Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A "proper" Brazilian party

Ok, so I lied, two posts about Brazil in a week does not a Brazil week make. Note to future self: don't promise posts that depend on information that is not in your current possession, e.g. verifying recipe proportions, photos from places that aren't your house etc.

But I do have one more Brazil-centric post for now. And it's about parties, birthday parties specifically, and what makes a good one around here. A couple of weeks ago I went to a great birthday party-- lots of music, good food, and happy people-- but even at the time, the thought occurred to me that the party would not have been good under similar circumstances in the states. In fact, I am quite sure that arriving 5 hours late to a birthday party in someone's back patio for a cookout as a huge storm hits and during which the power goes out for hours would be a recipe for disaster in the states. Right? Your friend would be pissed for your lateness (or you would just miss the whole damn party), as soon as the storm hit people would head inside, and as soon as the electricity went out people would go home. But in Rio, the rain pours down, the power goes out, and nobody blinks. I was actually filming when the power went out (and we were already huddled under the roof on the patio).

The birthday guy is the guy dancing in a speedo-- he was dealing with the water running off the tarps rigged up to protect us from the rain and just gave up at being dry at some point. We stayed until late, bellies full of feijoada and beer and sickly sweet cake. And I don't think it even occurred to anyone that the party was a failure, because it wasn't. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Prato Feito

Lunch is the main meal in Brazil, meaning that most people eat lunch out in the middle of their work day. Though buffet-type places that sell food by the kilo are probably the most common option these days (with wildly variable quality), many older pubs and hole-in-the-wall restaurants sell what is called a "prato feito", an extremely filling dish made up of a protein, rice, black beans, farofa and spaghetti. You know, real (and real caloric) food, made up of whatever was cheap at the market that day. Black beans and three kinds of starch? Count me in. I will choose a prato feito over a "kilo" restaurant almost any day of the week.

While the prato feito at some places can be kind of a mess on a plate, I recently stumbled upon a really quality one, among the old crumbling buildings and restored façades that line the Avenida Mem de Sá in Lapa. Nicely stewed frango com quiabo (chicken with okra) and in this case, mashed potatoes instead of the typical spaghetti, all for 7 reais (~$3.50). If you order a glass bottle of off-brand guarana soda to share (one of the only sodas in the world I actually like, and no I can't tell the difference between brands), two people can eat an enormous lunch for 16 reais, possibly with leftovers, not bad in a wildly overpriced city where it can be hard to find meal for under 20 reais for one person. And Lapa during the day is charming/gross/pretty all at once, its restaurants somehow always occupied by older men idly drinking beer at noon. It'd be a shame not to pass by every now and again.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Carinhos Brasileiros

I spent the beginning of last week in Búzios, a coastal resort town a couple of hours east of Rio. It was low season and the beaches were so clean the sand squeaked under our feet and the water was smooth like glass. 

I need to get out of Rio more. And I need to get out of the Latino ghetto in Rio, which I've actually been doing more of the last couple of weeks. You know, samba and feijoada instead of arepas, mate and salsa. It's not for nothing that my Portuguese is crap, though I do like Portuguese the Language, and Brazilian food, and Brazilian music, for that matter (as long as it's not pagode or funk, but I feel like that should go without saying...)

Yesterday we were at an all day feijoada for a friend's birthday, and after everyone had tired of eating and drinking and playing music, the jokes and stories started. One guy told a story about his young kid's linguistic confusion that I loved in part because it could only happen in Portuguese. In English, we don't use an auxiliar to ask someone for something (we don't say, ask TO your mom if you can go to the park), but in Portuguese "para" is used both to say "pergunta para ele" (ask him) and "pede para ele" (ask FOR him). So the guy explains that he's at a family event and his kid spills something on himself, so he tells the kid (let's call the kid Mikey): 
Mikey, vá pedir um guardanapo para você. (Mikey, go ask for a napkin for you.)
Para quem? (Ask who?/For who?)
Para você! (You!/For you!)
The kid, beginning to look distressed, Para quem? 
Para você, peça um guardanapo para você! (For you, go ask for a napkin for you!)
So the poor kid, looking really confused, asks himself out loud, Mikey, me da um guardanapo? (Mikey, can you give me a napkin?)

When we finally left the party at 2 in the morning, we ran into a large group of very drunk people coming out of a roda de samba. A friend walking with us had his guitar on his back, prompting the drunk crowd to chant "Play Pixinguinha!" (a famous Brazilian composer whose birthday is tomorrow) repeatedly until they took it upon themselves to start singing "Carinhoso" ("Affectionate"), complete with harmony and rhythm provided by some random percussion instruments they happened to be carrying with them (it's Brazil, I don't ask questions). 

But I have been thinking that I should post more Brazil-related stuff on this blog, given that I do live here and all (and given that I have a folder full of half-finished posts on the subject), so that's the plan for this week, for real. All Brazil, all week long, it's going to be incrível.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Kreplach: Not just for Klingons

Though I have loved matzo ball soup since forever (and ever), I had never had kreplach, the Other Eastern European Jewish Dumpling, until quite recently. Now, although I wouldn't consider kreplach categorically better than matzo balls, I may or may not know others, unbiased by childhood memories of copper cauldrons brimming with matzo ball soup, who strongly prefer kreplach in their soup if given the choice. If you, like me, didn't grow up with kreplach and were assuming all this time that they were Klingon food, allow me to illuminate you: kreplach are like Chinese ravioli-dumplings, but they taste unequivocally Ashkenzic Jew-y due to the chicken, parsley and onion-y flavorings present. I like them in soup, but you can also eat them on their own after being fried or boiled (the kreplach, not you). And kreplach can actually be filled with all kinds of things (beef, cheese, etc) and are kind of fun to make; pinching their sides together reminds me of making hamantaschen, except for that I'm not tempted to lick my fingers when the filling gets on them because it's raw chicken parts. Delicious.

Ok, but in all seriousness, once cooked, kreplach are very tasty little dumplings. I screwed around with a couple of recipes, South Americanizing them a bit-- using the white and green parts of scallions instead of shallots and chives, and generally being amused that the original recipe authors think I have a food processor at my disposal. I also experimented with passing the dough through a pasta roller (yes, I have a pasta roller but no food processor, sue me), which turns out a nicer, more uniform dough than using a rolling pin empty cachaça bottle but is kind of a pain because the dough is wetter than your typical pasta dough and likes to break when forced through a pasta roller. I'm told you can also just use wonton wrappers, and if I had ready access to them I might, though I would imagine you would get a drier, less ravioli-like kreplach using them. 

yISop! Es gezunterheyt! 


     adapted from The Mile End Cookbook and Michael Ruhlman

For the filling:

1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. chopped shallots/scallion whites
1/2 lb. raw boneless chicken meat
1/4 lb. chicken skin and fat
2 chicken livers (optional-- I've made the without also and might prefer it that way)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. chopped chives/scallion greens
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

For the dough:

1 c. flour
1 egg
2 Tbsp. water
pinch salt

First, make the dough: Place the flour in a large bowl, and make a hole in the middle of the flour, adding the eggs, water and salt. Use a fork to whisk the water and eggs together, then slowly bring in the flour from the sides until you've incorporated all the flour. Knead a bit until you have a smooth, homogenous dough. Cover the dough with plastic and let it rest while you make the filling. 

Saute shallots/scallion whites in vegetable oil until translucent. Pulse chicken meat, skin/fat, livers, garlic, chives/scallion greens, salt and pepper very briefly in a food processor just until roughly chopped and combined, then stir in the cooked shallots/scallion whites. If you don't have a food processor, use a sharp knife (or a mezzaluna would probably work great) to finely chop the meat, livers and skin/fat. The last time I made these I froze the skin/fat and found it much easier to chop frozen. Stir together the chopped chicken with the rest of the filling ingredients. (I've over-processed the filling before, and personally I strongly prefer a slightly chunky filling over a homogenous one, which is why I haven't try doing this in the blender, not that you would ever consider doing that.)

Roll out the dough quite thinly, less than 1/8 in., and use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut out 3 in. x 3 in. squares. Place a dollop of filling in the center of each square, then pinch the sides to seal. You can do a four-cornered pinch like me, or you can just fold them over diagonally, corner to corner, to get triangle ones. You can also use a bit of water or beaten egg to help seal the edges if they don't want to stick together, but I haven't found this necessary (if you were to use wonton wrappers, this will definitely be necessary).

Drop the kreplach into simmering soup (or boiling water) and cook until they float up to the surface, like ravioli.