My boyfriend is Brazilian. To look at him you’d probably think he was Middle Eastern, with his dark complexion. He speaks with an American accent that is very South Florida, but none-the-less he was born in Brazil.
Last week for no particular reason I wanted to surprise him with a Brazilian inspired meal. However, most Brazilian cuisine involves meat or fish – two things my boyfriend is loath to eat. (We do occasionally eat humanly raised grass-fed local sustainable meat, but he finds seafood appalling.) Feijoada, considered the national dish of Brazil consists of black beans slow cooked with various parts of the pig. Since my boyfriend loves meatless rice and beans, so I decided to get creative.
On the Internet I researched various feijoada recipes, which mostly relied on lots of salt and pork and very little other flavoring unless you count the beef bits. But how could I keep things kosher and compete with recipes that look like a butcher shop in a pot? There were a lot of vegetarian black bean recipes online, but this needed to be more than just rice and beans, I needed to make this complex and interesting to call it feijoada. So I explored the Internet for some more tastes of Brazil.
The caipirinha, also known as the national drink of Brazil, is made from muddled limes, sugar and fermented distilled sugar cane juice called cachaça. I had my first taste of this delicious, but deceptively strong drink in my early twenties when I was working in politics. A bunch of fat middle-aged politicians and I would occasionally lunch at a little restaurant called Chale Ipanema listening to recordings of Stan Getz and sip on caipirinhas. Years later the New York Times ran an article explaining that Americans don’t know how good cachaça can be, but I was able to procure a decent enough bottle for our Brazilian evening.
I also happened to have a couple of ripe avocados with bright green flesh that was not too mushy. Since I couldn’t make a ceviche with seafood, I chopped up some tomatoes, hearts of palm, thin slivers of onion, cubes of avocado and cilantro with a couple of squeezes of lime juice. I served in stemless wine glasses and garnished with a big wedge of avocado.
In Brazil the avocado is (correctly) considered fruit and is often sweetened and eaten as dessert. I found several recipes for Avocado Cream and tried out a recipe similar to this one although I only used heavy cream and more lime juice. I put the Cream into wine glasses before I started the beans and chilled it in the fridge for dessert.
But what about the main affair? I obsessively read more and more recipes, and took from what I thought would be the best. Some recipes called for sweet potatoes or other heavy starchy vegetables to be added to “Vegetarian Feijoada,” but I felt that those recipes were lacking the depth that the traditional dish takes on. After all, most of the recipes called for salted, cured and otherwise preserved meats. So I decided to add marinade mushrooms, and dress up some seitan with a seasoning rub. The idea was that I would enhance the flavors before adding them to the stewing pot – in the hopes of adding depth and complexity.
Was I successful? You’ll have to have the patience to try this recipe out yourself and see. But I can say that my boyfriend was very surprised and delighted to come home to this delicious home-cooked meal.
For the beans
1 pound dried black beans
2 poblano (or green bell) peppers, seeded
8 cups water
1 low sodium vegetable bullion cube
2 bay leaves
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp dried oregano
large sprig of fresh thyme
rind from one orange
2 cups sliced or roughly chopped seitan
Latin Spice (freshly ground roasted cumin seeds, black peppercorns and coriander seeds)
Vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce
1 medium sweet or Vidalia onion
4 large cloves of garlic
bunch of cilantro
2 cups citrus marinated mushrooms
salt to taste
can of stewed tomatoes
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp molasses
juice of one orange
The Night Before:
1) Wash the beans well and in a large glass bowl leave them to soak in the eight cups of water with chunks from one of the peppers overnight. Add more water if necessary to ensure beans are covered.
2) In a small glass bowl, liberally rub the seitan with Latin Spice, olive oil and Worcestershire Sauce. Cover and let rest in fridge overnight, stirring occasionally.
Three Hours Before Meal:
1) Put the beans, the water they soaked in and the pepper pieces into a large cooking pot. Add the orange rind, bullion and bay leaves to the water. Place the celery seed, oregano and thyme in a tea ball or sachet bouquet and place it in the pot.
2) Bring the water to a boil, then immediately turn the heat to a simmer and cook, covered for 1 1/2 hours, or until the beans are almost tender.
3) Remove the orange rind and pepper pieces.
4) Prepare the sofrito by blending the other pepper, the leeks, onion, garlic, mushrooms, jalapeño and about half of the cilantro in a blender until the mixture is smooth.
5) Add the sofrito, the seitan and the rest of the fresh thyme to the beans. Bring to a boil again, then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer.
6) Add salt the tomatoes, sherry, vinegar, and molasses. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until the bean mixture becomes thick, about 2 more hours. Taste after an hour or so, after the raw vegetables have the chance to cook. Add additional Latin Spice to taste.
7) Add the juice if the orange. Serve over steamed or coconut rice. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with orange slices