The wild melting pot called Brazil
All eyes are turned to Rio De Janeiro Brazil and the Olympic games right now. I am always fascinated with the Olympic games. I’m drawn in by the talent, commitment and determination of the athletes that stuns me in and the amazing diversity of all of the participants and their varied backgrounds. As usual, I ultimately end up being curious about the country hosting the games and their culinary world.
Turns out Brazil has a very interesting culinary history that is just as diverse as the athletes competing in their fair city right now. Brazilian food is best understood in layers of colonization that has happened there over the years. The foundation of the food is from the native Indians, the first people, then the Portuguese arrived in the 1500s to this lush land to bring their cuisine. Over the next three centuries, the slave trade brought over 5 million Africans to Brazil, along with their diverse traditions. The Germans arrived in the first half of the 19th century, in the second half of the 19th century the Italians, plus a liberal sprinkling of Syrian and Lebanese arrived. The first half of the 20th century brought a major immigration of the Japanese and now Brazil is home to the second largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Wow…
On top of that, there are 5 distinct regions of Brazil and different culinary delights in each. This is easy to fathom as Brazil is almost the size of the United States, only being a smidge smaller. But despite the wild melting pot of cultures and cuisines that fed the development of Brazilian cuisine there are certain staple ingredients that are common to almost every region.
One of those staples is a gift from the indigenous people, yucca root also known as manioc or cassava. This food has been the cornerstone of Amazon cooking for over 7,000 years. When the Portuguese first settled into Brazil, they tried to raise wheat, failed, and then adopted the native flour made from the yucca root. Consequently, cassava has spread throughout Latin cooking. It is used liberally in Brazilian cuisine from yucca fries (which are supposed to be amazing) to sprinkling the flour on foods as they fry them. It is best known for its use in the national dish, “feijoada” which has 3 more of the Brazilian staples in it, black beans, rice and meat.
Yes, Brazilians love their meat. Their neighbors to the South of them in Uruguay and Argentina are more famous for their meat heavy eating but the Brazilians are right in there too, cooking their beans in many meaty concoctions. They also love roasted skewered meats done over the fire. Usually the spices are light and the meat is roasted and eaten right off the skewer. In Brazil it is called “churrasco” and amazingly enough it was another gift from the indigenous people, in a more round about way.
When cattle first made its way to South America the 17th century, the most likely people to tend the cattle were the indigenous people that knew the back country well and didn’t mind living out under the stars. These guys were called “tropeiros” which not only means cattlemen but also means cattle bird that travels with the herds. As the tropeiros were traveling with their cows they would slaughter one and eat it on skewers over the open fire with a bit of salt, pepper and whatever else they could use in the wilderness. Eventually this caught fire, (pun intended) and spread throughout the cattlemen and the countries that have cattle down there.
Over the years the churrasco has been elevated to new heights and with the influence of the Italians, turned into a big deal where expensive cuts of meat are served in courses that one pays a lot of money to go experience at restaurants. But the common person still roasts humble cuts simply on the BBQ with a few spices and serves it with rice and beans. This recipe has the elements in it that are commonly used in Brazil today.
Brazilian style beef skewers ala Olympics
2 pound rump roast (of preferably grass fed) beef
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of orange juice
1-3 garlic cloves, crushed (Depends on how garlicy you want it!)
1-2 teaspoons of cumin
1 teaspoon of paprika or (my favorite) smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Get ready to preform your best. You’ve been training and it’s gonna pay off here! Start with cutting the fat off the roast and then trimming it into strips. Whisk together the rest of the ingredients in a sturdy glass or ceramic bowl and then toss the beef in the marinade. Stir the beef strips around in the marinade till the strips are all well covered then tuck it into the fridge to marinate for 2-8 hours. (I like to make mine in the morning) While the beef is marinating soak your wooden skewers in water. (There are stainless steel skewers that you can buy that are more South American style but wooden ones are cheap and easy.)
When you are ready, thread the beef onto the skewers and lay in a glass baking dish. Preheat your gas BBQ to medium and then lay your skewers on the hot grill. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side. It won’t take long! If you want to do a more traditional Brazilian skewer, roast on an open fire. Salt and pepper it to taste and serve with rice, black beans and lemon wedges. Gold metal win here!