on the stove top.
Then we make the farofa, which is kind of like grits. In Brazil, it is an essential part of the feijoada meal.
(I wish I could insert an audio file here so you could hear the exhaust fan, the ceiling fan, the standing fan, the air purifier, and the air conditioning all running at once in the background as the meat sizzles and the beans bubble.)
Joking aside, it smells amazing. Three days and five minutes after we started, we sit down to eat. Finally.
We are exhausted and triumphant. And we have Brazilian soda.
Evelin, apron and shower cap now put away, raises her glass for a “Tim-Tim” (pronounced “ching-ching”). A Brazilian toast. We toast good friendship and good food and good shower caps.
“However, there is one ingredient that you did not see,” says Evelin as she leans back in her chair. Really? I thought I had paid good attention. “That ingredient,” she says with a pause, “is love.”
Of course it is.
Enough to serve half a soccer team.
Note: The amounts are hard to explain, since the bags of meat from the Brazilian grocery store were marked in ways that didn't translate well. But you can't really go wrong with amounts when you are cooking stew.
3/4 of 1 kg bag of black beans
10 ounce roll of paio (smoked sausage), chopped
1 bag mixed pork pieces (bacon, sausage, salty pork)
1 bag salted beef, chopped
3 or 4 bay leaves
3/4 cup garlic, chopped (about 12-16 cloves)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Soak the beans in a bowl of water for 3-4 hours. When the beans are ready, drain, and pour them into a pressure cooker. Rinse off the mixed pork pieces, saving aside some of the bacon to cook with the farofa (recipe below). Slice the roll of paio in half, pull off the skin, and chop into bit-sized chunks (the sausage gives the stew its special taste). Add to the beans in the pressure cooker.
2. Chop the salted beef into 1-1/2 inch squares (if the pieces of beef are too small, they will fall apart as they cook). Heat a big pot of water. As the water gets hot, add the beef and the remaining mixed pork to the pot, bring to a boil. Cook for 2-3 minutes (this is in order to boil off the salt). Drain and add the boiled meat to the pressure cooker and cook for 30 or 40 minutes over medium high heat. Transfer to a large pot, add bay leaves, and simmer over medium-high heat to thicken the sauce, “until it looks like chocolate sauce.”
3. As the beans simmer, brown the chopped garlic in the olive oil until it caramelizes, add to the meat and bean stew. Take some of the liquid from the stew and pour it to the now empty garlic pan. Scrap off caramelized garlic remains from pan to capture flavor, and add liquid back to the stew pot.
1/2 lb. (8 ounces) calabresa (cured pork sausage), chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 200 g can of Aviacao butter (about 2 tablespoons less than 2 sticks of butter)
35 ounce bag of Toasted Manioc Flour (yucca flour)
1 teaspoon salt
4 oranges, peeled and quartered
1. Chop the calabresa into small pieces. Chop the reserved bacon into tiny pieces, combine with chopped sausage in a pot. Fry sausage, bacon, onion together in half of the butter over medium heat until the onion browns (butter helps to keep the meat from drying out and to retain its flavor). Add egg (if you want, you can add an apple or banana to the mixture). Stir in half of the bag of yucca flour and stir in salt. Add more butter, to taste. Mix thoroughly.
2. Cover and remove from heat.
2 cups dry rice
4 cups water
1/2 large onion
1 tablespoon cooking oil (canola, olive, or corn)
1. Add rice and water in a large pot, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes (or follow instructions on rice package). Fry onion in oil, add to rice.
2. Spoon feijoada over rice, spoon farofa on side. Serve with peeled oranges. Enjoy!