Brazilian cooking is unique from other South American countries due to strong Portuguese and African influences. The Portuguese arrived in the sixteenth century and brought with them dried salt cod and spicy pork sausage (linguiça). They also contributed hearty stews made with a variety of meats and vegetables and sweet desserts based on sugar and egg yolks (custards, puddings). African slaves brought to work on the Portuguese sugar plantations contributed palm oil and okra as well as a preference for spicy dishes made with a small, scalding chile pepper called malagueta. Indian, Portuguese, and African tastes and textures are most prominent in the state of Bahia. The cuisine of this area is known for its Afro-Brazilian fare of fried fritters made from dried shrimp, dried salt cod, yams, black-eyed peas, mashed beans, peanuts, or ripe plantains. The national dish is feijoda completa, which is black beans cooked with smoked meats and sausages and served with rice, sliced oranges, boiled greens, and a hot sauce mixed with lemon or lime juice and topped with toasted cassava (fahrina). Middle Easterners who immigrated to the southeastern areas of Brazil brought couscous and adapted it to native ingredients. The cuisine in the far South is influenced by the foods of Argentina. Grilled meats are a favorite as well as meats slow cooked over a bonfire in a method called churrasco. This popularity of outdoor barbecue developed into restaurants popular throughout the nation that specialize in spit-roasted beef, pork, lamb, and sausages brought to the table on large skewers and carved to taste.
Brazilians may follow a hot-cold classification system, and often attribute bad health to an imbalance between hot and cold such as drinking a glass of ice water on a hot day or taking a cold shower after eating a hot meal. Brazilians may also associate faith with health, seeking intervention from patron saints or using alternative therapies such as homeopathy, acupuncture, yoga, and spiritual consultations.
Stunting (related to wasting and overweight) and overweight are major public health problems in Brazilian children. Risk factors for child under nutrition include low family income, parents with less schooling, and households with poorer conditions (housing and sewage disposal). Due to a national effort to improve water supply and sewage, universalize antenatal care, increased family purchasing power through improvements in income distribution and reduction of poverty, and maternal schooling, rapid declines of childhood under nutrition have been reported in the last few decades. This may not be the case for indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazon and Central Brazil, who exhibit anemia and deficits in weight and height for age. This may be particularly true during the rainy season when nutritional conditions generally worsen for these populations. Despite national improvements, prolonged acute or persistent diarrhea and intestinal parasites account for significant morbidity and under nutrition in infants and children. National food assistance programs have been successful, however, they may be underutilized because of difficulties with registration process, failing to receive benefits despite registration, and lack of widespread knowledge about the programs.
Child feeding practices that may lead to malnutrition among children and infants in Brazil:
monotonous consumption of few types of food (cow’s milk, rice and beans)
irregular consumption of meat and fresh fruits and vegetables
early introduction of empty calorie beverages such as sugar water, soft drinks or coffee with sugar (starting within the first few weeks of life)
provision of food with low nutritional value such as gruel made from corn starch, arrowroot flour, cassava flour, or rice flour and water
Solid foods (bananas; oranges; mashed vegetables, egg, meat, rice, and beans; bread; soup) are introduced relatively early and infants are considered to be ready to eat all foods at one year of age. In one study, mothers indicated a desire to have chubby children as a sign of health and wealth. However, they also expressed a hope that their children grow out of their chubbiness, particularly desiring that their daughters be thin and physically attractive in order to enter professions that place a high value on thinness and beauty.
In addition to coffee, other stimulating beverages are popular (yerba maté and guaraná) and may be consumed by children. Little data exists about the effects of habitual caffeine intake in children, but caffeine consumption may have a negative impact on sleeping patterns, growth and development, and nutritional habits.
Iron – Iron is necessary for oxygen delivery to cells and regulation of cell growth. Iron deficiency develops gradually and is commonly seen in women of childbearing age and children. A lack of iron results in an insufficient supply of oxygen to cells eventually causing anemia, fatigue, poor work performance, slow cognitive and social development in children, and decreased immunity.
Vitamin A – Vitamin A plays a critical role in healthy vision, growth and development, and immune function. Vitamin A deficiency is common in developing countries and is often accompanied by zinc deficiency. Symptoms of deficiency include blindness, diminished ability to fight infections, decreased growth rate, and slow bone development. Vitamin A helps mobilize iron from its storage sites, so a deficiency of vitamin A limits the body’s ability to use stored iron. This results in an “apparent” iron deficiency because iron levels in the blood are low even though body stores are normal.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps produce collagen and aids in iron absorption. Vitamin C is important for a healthy immune system and plays a role in cardiovascular, neurological, and endocrine systems. Vitamin C deficiency sometimes causes a condition called scurvy, which results in a multitude of symptoms including bleeding gums, skin irritations, bruising, and poor wound healing.
Milk/Milk Products – cow’s, goat’s milk; evaporated milk; fresh and aged cheeses
Meat/Poultry/Fish – beef, goat, mutton, pork, indigenous meats (alligator, armadillo, capybara, frog, guinea pig, iguana, llama, rabbit, tapir), chicken, duck, turkey, abalone, bass, catfish, cod, crab, eel, haddock, lobster, oysters, scallops, shrimp, squid, trout, tuna
Eggs/Legumes – chicken, quail, and turtle eggs; beans (black, cranberry, kidney), black-eyed peas
Cereals/Grains – amaranth, corn, rice, macaroni, quinoa, wheat (white bread)
Fruits – abiu, acerola, apples, banana/plantains, caimito, cashew apple (cajú), casimiroa, cherimoya, custard apple, feijoa, guava, grapes, jackfruit, jabitocaba, lemons, limes, lulo (naranjillo), mammea, mango, melon, olives, oranges (sweet and sour), palm fruits, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, pineapple, pitango, quince, raisins, roseapple, sapote, soursop, sweetsop, strawberries
Vegetables – jicama, apio, avocado, cassava, green peppers, green pumpkin (calabaza), hearts of palm, kale, okra, oca, onions, roselle, squash (chayote, winter), sweet potatoes, tomatoes, yacón, yams
Seasonings – achiote, allspice, chiles, cilantro, cinnamon, citrus juices, garlic, ginger root, oregano, paprika, parsley, pimento, scallions, thyme, vinegar
Nuts/Seeds – Brazil nuts, cashews, coconut, peanuts, pumpkin seeds
Beverages – tropical fruit juices, coffee, guaraná, soft drinks, sugarcane juice, tea, yerba maté
Fats/Oils – palm (dendê) oil, olive oil, soybean oil, pork lard, butter
Sweeteners – sugar cane, brown sugar, honey
Three meals a day with an afternoon snack is traditional among middle-class and affluent people, but the poor are often limited to an early breakfast with a large dinner around 6 p.m. Breakfast is typically a light meal consisting of bread or a roll with jam and a cup of coffee and may also include fresh fruit, pastries, or ham and cheese. Lunch is the main meal of the day for those who can afford more than two meals daily and is consumed leisurely among family and friends. Appetizers may start the meal, followed by meat or seafood stew or a grilled meat dish. Side dishes of rice, manioc, beans, potatoes, or greens are served with the meal. Dessert consists of flan, sweet custard, or pudding. Dinner is lighter and may only consist of cold cuts, a seafood salad, or a serving of soup or stew. The meal is served around 9:00 p.m. and often continues past midnight. Fruit juice and soft drinks are popular beverages. A snack may be fresh fruit, a few arepas (bread made from cornmeal), a sandwich, or a pastry. Street vendors offering snacks are common in urban areas. The impoverished often skip lunch and eat a larger dinner earlier, which consists of soup or stew with a side dish of potatoes, plantains, cassava, corn, or rice and beans.
Family life is very important in Brazil. Mothers and grandmothers are responsible for planning, cooking and deciding what the family eats. Meals are usually leisurely and European-style dining is common. All food items, (except for bread) are eaten using fork and/or knife. All items are passed to the left. When not eating, the hands should stay above the table with wrists resting on the edge. The exclamation “Bon appetit” is common before dining begins. Easter and Carnival (Carnaval) festivities celebrated with dancing, parties, and traditional fare are popular in Brazil. Saint John’s Day is also a favorite holiday, featuring foods made with corn and pumpkin.
Most grocery stores (ethnic foods aisle)
Central/Latin American specialty markets
Farmer’s markets (or grow a garden)
Whole Foods and natural food markets
Feijoada (pronounced fay-ZWAH-da) is a delicious stew of pork and black beans that’s traditionally served over rice with boiled greens and fresh orange slices. In Brazil, this dish is often served on special occasions, but preparing it in a slow cooker makes it possible to serve this rich dish on the busiest weeknights.
2 cups dried black beans
4 slices applewood-smoked bacon
1 pound boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), trimmed and cut into ½-inch cubes
¾ teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
3 bone-in beef short ribs, trimmed (about 2 pounds)
3 cups finely chopped onion (about 2 medium)
1¼ cups fat-free, lower sodium chicken broth
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (9-ounce) smoked ham hock
1 tablespoon white vinegar
8 orange wedges
Place beans in a small saucepan; cover with cold water. Bring to a boil; cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 1 hour. Drain.
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan; crumble. Sprinkle pork evenly with ⅛ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Increase heat to medium-high. Add pork to drippings in skillet; sauté 8 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Transfer pork to a 6-quart electric slow cooker. Sprinkle ribs evenly with ⅛ teaspoon salt and remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add ribs to skillet; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Place ribs in slow cooker. Add drained beans, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, onion, and next 3 ingredients (through ham hock) to slow cooker, stirring to combine. Cover and cook on LOW 8 hours or until beans and meat are tender.
Remove ribs from slow cooker; let stand 15 minutes. Remove meat from bones; shred meat with 2 forks. Discard bones. Discard ham hock. Return beef to slow cooker. Stir in vinegar and crumbled bacon. Serve with orange wedges, rice, and collard greens (recipe below).
Recipe by Julianna Grimes, Cooking Light Magazine, March 2011
This popular recipe for collard greens comes from the Minas Gerais region of Brazil. Thinly sliced collard greens are briefly cooked in garlic and olive oil for a healthy, tasty side dish. These greens are a traditional accompaniment to the classic Brazilian dish feijoada, but they go with almost any meal.
2 pounds collard greens (2-3 large bunches)
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1½ teaspoons kosher slat
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Wash collard greens. Gather bunches of the leaves together and roll them into a bundle. Thinly slice the bundles crosswise. Finely chop the garlic (or to be really traditional, mash the garlic with the kosher salt with a mortar and pestle).
Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet (cast iron works well and adds dietary iron) over medium heat. Add garlic and salt and cook, stirring, until the garlic is just golden and fragrant. Add the greens and sauté 3-4 minutes until they are bright green in color and starting to soften. You may need to add a small amount of water to help the greens steam. Season greens with salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.
Recipe adapted from Marian Blazes, About.com Guide
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