What does the Baiana have?

Moqueca Risotto with Pan Seared Prawns

O que é que a Baiana tem? What does the Baiana have? The answer to that age old question can be summarized into two words, Palm Oil. Though I am pretty certain Dorival Caymmi was not thinking of palm oil when composing that iconic song for Carmen Miranda, but still. Palm oil is one of my favorite ingredients to use. So much so that when determining what signature dish to make for Gordon Ramsey on my MasterChef appearance, the one and only requirement I had for the dish was that it must include palm oil.

Like I've told you all before, Brazilian cuisine is ridiculously diverse. Bahia - more specifically Salvador, BA - has an amazing and unique cuisine, which is heavily African influenced. Bahia was the main portal in which the African slaves were brought to be processed and then sent to other parts of the country. And so, the African slaves brought their delicious cuisine and techniques, which evolved into the Afro-Bahian cuisine that we have today.

Palm Oil

The most prevalent ingredient in this cuisine, of course, is palm oil. Palm oil is an oil extracted from the fruit of a plam tree. It is used in almost all of Bahian signature dishes including, Moquecas, Acaraje, Bobo, Caruru, and Vatapa, just to name a few. Palm Oil has a deep orange color, which sometimes turns into a more vibrant, golden yellow when cooked in some of the typical Bahian dishes. Palm oil not only adds a very distinct color to a dish, but brings a unique flavor as well. It has an earthy tone as well an underlying sweetness to it. If I had to compare it to something, I would probably say it most resembles saffron, in both color and flavor -although there are definitely some distinct differences. I made this connection a few years back, when my mom was making paella and it smelled and tasted like she had used palm oil.

It really irks me when I see recipes say "1 tbsp palm oil (or vegetable oil can be substituted)”. I am sorry to break it to you folks but, palm oil can absolutely NOT be substituted by any other oil. You will lose everything that makes the dish what it is, in turn creating a whole new dish. The beauty of a Moqueca, Bobo, etc., is the color and flavor that the palm oil brings to it! So go that extra mile in search for palm oil, which actually shouldn't be that hard to find. For you Seattleites, the El Mercado Latino in Pike Place Market always has it in stock. For those of you non-Seattleites, you can search Latino or African stores in your town. Wherever it is you find it, you will not regret it!

Inspired by the flavors of my homeland, I made myself a delicious moqueca risotto topped with pan seared prawns. It had all the flavors you would expect to find in a Moqueca Baiana - seafood flavors, palm oil, creamy coconut milk, and a hint of lime! I sauteed my veggies and arborio rice with the palm oil, as well as a little olive oil. I used a homemade clam and shrimp stock, as a base to my risotto. And finished it off with some rich coconut milk and a tiny bit more of palm oil!


Bolinho de Estudante com Molho de Framboesa: Tapioca Dumplings with a Muddled Raspberry Sauce

I've been craving and wanting to make Bolinho de Estudante, a popular sweet treat found in the streets of my native Bahia, Brazil. It’s a tapioca and coconut dumpling, deep fried till golden brown and rolled in cinnamon sugar. It’s got a slighty crispy, golden crust on the outside, and a gooey, white/translucent center. Bolinho de Estudante literally translates to "Student's Cake". It got its name because it’s really cheap to make, as well as to buy. These little dumplings are found in every Bahiana stands in Salvador.

The tapioca sold here in Seattle, is quite different from the tapioca we have in Brazil. The Brazilian one is flakier, whereas here it comes in form of tiny white pearls. This difference really messes up the consistency and texture of the original Bolinho de Estudante recipes from Brazil. I tried to make a couple batches, trying to follow my mom’s and grandma’s old recipes, but they just didn’t turn up. The crust was super crunchy and hard, and the inside wasn’t as moist and ooey-gooey and I remembered it to be. My mission was to try to make the perfect Bolinho de Estudante, using the tapioca pearls.

I kept the staple ingredients in tact: coconut milk, water, tapioca, sugar and salt. But, when boiling my coconut milk and water, I threw in a couple of cloves and a cinnamon stick for a little more depth. Most recipes tell you to soak the tapioca for about ten minutes, however if you are using the tapioca pearls you will need to soak the tapioca overnight - which is what I did.

I rolled my tapioca dough into little balls and fried them until they were golden brown. Right after deep frying them, I rolled them in cinnamon-sugar.

To compliment my little dumplings, I made a quick muddled raspberry sauce.

Muddled Raspberry Sauce

1 half-pint fresh raspberry
4 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp water

In a bowl, muddle raspberry and sugar. Add water and stir.


Guava Filled Coconut Macaroon Topped With White Chocolate

I always thought the look of coconut macaroons was more appealing than the actual taste. Whenever I would see those plump golden nuggets covered with chocolate, my mouth would water. It seemed like it had the recipe for success, but never did succeed - at least not for me. And then, I realized exactly what was coming in between me and a pleasant macaroon-eating experience: the coconut. I absolutely hate the taste of sweetened shredded coconut.

I guess you can blame this passionate hate on me being a true "Baiana". Being from Bahia, I know what real coconut taste like; most of our traditional dishes call for some type of coconut - coconut milk, shredded coconut, fresh coconut meat and coconut water. As a matter of fact, there is a Brazilian dessert that reminds me of macaroons called, cocada. So, I thought I would try making coconut macaroons with a different type of coconut (something less fake) and boy did the results really paid off!

Coconut macaroons are super simple to make and only consists of a few ingredients. Instead of the sweetened shredded coconut, I used unsweetened coconut flakes. Not only do the flakes taste more like real coconut, but it gives you control of how sweet you want your macaroons. I chose to sweeten my macaroons with condensed milk, another ingredient we frequently use in Brazilian cuisine (particularly desserts). Although I do have a huge sweet tooth, I didn't want my macaroons to be too sweet, because I wanted to fill them with a homemade guava jelly.

After beating my egg whites and folding it into my coconut mixture, I let my macaroons bake for about 25 minutes, until they turned into golden puffs. I sandwiched the guava jelly in between two macaroons, and finished them off with some melted white chocolate! Heaven!!!

Now, I am itching to make these with freshly grated coconut...stay tuned!

Coconut Macaroons

2 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
Pinch of salt
3 extra large egg whites

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, combine coconut flakes, condensed milk and salt until everything is well incorporated. In another bowl, beat egg whites until it stiffens. Fold egg whites into coconut mixture. In a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, drop about 2 tablespoon of the batter for each macaroon. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until golden.


Emme's Caldo Verde with Sautéed Calamari and Bacon

Like I've previously told you all, Brazilian cuisine has tons of outside influence. Portuguese being one of the strongest of influences, I wanted to prepare something that would pay homage to the Portuguese. Of course the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Portuguese cousin is a dish featuring Bacalhau, the staple Portuguese fish, salted cod. Althoug I love Bacalhau, I wanted something quick and easy, that didn't require soaking in water for a day! I decded to make my version of a Caldo Verde, a popular Portuguese soup that has also made its mark in Brazil and other parts of the world.

Caldo Verde traditionally consists of collard greens, onions, potato, and chouriço. It is all simply seasoned and simmered together with broth or water to produce a light, refreshing soup.

I am a huge collard green fan, so when I was introduced to this deliciously simple soup by my mother, I fell in love. I have made the traditional version many times, but recently I decided to give it a little bit of a twist. Instead of using the traditional linguiça or chouriço, I decided I wanted to top it off with some lightly sauteed calamari. I still wanted a bit of a smoky flavor so I threw in a little bit of bacon when sautéing the calamari. I felt that this variation needed a little bit more depth than the traditional one, so I made it more of a thick soup.

The result was amazing! Not only did the color turn out beautiful and bright, but the flavors were so complex for a soup that took less than 15 minutes to make. Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best!


Blancmange: Manjar Branco com Calda de Figo Caramalizado

One of my favorite Brazilian dessert my mom makes is Manjar de Braco. She also make a delicious variation of this, Manjar de Coco, with coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. In Brazil, Manjar Branco is made with milk, sugar, and cornstarch. We cook these ingredients until becomes a thick sauce, then set it in a mold and refrigerate it. It is usually served with a sweet sauce made with prunes.

Although you can fnd Manjar Branco in most Brazilian households as a typical dessert, we were not the ones who created this “whitedish”. Manjar Branco, is believed to have been brought to medieval Europe by the Arabs. It used to be a savory dish, often enjoyed with chicken and vegetables. Somewhere between then and now Manjar Braco turned into a dessert.

I made individual vanila scented Manjar Brancos and served them with a caramelized fig sauce. For the actual Manjar itself, I simply used whole milk, granulated sugar, cornstarch and vanila extract. I chose not to used vanila beans for esthetic purposes - I wanted it to be pure white. However, if you don't mind the tiny black specs, go for it! You can also flavor it with other ingredients of your choice: cinnamon, cheese, etc. This dessert is so quick to put together. After about 5 minutes of stirring the ingredients over medium-high heat, I placed my thick white sauce in individual molds and refrigirated it for at least 1 hour.

I love fresh figs. Since they are in season, I decided to incorporate them into my dish and make a caramelized fig sauce to serve with my Manjar. Like the Manjar, you can also get creative with the sauce.


Oven Roasted Lamb Shank with Sweet Yellow Corn Risotto

Don't worry people, summer isn't offcially over yet! But, like other Seattlelites, I woke up yesterday morning to a cloudy and cool day. I needed something that would warm my spirits up and make me forget about how sunny it should be today! For some reason, this cooler weather put me in the mood to eat something cozy. I stopped at the market and bought a nice piece of lamb shank. A fall-of-the-bone tender shank of lamb evokes everything good about a cool day. Paired with my sweet yellow corn risotto, this recipe is splendid August or December.

For my lamb shank, I started with a basic sautéing method that we commonly use in Brazilian cuisine. In a Dutch oven, I combined olive oil and onions until the onions became translucent. I then added garlic and let it sauté for about thirty seconds, so not to burn. To my onion and garlic, I added Italian parsley, tomato paste and a bay leaf. After about a minute I added my salt, pepper and cumin seasoned lamb shank to my fragrant sauté mixture and let all sides brown. When my shank was browned all around I added water, covered the pot and put it in the oven for three and a half hours.

The result was pure heaven. It really amazed me how something that took so little work turned into something with robust flavor! The meat was fork-tender and not overpowered by the simple seasoning. Since nothing says summer like fresh sweet corn, I made a delicious sweet yellow corn risotto to go with my lamb shank. The sweetness of the corn stock and tenderness of the corn kernels was a perfect combination for the velvety smooth, creamy rice.

Sweet Yellow Corn Risotto (serves 2-4)

1 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup onion, diced
1 tsp garlic, diced
2 cups Arborio rice
2 ears corn, husks and hair removed and kernel sliced from the cob (set aside the husks and cobs)
1 cup dry white wine
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tbsp butter
1 bay leaf
5 cups of corn stock (see cook’s note)

Cook’s Note: In a large sauce pan, combine corn husks, cobs, and bay leaf. Cover cob with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the stock.

In a large sauce pan, add olive oil and onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the Arborio rice and corn kernels and stir frequently to coat with the oil. Deglaze with white wine and keep stirring.

When the rice and corn has absorbed the wine, add the corn stock one cup at a time and stirring until liquid is absorbed. Keep the rice at a constant boil while stirring. After the addition of the last cup, when the liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked add salt to taste and fold in the Parmigano-Reggiano and butter.

Remove the risotto from heat and let sit covered for about 2 minutes.


A Savory Sweet Treat: Parmesan Pound Cake

This week I had an odd craving: something sweet with a hint Parmesan cheese. Yes, I know, it sounds odd. But, in Brazil we have many sweet treat recipes that call for the salty cheese. I remembered my mom once made a tapioca-Parmesan cheese cake, which had more of a custard-like texture to it. The flavor was delicious, but I wanted more of a cake texture – more specifically, a pound cake texture. I craved for that rich and buttery, dense but moist texture, so I decided to make Parmesan pound cake.

I started out with a basic yellow cake batter my mom used to make, that resembled a pound cake. Her cakes always turned out dense but moist, and I wanted this one to have that same attribute. I added some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to the batter and baked it until golden brown.

My first go at it, the cake turned out a little bit drier than I would’ve liked it to. So after a little tweaks here and there I perfected my formula and the result was magical.

For some strange reason, I love taking a bite out of the cake while it is still hot and fresh out of the oven. In fact, my mom would always yell at me for doing so when I was younger. In Brazil, one of our many superstitions is that if you eat a hot/warm cake you will get severe cramps! I can promise you now, I never experienced such cramps. There is just no describing how delicious the flavors in this cake are. It’s a mixture of savory and sweet that balance each other so well! You can definitely taste the Parmesan in there, but interestingly enough it doesn’t seem out of place.