by MELISSA GORDON
Last year my husband Rob and some of his colleagues went to Brazil for work. On their first night there, they were taken to an upscale Italian restaurant. On their second night, they were taken to a fancy steakhouse. On the third day, as they were about to break for lunch Rob pulled one of his Brazilian colleagues aside and asked to go eat with him. His colleague immediately suggested a few popular tourist restaurants, but Rob interrupted him, explaining, “I want to eat where you would eat.” The man, who was unaccustomed to bringing foreign colleagues to local restaurants, was taken aback, and said, “But it’s simple food. It’s very simple food.”
It took Rob some cajoling, but eventually his colleague reluctantly agreed. With visible trepidation, he escorted Rob to a small “hole-in-the-wall” joint and ordered them some food. Rob took one bite and smiled a smile that quickly spread over his colleague, whose own expression morphed from apprehension to joy and pride. In that one bite, a deep connection was made between two people from very different backgrounds.
I love this story and think about it often. It’s such a beautiful illustration of the power of food. In this case a simple mixture of beans and rice was the vehicle by which one man proudly showed his culture, his identity to another man, who acknowledged it with curiosity, respect, and gratitude — and a human connection was born.
Because I’m not Brazilian, I turned to the Internet for these simple Brazilian recipes. Enjoy!
Brazilian White Rice
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
• 1 cup white rice (long grain)
• 1 3/4 to 2 cups cold water, approximately (preferably filtered)
• 1 teaspoon salt
Place the rice in a colander and rinse it until water is clear. Let it dry before using.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat until warm. Add the onion and sauté until it is soft and translucent. Add the rice and continue to sauté, stirring constantly, until the grains start forming lumps.
Mix in 1 1/2 cups of the water and the salt. Stir well to combine. Bring the rice mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and cook, partially covered, until water has almost completely evaporated.
Add another 1/4 cup of water and continue cooking until all water has evaporated and the grains are cooked but slightly al dente (additional water may be needed to get the rice to this texture).
Cover the pan and remove it from heat. Let stand for a few minutes to continue cooking. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve with the following beans.
• 2 cups dried carioca (or pinto) beans
• 8 cups of water, plus more for washing and soaking
• 2 bay leaves
• 3 strips of bacon, chopped
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 4 cloves of garlic, minced
• Salt to taste
1. Pick through the beans, discarding the damaged ones and any stones you may find. Wash the beans several times, until the water coming out of the beans is translucent.
2. Place the beans in a large pot and add enough water to just cover them. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn of the heat, cover the pot with a lid, and soak the beans overnight.
3. The next day, drain the beans and discard the water. In a pressure cooker, add the beans, the bay leaves and eight cups of water. Cook over high heat until the pressure builds up. Lower the heat to medium and cook for 30 minutes or until the beans are tender and al dente but not falling apart. If the beans are not ready, continue cooking in increments of 15 minutes, until they are soft. (If cooking in a regular pot, add the beans and eight cups of water and cook over high heat until the water boils. Lower the heat to low and simmer for 1.5-2 hours, covered, until the beans are tender and al dente.)
4. In a large skillet, add the bacon and let it cook in its own fat. Add the garlic and onion and sauté with the bacon until the onions are translucent.
5. Add a ladleful of drained beans to the skillet and let it cook for a minute or so. With the back of a wooden spoon, mash the beans until you have something of a paste consistency.
6. Add the rest of the beans (with their cooking liquid) to the skillet, lower the heat to medium-low and cook until the broth thickens, about 10 to 20 minutes.
7. Discard the bay leaves, season with salt and serve with rice.