We love street food – I mean, who doesn’t? Brazilians do so, too: among the most popular dishes in the Latin American country is acarajé which originates from Bahia and translates to „eating fire balls“. Indeed, the hot bean dumplings are the only Brazilian treat that made it on the list and will be officially sold in and around stadiums throughout the FIFA Worldcup 2014 which will be hosted by the country. Sounds like I’m an expert in Brazilian food habits? To be honest: I’m far away from that.
Apart from the knowledge that Caipirinha is a Brazilian cocktail, I knew close to nothing about the countrie’s cuisine. Since Claudia of Dinner um Acht together with the gourmet Gallery at Frankfurt Book Fair came up with a wonderful blog event about Brazilian food: Cook it with Samba! I got very curious, and after a first and quick research I learned that there are countless local cuisines – not quite surprising given the fact that Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world. However, a lot of Brazilian treats are meat dishes – and I really mean a lot ;-). No easy job for vegetarians, so it seemed.
Then Arne discovered some stories about current favela food movements that catched my interest as well, both as a foodie and as a cultural anthropologist by background. So far, we had heard of favelas solely as places of utter poorness, and we got to know that we obviously missed some news about it: there are governmental programs to pacify the favelas and to enhance infrastructure in order to give people better living opportunities.
It seems to be a controversial discussion in which regard those activities are successful and sustainable beyond the two upcoming major sport events, and as we are no experts in that, I won’t contribute to that debate. But it’s a highly interesting development anyhow, and there is quite some media coverage about the new food trend that comes along with it, including a culinary guide to Rio de Janeiro’s best and hottest favela bars and restaurants. If you are interested in more information, here’s a short video on BBC about the latter and a wonderful report about favela food at The Huffington Post.
To complete the circle and cut a long story short: I came across Bolinhos de Mandioca com Queijo which originate from Rio de Janeiro, and the treat is surely served in the bars and restaurants of the up and coming favelas like Babylon or Vidigal as well. It seems to be almost as popular as the acarajé balls mentioned in the beginning, and both the taste and the consistency are most appealing – if you give it a try, enjoy! It’s my contribution to Claudia’s and Frankfurt Book Fair’s most lovely blog event – and from now on, Brazil is definitely on my foodie agenda.
Here’s my recipe: Bolinhos de Mandioca com Queijo with Limquat Salsa
This treat is crisp on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. The dumplings taste slightly sweet, and especially with a fresh and spicy salsa, it’s a wonderful balance between warm comfort food and refreshment for the taste buds.
I found lots of recipes on the internet, and ingredients as well as measurements and shapes vary broadly. So I trusted my potato croquette instinct and gave a free-style attempt a try, generously ignoring that I never handled manioc before. What I read is that raw and especially bitter manioc contains toxic glucoside which makes a special preparation necessary. I had „sweet“ manioc which, according to the sources I found, contains so few of it that normal cooking is sufficient.
Manioc is comparable to potatoes indeed, but even more to parsnip, and the salsa with sweet, sour and hot flavors that had come to my mind fits just perfectly in. It’s a collage of ingredients that are used in Brazilian cuisines quite often, from cili peppers and cilantro to mango and lime. I replaced the latter by limquats which I came across a few days ago – it’s a hybrid of kumquat and lime, and as you can eat the whole fruit it’s perfect for a salsa. Enough talking of ingredients, let’s do the bolinhos.
For 16 bolinhos (which is two big servings) you will need:
800 g fresh manioc (which is 2 medium size fruits)
1 big egg
appr. 100 ml milk, lukewarm
1 knob of butter or margarine
appr. 6 leveled tbsp. flour
salt to taste
150 g mild soft feta
1,5 l deep-frying oil
half a mango fruit
1 big shallot or 1 small red onion
4 mild chili peppers
½ tsp. hot chili flakes
2 tsp. raw sugar
juice of two limes
1 handful cilantro leaves
2 tsp. oil of neutral taste (like sunflower)
Peel the maniocs, cut into half and take off the inner part which is a bit fibry. Clean well and cut into small pieces – it should be 500 g all together. Cook until it’s soft enough to mash it with a fork (about 15-20 minutes). While the manioc is cooking, prepare the salsa: Clean the limquats thoroughly and cut off the tiny ends, cut the fruits into fine slices. Peel the mango and cut half of it into tiny pieces. Do the same with the shallot or red onion. Cut the chili peppers into half, take off the seeds and cut into fine slices. Mix all ingredients on the list despite the cilantro and put aside.
Drain well the manioc and mash with a fork or a potato masher. Add salt and mix all with the lukewarm milk until you get a smooth composition. Add the egg and a knob of butter or margarine and mix well again. Now gradually add the flour until the consistency is still soft but also kind of elastic – like a fine gnocchi dough. Depending on the moisture and texture of the manioc after cooking, you might need a bit more or less flour than indicated.
In a wide pot (I used my dutch oven which is made of cast iron), heat the deep-frying oil. Cut the feta cheese into 16 small squares. Some recipes recommend mozzarella, but to me, soft and mild feta seems to be the closest to queijo minas which is used in Brazil in taste and consistency. Take a piece of the dough in one hand, put a piece of cheese in the middle and wrap the dough around the cheese. This works best with wet hands. Roll the dumpling on a plate which you covered with flour and put on another floured plate. Do the same with the rest of the dough until you have 16 dumplings. Cut the cilantro and mix with the salsa.
Make a little test if the oil has the right temperature: it’s fine if the oil bubbles vividly once you put a little piece of dough in. Put a few dumplings in – not too many, because otherwise the temperature will go down quickly. Deep-fry the dumplings for about three minutes and turn them every once in a while. Take off the pot and put on some kitchen paper so that the oil can drip off. Serve with the salsa – and don’t forget about the samba once you finished your meal ;-).