Bom apetite and aproveite!

The makings of a churrasco feast - mixed vegetables, chicken, eggplant, pineapple - can go on the grill together.
The makings of a churrasco feast - mixed vegetables, chicken, eggplant, pineapple - can go on the grill together. (VIVIANA PERNOT/ Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 04, 2014

Soccer fans aren't the only ones with a good reason to focus their attention way south of the border on this Fourth of July: The foods of Brazil sizzle with flavor and spice, and mirror the fascinating melting pot that is the largest country in South America.

This populous, geographically diverse country offers ingredients from coastal cities, tropical rain forests, wetlands, and grasslands. From plantation staples of sugar cane and coffee to native ingredients such as cashew fruits, pineapple, and ginger, the Brazilian pantry offers a wealth of rustic tastes and sophisticated pairings. Unlike most other European colonists in the Americas, Portuguese settlers in Brazil frequently intermarried with both the indigenous natives and African slaves, and marriages were also common between Africans and native Indios. The result is a modern-day population more intermingled than almost anywhere else on the planet. Most Brazilians possess some combination of European, African, Amerindian, Asian, and Middle Eastern lineage. This mixing of people brought a mixing of culinary traditions, which, combined with great ingredients, leads to great-tasting food.

We Norte Americanos often host a barbecue on July Fourth, but the Brazilians have barbecue on steroids. Churrasco is a mixed grill that can include every manner of meat and poultry skewered and grilled over the embers of a wood fire and served with multiple condiments, sauces, and vegetables. No churrasco meal would be complete without a few Caipirinhas, the national cocktail made with the sugar-cane liquor cachaça, (a variant of rum) and fresh lime, or a pitcher of mango lemonade.

An afternoon of cooking leads to a festive evening of eating and drinking.

Fire up your own grill, adapt a few dishes, add some soccer games on the big screen, and you've got a recipe for a World-Cup-filled-Fourth weekend.

Brazilian churrasco is made in backyard fire pits and in upscale restaurants, and can be translated to our wood or gas grills with a good marinade, some garlic parsley chimichurri, and our American can-do attitude.

Vegetables can accompany in salads, or better yet, add them to the grilling plan. Eggplant, peppers, corn, plantains, squash - all take to brushing with various spiced oils and can accompany meat, poultry or fish. Grilled pineapple brightens up the entrée course or makes for a lovely light finale. Put out a few cashews or Brazil nuts to munch on while you work, and start the festivities while prepping and grilling.

For all outdoor grilling I prefer hardwood charcoal to briquettes. The hardwood gets very hot and has a clean smoky perfume. Forgo the lighter fluid, which leaves the whole neighborhood smelling like a refinery, by using one of the ingenious chimney starters which are available everywhere and require only a sheet of newspaper and a match to start a roaring fire.

Let the wood charcoal burn in the chimney until most of the pieces are red, turn out into your grill base, and add more charcoal pieces to fill the base under the grate. With a large grill, or two separate grills side by side (my strategy), you can create a very-hot zone, a medium-hot zone, and a "keep-warm" zone.

More coals in one area, or a grill section closer to the flame, can give you flexibility to control the heat as needed. You want to sear and get color when you grill, but not char before food cooks through. Don't be afraid to move food between zones, and always watch carefully. Add coals as needed to maintain good heat throughout a long cooking session.

For grill markings like the pros, heat your grill grate for at least ten minutes before placing food. This is especially true with a gas grill. Brush marinade from time to time, as directed, and be sure to have some sauce to drizzle over or dip into to serve.

So with the freedom of this Independence Day weekend, I will forgo hamburgers and hot dogs and fashion a menu to celebrate the nexus of soccer, the Fourth of July, and summer produce: Garlic Rum Grilled Chicken Skewers, Glazed Pineapple and Plantains, and Bahian Spiced Eggplant alongside assorted summer veggies.

In keeping with the Brazilian-inspired meal, as well as to have enough for the hungry teens and the vegetarians, I will also have large bowls of coconut rice, and saucy spiced black beans with lots of chimichurri and various homemade and bottled hot sauces on the side.

In tribute to the summer garden, I will accompany all with a big green salad and all the blueberries I can pick.

And for dessert; a white coconut custard, served with blueberries and strawberries, would be patriotic, thematic, and delicious. As they say in Rio, bom apetite and aproveite! (Enjoy!)


Bahian Eggplant

Makes 4-6 servings

2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil

1 tablespoon achiote powder

1 teaspoon dried ginger

1 teaspoon dried coriander

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon hot paprika

2 medium eggplants, top removed, sliced into 1/2-inch slices

1. Mix the olive oil and the spices together. Brush onto the eggplant slices and using your hands rub the mixture till the slices are well coated on both sides. Use right away or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

2. When ready to cook, have coals hotand the grill grate preheated. Grill, turning several times, until browned and quite soft. Taste for salt, and serve with chimichurri and your favorite hot pepper sauce.

- From Anna Herman

Per serving (based on 6): 92 calories; 2 grams protein; 12 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams sugar; 5 grams fat; no cholesterol; 1,168 milligrams sodium; 7 grams dietary fiber.


Spicy Sesame- Cinnamon Brazil Nuts

Makes 11/2 cups nuts

1 egg white, beaten till frothy

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

11/2 cups raw brazil nuts

1. Preheat oven to 380. Line a baking sheet with parchment or nonstick mat. Mix the ingredients together until well coated. Arrange the nuts on the baking sheet so they are well spread out.

2. Bake, stirring several times, 10-20 minutes, until just browning and dry.

- From Anna Herman

Per 1/4-cup serving: 89 calories; 7 grams protein; 6 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram sugar; 27 grams fat; no cholesterol; 399 milligrams sodium; 3 grams dietary fiber.


Chimichurri-Cachaça Chicken

Makes 6 servings

6 boneless chicken thighs, skin off

1/3 cup chimichurri (see recipe below)

2 tablespoons cachaça or rum

For the chimichurri sauce:

1 bunch parsley, washed, dried, and thick stems cut off

1 bunch cilantro, washed, dried, and thick stems cut off

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

Juice of 2 limes

3-5 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix all ingredients together and marinate chicken for at least two hours or overnight.

2. Grill over hot coals on a preheated grate.

3. To prepare the chimichurri sauce, place ingredients in the blender and pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Store in a covered jar for up to a week.

4. Serve chicken with additional chimichurri and hot sauce.

- From Anna Herman

Per serving: 348 calories; 41 grams protein; 1 gram carbohydrates; 18 grams fat; 126 milligrams cholesterol; 129 milligrams sodium; no dietary fiber.


Grilled Pineapple

Makes 4-6 servings

1 ripe pineapple, peeled

1. Slice pineapple into 5/8-inch rings. Grill over hot coals until well browned. Serve as is, or drizzle with honey or lime as desired.

- From Anna Herman

Per serving (based on 6): 43 calories; trace protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams sugar; trace fat; no cholesterol; 1 milligram sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.


Coconut Rice

Makes 4 to 8 servings

2 cups long grain brown rice

1 8-ounce can coconut milk

3 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup unsweetened coconut, optional

1. Rinse rice. Place in pot with coconut milk, water and salt. Bring to a boil, cover, turn down heat and cook for 35-40 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Let sit for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork.

2. Lighlty toast the coconut in a pan over medium heat, tossing often, or in a toaster oven set to 400.

3. Serve the rice with toasted coconut as a garnish, if desired.

- From Anna Herman

Per serving (based on 8, without unsweetened coconut): 237 calories; 4 grams protein; 38 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram sugar; 8 grams fat; no cholesterol; 297 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.


Mango Lemonade

Makes about 4 drinks

Juice of two limes

1 cup mango juice

4 shots cachaça (optional)

1 cup sparkling water

1. Mix the lime juice and mango juice together in a pitcher. Add cachaça if using. Add ice to chill.

2. Pour into four glasses leaving about 1 inch. Top with sparkling water, stir gently, and garnish with a sprig of mint or slice of lime.

- From Anna Herman


Watermelon Caipirinha

Makes 5-6 drinks

1 small seedless watermelon

Juice of three limes

1 tablespoon sugar (use a bit more if watermelon is not very sweet)

4-6 ounces (4-6 shots) cachaça or light rum

Mint or slice of lime to garnish, optional

1. Scoop the flesh of the watermelon into the bowl of a blender. Do this in batches if needed.

2. Blend, pulsing at first, until the watermelon is liquefied. Add the sugar and lime juice and blend until mixed well. Add your liquor of choice.

3. Serve over ice with a mint sprig or lime garnish, if desired.

- From annasedibleadventures.com

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