Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Up there

A couple of years ago, I remember reading Clotilde Dusolier talking about "siren ingredients". I had never thought about my cooking habits that way, but I think she's exactly right. There are certain recipes that will without fail attract me based on the presence of one of a few ingredients that, to me, are like the call of the pied piper. For me, anything that contains dates, figs, almond paste, or semolina is going to get immediate attention (I know, I know, I should just move to the Middle East).

When I saw this recipe for a semolina-filled filo pastry, something clicked in my head and the fact that I had other plans for my sugar intake for the week (more on that in the next couple of days) didn't matter. The fact that the recipe included instructions for homemade filo was an added bonus as I hadn't really come across any in the past. Homemade filo pastry! I haven't made baklava since I left the states as frozen filo dough is not exactly a staple in most South American grocery stores (I would guess that there are some specialty stores that sell it here in Rio, but at a price that I'm not willing to pay.)

As it turns out, making filo dough isn't all that different from making strudel dough, something I played around with a couple of years back when we lived in Buenos Aires and had a square table just the right size to pull strudel dough on. Poking around google, it seems like strudel is a derivative of filo dough, so I guess no big surprise there. After assembling the semolina-filled pastry, called galaktoboureko (Greek milk pie?), I had dough left over from trimming the considerable overhang, and decided to make a savory filo pie. In went the contents of my fridge (boy do we need to go to the market)-- crumbled fresh cheese, leftover parsley and cilantro chopped with garlic and salt. I found some pistachios in the cupboard, so those got chopped and strewn between the layers of filo. Dinner.

Back to the galaktoboureko, and to semolina: this really is an excellent recipe, so much so I don't think there is much point in replicating it here, better to click on the link as Joe gives tons and tons of information, and I'm planning both on making the galaktoboureko again, homemade filo and all, and the semolina filling, by itself, to eat as pudding (which is what it is, really). I know, I know, I love pudding in all its forms blah blah blah, but this one is really up there.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Some pictures from July 20th, before:

...and during:

After planning and working on a large event, there's nothing like going to other peoples events and just hanging out; in Brazil, the winter months (Southern hemisphere, baby) are punctuated by Festas Juninas (June festivals) which turn into Festas Julinas (July festivals). Just down the street from our house, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the past month or so, come nightfall venders set up food stands, music blares and the whole neighborhood comes out, dressed to dance and socialize (we showed up in jeans and hoodies the first time, completely unaware of the club-like dress code and utterly conspicuous). Other than the socializing aspect, Festas Juninas seem to be a good excuse to drink a lot of beer...

...to gamble on the local soccer teams...

...and to eat (very sweet) sweets typical of the season. The chocolate covered ones decorated with a single nut on top are enormous but pleasant, filled with a creamy nut filling, as are the egg custard tarts, though they are really at the upper limit of sweetness that I go for.

Last Saturday was Peru's Independence Day, and we went to an event organized by a Peruvian cook to eat delicious, delicious Peruvian food. The place was cramped, the line for food was long and slow, but we were happy to sit and relax (and seriously, Peruvian food is amazing). We left full and unstressed, the only preoccupation being that now we need to figure how to make Peruvian green rice.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Independencia + Agua Panela

With excitement and just a little bit of fear at the amount of manual labor that I know awaits me come the end of next week, I'd like to announce the next Rumba Tipo Colombia, programmed for next Friday, July 20th, Colombian Independence Day. This time we'll be having a traditional cumbia group opening for Felipe's salsa orchestra and lots of food, including lechona, arepas, and empanadas made by yours truly. If you're in Rio and would like to spend a night dancing Colombian-style salsa and brushing up on your Spanish with an extremely animated crowd, you should come join us! Tickets are being sold by email for R$15 (the address is below on the flyer); at the door they'll be R$25.

If you're not in Rio but would like to partake in something so Colombian that if you were to ask Colombians for a recipe they would stare at you blankly because they consider it too damn obvious (like asking an American for a recipe to make PB&J), allow me to introduce you to agua panela con limón, particularly appropriate for the season given that all I hear about on the news from the Northern Hemisphere is how freaking hot it is right now (here, too: we're in the middle of "winter" and it was 90 degrees the other day). Agua panela is a drink made by boiling panela (unprocessed cane sugar) with water; in hot weather, it's served over ice with lime juice, making for an extremely refreshing lemonade-like drink.

A friend of mine from Pasto, where  the average temperatures are much cooler than the like of Cali and the Caribbean coast, adds cinnamon and clove to his, an addition I find really lovely.

Though most people make agua panela con limón and stick it in the fridge for later, I lack the planning-ahead gene, so I find it much easier to make a thin syrup that I can then use immediately by mixing it with cold water and serving it over ice (or just by serving it directly over a bunch of ice that will melt and dilute the syrup-- kind of like the Japanese iced coffee method here, but way less technical, ha). Conversely, agua panela served steaming hot is every Colombian mother's remedy for sickness or just to take the edge off chilly nights, especially with a couple of slices of fresh ginger thrown in.

Agua Panela con Limón

4 oz. panela (also sold as rapadura), in big chunks or grated (unless you've already bought it pre-grated, sold as "panela instantanea", it's really not necessary to grate it here)
cinnamon stick, 4 cloves (optional)
1 lime
cold water 

Place the panela in a small pot along with 6 oz. of water and the cinnamon and cloves, if using. Bring to a low boil and let simmer until the panela has completely dissolved, about 5 minutes (depending on how big your chunks are; instant panela will dissolve much faster-- thus the name); you will have a very thin syrup. Take off the heat and let cool for as long as you like (I use it immediately-- as I said, poor planning skills). Stir 3-4 Tbsp. of the syrup with 5-6 oz. of cold water (depending on how sweet/strong you want it) and a couple big squeezes of lime juice (about 1/4 lime per cup), pour into a glass over ice. Repeat with the rest of the syrup. Makes 3-4 servings.
For agua panela served hot, boil 4 oz. panela with 32 oz. (4 cups of water) and any additional spices, simmering until the panela dissolves. Serve hot, with a squeeze of lime juice if you like.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tipo Colombia

Last week, I spent far too long in my small, domestic kitchen making 200 empanadas and 100 arepas, 2 foods that I have almost no experience at making. Why on earth would I do such a thing? That's a good freaking question, one I'm still asking myself, and the answer starts with that one day we were sitting around with our friend Gabriel and he said, not for the first time, that he was frustrated with the lack of latin culture in Rio and that he wanted to throw a big Colombian-style party before he finished his doctorate here. "We'll help you" we said. "Sure, I'll help with the publicity and the organization," said one friend. "Sure, I can do the music" said Felipe. "Sure, I can do the food," I said. (Stupid, stupid, stupid.) "Ok. I'm going to find somewhere to hold it," said Gabriel. And he did. And it was decided that it would be called "Rumba Tipo Colombia," a tongue-in-cheek reference to this wildly offensive (Brazilian, not at all related to the American style) funk song. And that is how I found myself trying out recipes for lechona (rice-stuffed roasted pig) and aborrajados and buying kilos and kilos of plantains and pig skin. We expected 200 people, and 400 showed up. Whoops. Guess who ran out of beer?
For round two, which went down last Friday, we found a bigger, better-equipped place. I learned the hard way that hand grinding corn for 200 empanadas sucks. But we didn't run out of beer, and the place had functioning air-conditioning and a sound system powerful enough to fill the very large hall.

This time, somehow, miraculously, we had over 500 people, and even were written up as part of a story in O Globo, the local newspaper, on latino parties in Rio de Janeiro (Brazilians don't consider themselves latino...which is a whole other post in itself). The story was a bit badly informed-- the title of the piece translates to "Dance Floors in Rio Open Up for Latin Music Other Than Salsa", even though both our event and one of the two other events cited are mostly salsa (Felipe plays with his salsa orchestra, a DJ puts on other music, this time we had a band playing Colombian folklore open)- but the sentiment is on point, that latin culture is beginning to make more of an appearance in Rio's night life, and of course the publicity is amazing and quite a bit flattering (given that we're a group of graduate students in the sciences...)

The thing about salsa in Rio is that although it's been around for awhile, it's not at all part of the mainstream culture, so it normally takes place within dance schools that teach highly choreographed routines and tend to hold exclusive events where students can show off their latest moves. Salsa at latin parties, on the other hand, tends to be of a very different tenor because everyone there grew up dancing it and people just want to have a good time. Everyone dances with everyone and people know how to share a packed dance floor, which means that the parties look very different than the typical school parties that tend to look more like a ballroom dance competition.

At any rate, I don't want to even look at the corn grinder, at least for a couple of weeks. We're doing another one July 20th for Colombian Independence Day, if you happen to be in Rio we'd love to have you join us! I'll be sharing the information here on the blog as soon as the new flyer is drawn up.

(credit where credit is due: all photos in this post by Oscar Gongora)