Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fans of footchie-ball

As in the rest of South America, futebol (rhymes with cootchie-mall) is without a doubt Brazil's national sport. Because the Brazilians are hosting the next World Cup, in 2014, they automatically qualify and therefore don't have to compete to secure their spot-- and yes, it's only 2012 but the elimination rounds have already started. But there are tons of "friendly" international games up until then (not to mention the local teams, which people are passionately devoted to), and people get just as into watching them even though there aren't really any consequences to losing. A few weeks ago Brazil played Colombia, and large groups from both sides gathered to watch the game in a Colombian-owned establishment in Lapa, one of the downtown neighborhoods. The Brazilians are in the yellow, blue and green shirts, while the Colombians are in the yellow, blue and red shirts (confusing, I know, and not readily distinguishable). I do like watching soccer, but sometimes it's even more fun to watch other peoples' reactions.

The game ended up being a tie-- no resulting to penalty kicks when the outcome doesn't actually matter-- so both sides went home frustrated. And when I say "both sides went home frustrated" I mean "both sides went to another bar where they drank a lot of beer and danced samba in the rain until 5 a.m." Life's tough.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mulher bonita não paga...

This morning I went to the farmer's market, atypically (as my psychologist mother would say) alone, as Felipe had a day gig, which meant that the street harassment multiplied exponentially. Among the less inappropriate things I heard and amongst the normal sweet talking from the venders, I heard a familiar line: mulher bonita não paga...mas também não leva (the pretty girl doesn´t pay...but she also doesn´t get anything) which still made me laugh at its utter dumbness. I later realized that it was familiar to me because of this video that made the rounds during the whole "shit x group of people say" trend.

Despite the harassment, it´s not actually an environment that feels at all unsafe, just raucous-y and, at times, smelly, now that we´re in summer and stuff gets pungent real fast in the hot sun. I just buy copious amounts of fruit (like the acerola, aka Barbados cherry, below) and vegetables and get the hell out of there.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The other tapioca

In the U.S., tapioca means one thing (I may or may not be editorializing here, but bear with me even if you don't happen to share my experience): gloppy, gelatinous pudding of questionable flavor that is given to unsuspecting children and captive audiences like hospital patients. Ok, fine, maybe you like tapioca pudding, we can have a difference of opinion, but riddle me this, Batman: what are those gelatinous tapioca balls made of? If you said yuca root (or cassava, or manioc, all variations will be accepted), you win a brand new Batmobile, or at least some fairy wings, which seemed to be in style at Rio's gay pride parade that we happened upon this past weekend during a long-postponed visit to the beach. If not, well, welcome to the club. I find it odd that something made out of yuca, which is hardly common in the states, stealthily wiggled its way as far as it did into the murky depths of Americana, taking its place alongside pea and ham jello.

Probably non-coincidentally, what is known in tapioca is Brazil is also made out of yuca, but it is in very different form, and (to me) much, much more agreeable.

Made from yuca flour, Brazilian tapioca is a crepe. The crepe is then folded around both sweet or savory fillings, though I much prefer the savory versions. Though originally from the Northeast of the country, it is very common to see tapioca venders on the street in Rio de Janeiro. In fact, it's one of my favorite things to eat in Rio when I'm not at home and looking for something fast, filling and tasty.

Some much so, in fact, that we've starting making them at home. Once you get the hang of it, the preparation couldn't be easier, and you can use literally anything for the filling. The crepe only has two ingredients, water and yuca flour (a.k.a tapioca starch), which you mix together and then pass through a sieve so you're left with crumbs, which you throw into a hot pan. Through yuca's magical properties, the crumbs self-bond, and you're left with a crepe sturdy enough that you can flip it in the pan with a flick of your wrist. It's actually pretty cool.

hadas gay pride rio pic name
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A note about the yuca flour: in the states your best bet is probably going to be labeled "tapioca starch"; and it is readily available at Asian grocery stores and is often a Thai brand; Goya also makes a version that is sometimes available at Latino markets. If you are by chance in Brazil, do NOT buy what is labeled as "tapioca" because, oddly enough, it is not used for Brazilian tapioca (and I still haven't figured out what people actually use it for).

Tapioca (Yuca Crepe) 

2 c. tapioca starch (polvilho doce in Brazil) 
1/2 c. water 
2 Tbsp. butter, room temperature 

Mix the tapioca starch with the water and a small pinch of salt. The tapioca flour will turn hard and unmanageable, which is your cue to break up the hard pieces with your fingers. Do NOT add more water. Once you have a bunch of crumbs, pass them all through a sieve, using your fingers or a spoon to help you push them through. 

Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1/4 of the tapioca mixture to the skillet, quickly spreading it so it completely covers the bottom (I use my fingers for this but you can use the back of a spoon if you like). You should have a layer of tapioca about 1/2 inch deep. Layer whatever toppings you want on top of the tapioca (see below), leaving a 1/2 inch border. After a couple of minutes, shake the pan a bit to check if the bottom has all fused together (it shouldn't be fused to the bottom, it should slide around easily). Now either use a spatula or quickly flick your wrist to turn the crepe over so the toppings are face down in the pan. Spread the plain bottom of the crepe (that is now facing up in the pan) with 1/2 tablespoon of butter. After a minute or two, shake the pan once again to make sure that nothing is sticking to the bottom, then turn the crepe out on to a plate and fold it in half over the filling. Repeat the process with the rest of the tapioca mixture. Serve hot. Makes 4.

For the filling: Tapioca venders offer a long list of sweet and savory combinations including sweetened condensed milk with coconut, guava with cheese, chorizo and cheese, etc. I almost always go for tapioca with mozzarella, tomato and oregano, which is rather pizza-ish without annoyingly trying to be something that it's not. To make this version, you'll want a handful of grated mozzarella and a couple of tomato slices per crepe. Sprinkle the tomatoes with dried oregano, a bit of salt, and some grated parmesan if you have it on hand. Two tricks that venders use to prevent the toppings from sticking when the crepe is cooked face down is to place ingredients that are less likely to stick on top of stickier ingredients (like meat on top of cheese so the cheese has less contact with the pan), and to sprinkle the top of the filling with a bit of the tapioca crumb mixture to help prevent the filling from sticking. So the tomato and mozzarella crepe would go cheese first, then tomato, then oregano and parmesan.

Los crepes de tapioca, los que se venden en la calle en Rio de Janeiro y hacía el norte de Brasil, son un poco dificiles de hacer la primera vez pero con un poco de práctica salen sin problema. Se puede rellenarlos con lo que quieras, sea dulce o salado.

Tapioca (Crepe de Yuca)

2 tazas de almidón de yuca (polvilho doce en Brasil, el almidón sin grumos) 
1/2 taza de agua
2 cucharadas de mantequilla, temperatura ambiente

En un bol, mezcla el almidón con el agua y una pizquita de sal. El almidon se volverá muy duro; con los dedos quiebra los pedazos duros. NO agregues más agua. Cuando tengas puras migas, pasalas por un colador a otro bol, utilizando una cuchara o los dedos para ayudarlas a pasar.

Calienta un sarten pequeño de teflon sobre fuego medio. Echa 1/4 de la mezcla de yuca al sarten, rapidamente esparciendola para que cubra todo el fondo del sarten (yo uso los dedos pero tu puedes usar la parte convexa de una cuchara si quieres). Deberías tener una capa de yuca de 1 cm. de grosor mas o menos. Echa los ingredientes para el relleno que quieras (ver abajo), dejando un borde de 1 cm. Después de un par de minutos, agita el sarten un poco para ver si el fondo está unido como un crepe (no debería estar pegado al fondo, debería moverse en el sarten sin problema). Ahora usa o una espatula o un movimiento rápido de la muñeca para voltear el crepe de manera que el lado con los ingredientes del relleno esté boca abajo en el sarten. Unta el fondo del crepe (que ahora está boca arriba en el sarten) con 1/2 cucharada de mantequilla. Después de un minuto o dos agita el sarten otra vez para asegurar que el crepe no esté pegado al fondo, entonces pasa el crepe a un plato y doblalo con el relleno hacía adentro. Repite el proceso con el resto de la mezcla de yuca. Sirve caliente. Rinde 4 crepes.

Para el relleno: Los vendedores de tapioca ofrecen una lista larga de combinaciones dulces y saladas incluyendo leche condensada con coco, guayaba con queso, chorizo y queso, etc. Casí siempre pido tapioca con mozzarella, tomate y oregano, que es mas o menos sabor a pizza (sin tratar de ser pizza, la cual obviamente no es). Para hacer una versión así, vas a necesitar un puñado de mozzarella y un par de tajadas de tomate por crepe. Salpica los tomates con oregano, un poquito de sal, y parmesano si por casualidad lo tienes a mano. Dos trucos que los vendedores usan para prevenir que el relleno no se pegue al fondo cuando se está cocinado boca abajo es colocar ingredientes con menos probalidad de pegar encima de ingredientes mas pegajosos (por ejemplo carne encima de queso para que el queso tenga menos contacto con el sarten), y salpicar el relleno con un poco de las mezcla de yuca para que no se pegue. Así que para el crepe de mozzarella y tomate, el queso va primero, después el tomate, y después el oregano y parmesano.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

This is going to be quick, I'm still tired from staying up last night watching the election results but boy was it worth it. We holed up at the house of Colombian friends, drinking too many Negronis (I actually wanted to make Americanos in honor of the occasion but forgot to buy club soda) while I explained our crazy electoral system and why I wasn't freaked out (yet) over the red state-filled map. ("Oh no, he won Georgia too!""Georgia doesn't matter.""But they have lots of electoral votes!""Doesn't matter."

I'd be lying if I told you I got much done today, but I did make a pretty slammin' lunch. We buy sweet plantains every Sunday at the farmer's market; by sweet I mean they are already very ripe and often a little battered, it's not easy to get ahold of green plantains here (though they are the exact same fruit). What this means is that come Wednesday of a hot week, the already ripe plantains get so black they begin to grow a little bit of mold, meaning they need to be used, like, ayer

There is a very popular dish in Brazil called escondidinho, which means "a little bit hidden," and which Felipe and I have gotten a kick out of saying ever since we first moved here. It's so cute! My brother Max always asks me why Spanish speakers send "mensajitos," little messages, as opposed to just normal "mensajes." To me it's mainly just meant to be a gentler way of speaking. (Btw, -inho is the Portuguese version of the Spanish -ito or -ico, and it makes words diminutive/cute. Escondido means hidden, therefore escondidinho...) Escondidinho is a casserole of layers of mashed yuca or potato, typically with a meat or seafood filling-- the filling is escondido

So at any rate, I decided to use the overripe plantains to make escondidinho, something that occurred to me after see Dominican pasteles made from sweet plantain. I filled it with collard greens and okra topped with guiso (Colombian tomato-onion sauce), as that's what we had in the fridge, and mashed the plantains with a healthy dose of mozzarella. 

We ate the escondidinho with a green onion and cilantro aji spooned on top, and I'm not exaggerating when I tell you it was one of the best new things either of us has eaten in a good while. If you've ever had (and loved) sweet plantains with cheese, I can't recommend this enough. It's about as melting pot as can be, an American vegetarian version of a Brazilian dish made with some Caribbean components. Kind of like someone who just got re-elected! Woo hoo! All in all, not a bad 24 hours.

Sweet Plantain Escondidinho 

6-8 very ripe plantains
1 bunch of collard greens, kale, or chard, de-ribbed and chopped
2 c. okra (or other contrasting vegetable like cauliflower, eggplant, string beans), chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 large tomato
1 bunch of scallions, divided (use half for the aji)
4 oz. mozzarella, grated
olive oil, vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
big handful of cilantro
1 small hot chile

Preheat the oven to 450F. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, peel the plantains and remove any funky-looking parts. Salt the water and add in the plantains. Boil until a knife easily goes through one, about 5 minutes. Remove the plantains and mash them while they're still hot, adding 1 oz. of the mozzarella into the mash and stirring it in so that it melts completely.
Place a large skillet over high heat. Splash in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then immediately throw in the greens. Stir them once or twice as they wilt down, then add a good pinch of salt. When the greens are tender and well-flavored, remove them to a plate. Return the skillet to the heat, and once it's very hot add in another tablespoon of olive oil and the okra. Don't stir the okra immediately, just let it brown for a couple of minutes, then add in a pinch of salt and give it a quick stir (I try to avoid stirring okra to avoid sliminess), letting it brown for another 5 minutes, then turning off the heat once it is tender. Stir in the greens.
Chop the tomato and half the scallions. Add them to a small pan with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and place them over medium heat. Cook just until the tomato has broken down and the onion is translucent, ~5-8 minutes, don't let anything brown. Add a small pinch of salt, stir.
Now, layer your escondidinho: grab a 9-inch baking dish or oven-proof skillet, oil it with a bit of olive oil like you would a cake pan, and spread 1/3 of the plantain mash on the bottom, smoothing it with your hand. (You can also make individual escondidinhos if you have small gratin dishes.) Layer in the greens and okra mixture, then spoon the tomato-onion mess on top. Mix the rest of the cheese in with the remaining plantain mash, then spread this over the top of the vegetables, smoothing everything as well as you can with the back of a spoon. Place in the oven and bake until you can see the cheese melting a bit, 10-15 minutes.
Make the aji: finely chop the remaining scallions, as explained here, finely chop the cilantro and chile, and mix them both together with the vinegar, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of vegetable oil, and 3-4 tablespoons of water. Adjust for salt and acidity, then place in the fridge until you need it (this actually tastes better made a couple of hours before).
Serve escondidinho warm, with aji.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

La toallita! (The little towel)

Coming from a vegetarian family, I never knew much about the meat-eating culture in the U.S., but from what I understand, though offal and the like cycled back into favor recently among the kind of people who pay attention to food trends, your average American files tripe under the category of thingsiwouldrathernotbeeatingthankyouverymuch. In Latin America, on the other hand, eating tripe and other innards is just a fact of life, of lunch, really, and though you will come across the occasional person who will tell you that they don't like tripa, many people include it among their favorite foods. So it was, then, that for my friend Juliana's birthday she wanted to make mondongo, a.k.a. beef tripe soup, something she missed dearly from home. She also wanted apple pie for dessert; if nothing else, we do strive for multiculturalism, ha. (Though I normally make a lot of cakes, for some reason recently the dessert of choice has been apple pie...)

Juliana's mother sent her the recipe from Colombia, and on the decided-upon day we met at the market to wrangle up the mondongo, the tripe. Tripe has a very distinctive texture which makes it very easy to recognize; we couldn't remember what it was called in Portuguese (as it turns out, dobradinha or bucho), so she just asked the meat guys if they had "a toalinha", la toallita, the little towel.    

Mondongo is common all over Latin America, though recipes will change from house to house and country to country. Juliana's mother's version is full of vegetables and two kinds of potatoes, although she sometimes makes it with arrocillo, broken rice, instead of the potatoes. Felipe's mother makes a version with chickpeas that is also known as callo, which is very common in Spain as well. In Brazil, bucho is used a lot in comida nordestina, food from the the Northeast region, as well as in the extremely popular soup mocotó. 

One thing that must be said is that, as it is tripe, it has to be well cleaned. Actually, two things: it smells terrible cooking. Terrible like sticking your head into a barn stall that hasn't been cleaned in months. It smells animal-y in a way that is rather impressive given how innocuous the nice spongy towel looks. BUT: if you're into interesting cooking projects, you know, experiencing new things, well, do I have a project for you! And, more importantly: the smell fades amazingly fast. You cook the hell out of the damn thing, open the windows and run like hell from the kitchen, but as soon as it's ready and you've drained the cooking water, the smell goes completely away, for real, and then you are left with silky soup, full of vegetables and cilantro and other nice things.

A lot of it. There are some foods that only seem worth the trouble to make in large quantities, and I would place mondongo firmly in that camp.

Felipe objects to the fact that these pictures make it look like the girls cooked and the guys just showed up to eat. So TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT, Felipe and Juliana actually did the majority of the work on the mondongo; I went off on my own to make the apple pie (not really on my own, either, as our curly-haired friend Juan chopped the apples). 

Felipe also made a guiso, what we would probably call a "salsa" in contorted American Spanglish (though "salsa" really just means "sauce"), to go along with the mondongo, though you could just sprinkle some cilantro on top and call it a day. We somehow forgot to make rice to go along with the stew, which is unthinkable for Colombians, but between the huge avocado chunks and the dessert, we managed just fine.

Mondongo (Beef tripe soup)
      adapted from Juliana's mother

4.5 lbs (2 kilos) beef tripe
3 limes
1 lb. beef or pork bones (we used pork rib bones)
8-10 scallions
4 cloves garlic
1 large stalk celery 
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes (papa criolla is normally used, if you can find that, use it)
2 lbs. starchy potatoes (Russets would work well)
3 ears sweet corn
½ lb. (8 oz.) carrots
2 medium red peppers
½ lb. (8 oz.) greens peas, fresh or frozen
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cumin, ground
1/2 tsp. black pepper, ground

For the guiso (optional):

2 large tomatoes
juice of 1 lime
handful of cilantro 
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Wash the tripe well, and use a knife or your fingers to remove most of the fat (the hard white globules). Place the tripe in a large bowl with cold water to cover, then juice the limes and add the lime juice to the water. Let the tripe soak in the lime-water for half an hour.
Drain the tripe, slice it into 3/4 inch pieces, and place it in a pressure cooker, adding fresh water just to cover. Place the pot over medium heat and bring it to pressure, then cook for ~45 minutes. 
Meanwhile (and I would advise starting this as soon as the tripe is in the pressure cooker, and then getting out of the kitchen as quickly as possible), wash the bones and then place them in a large stock pot with a generous amount of water-- enough to make stock, which is basically what you're about to do. Chop the scallions and celery, mince the garlic, and throw all of it into the pot along with a couple of big stalks of cilantro (leave them whole) and the turmeric, cumin, black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of salt. Place the pot over high heat, and when it comes to a simmer adjust the heat so it maintains it.
Once the tripe is tender, drain it, and add it to the stock. Let the stock simmer with the tripe while you peel and cube the potatoes (1/2 inch dice works nicely here), adding them to the stock as you go. Clean and break/cut the ears of corn into thirds and add them to the stock. Dice the carrots (1/4 inch dice here) and add them in, then do the same with the red pepper. Taste the soup and add more salt and cumin (tread lightly with the cumin, though, as it can easily overwhelm everything) if the soup seems like it lacks oomph. Partially cover the soup and continue to simmer until all the vegetables have cooked through and the soup has thickened slightly, about 45 minutes. The tripe should be silky and not at all rubbery. Add the peas at the end of the cooking, giving them just enough time to cook through so they don't turn into mush. Double check for salt. Remove the stock bones.
Make the guiso, if you like: chop the tomatoes and cilantro and add the lime juice, oil, and a big pinch of salt. Place on the table so that each person can add as much guiso as they like to their mondongo.
If you didn't make the guiso, chop up a big handful of cilantro leaves and sprinkle them over each portion of mondongo. Serve hot with a side of rice and a big hunk of avocado sprinkled with salt. Serves 8-10.

      adaptada de la madre de Juliana

2 kilos de mondongo
3 limones
1/2 kilo (1 libra) de huesos/costilla de res o de cerdo (aqui no se usa la carne, solo el hueso para dar sabor)
3-4 tallos de cebolla larga (verdeo)
4 dientes de ajo
1 tallo grande de apio
medio manojo de cilantro
1/2 kilo (1 libra) de papa criolla u otra papa parecida (aquí en Brasil usamos batata-baroa)
1 kilo de papa común 
3 choclos dulces
250 g. (1/2 libra) de zanahoria
2 pimentones rojos
250 g. (½ libra) de arvejas 
1 cucharita de cúrcuma
1 cucharita de comino molido
1/2 cucharita de pimienta negra molida

Para el guiso (opcional):
2 tomates grandes 
jugo de 1 limón
un puñadito de cilantro 
1 cucharada de aceite vegetal 

Lava muy bien el mondongo, y quitale la mayoría de la grasa (la parte muy dura y blanca) con un cuchillo o con los dedos. Colocalo en un bol grande con agua fria a cubrir, exprime los limones y echa el jugo al agua. Dejalo reposar media hora.
Escrurrelo, cortalo en pedazos de 1.5 cm. y colocalo en la olla de presión, agregando agua fresca solo a cubrir. Dejalo pitar ~45 minutos. 
Mientras tanto (yo te avisaría que empieces este proximo paso apenas coloques la olla de presion, y despues que huyas de la cocina lo mas rapido posible para evitar el olor del mondongo cocinado), lava los huesos y colocalos en una olla grande con una cantidad generosa de agua para empezar el caldo. Pica la cebolla larga, el apio y el ajo y echa todo a la olla junto con unos tallos grandes (enteritos) de cilantro, la curcuma, comino, pimienta negra y 2 cucharadas de sal. Pon la olla sobre fuego alto y cuando empiece a hervir baja el fuego para que se mantenga hirviendo lentamente.
Cuando el mondongo este tierno, escurrelo y echale al caldo. Manten el caldo hirviendo mientras vas pelando y cortando las papas en cuadritos de 1 cm. y echando los cuadritos al caldo. Limpia y corta los choclos en tres pedazos cada uno y agregales al caldo tambien. Corta la zanahoria en cuadritos pequeños y echales también, después haz lo mismo con el pimentón. Fijate si el caldo necesita más sal y comino (aunque cuidado con el comino porque se puede volver muy intenso el sabor muy rapidamente) si te sabe un poco simple. Tapa la sopa parcialmente y sigue cocinandola hasta que todas las verduras estén cocidas y la sopa se haya espesado un poco, más o menos 45 minutos. El mondongo debe estar ya muy tierno. Echa las arvejas ya faltando poco tiempo para que no se deshagan. Fijate nuevamente que esté bien de sal. Quita los huesos que echaste para saborizar el caldo.
Haz el guiso, si quieres: pica los tomates y el cilantro y echales el jugo de limón, aceite, y una pizca grande de sal. Dejalo en la mesa para que cada persona se sirva a gusto. 
Si no hiciste el guiso, pica un puñado grande de hojas de cilantro y salpicalas sobre cada porción de mondongo servido. Sirvelo caliente con arroz y una porción grande de aguacate salpicado con sal. Rinde 8-10 porciones.