One of the most recognizable dishes of modern day Brazil is the rich stew known as feijoada. The term feijoada derives from the Portuguese word for bean, feijão, and this points to the common element in all variations of the dish.
Feijoada is one of the most iconic dishes in Brazilian cuisine, the rich dish of beans and sausages holds a specific place in weekly life for many Brazilians. A typical meal of feijoada has multiple parts. First there is the feijoada itself, a thick stew redolent with various meats, sausages and beans. The stew is always accompanied by a variety of side dishes. These include long grain white rice, thinly slices and sautéed collard greens, orange slices, a "vinaigrette" of tomatoes, onion, lime and parsley and prepared manioc (cassava) flour called farofa. The rice acts as a foil for the stew, the collard greens provide additional nutrition and a bitter component, the vinaigrette provides acid, the manioc texture and the oranges a bit of sweetness. Feijoada brasiliera is a complex amalgamation of all these ingredients and the flavors achieve a wonderful harmony. Due to the heartiness of the dish it is often eaten as a leisurely midday meal. In Sao Paolo restaurants typically serve feijoada as a special meal on Wednesdays whereas in Rio de Janeiro it is served on Fridays. While it is the national dish of Brazil, ingredients vary be region with black beans and various meats being popular in the south and red beans and vegetables common in the north.
Feijoada has it roots in the Iberian Peninsula. The first forms of feijoada reflect the wide extent of early Portuguese trade routes. Tomatoes and kidney beans from the Americas and spices from India and Indonesia feature prominently in this pork-based stew. Many of the ingredients found in present day versions were not available to Europeans until after 1500 and more likely weren't used until the 17th century or later. By this time bean dishes and heavily spiced items (like Morcilla, Chouriço) had become more ingrained in Portuguese food and thus items like feijoada became more common. The Brazilian version blends Portuguese, African and indigenous elements. Ingredients like black beans, tomatoes and cassava (also known as manioc) are nods to the bounty of the Amazon ecosystem and trade with Mesoamerica and the Andes. The European style sausages, citrus, vinegar and dried beef were all originally brought to the Americas by the Portuguese. Collard greens and rice are staples of West and Central African populations and arrived with the slave trade. All of these components are integral to the meal and event that is feijoada.
Some believe feijoada originated with the slaves in Brazil. Purportedly the dish was made from cheap ingredients (black beans, collards and rice) flavored with the leftovers and scraps of the master's household. This theory arose due to the traditional inclusion of pig's feet, ears, tails and other low status animal parts in feijoada found throughout Brazil. This theory, while plausible, has come under scrutiny in recent years due to studies concerning the cultivation of black beans in Brazil. Beans were a common staple among all strata of society. From rich European settlers to enslaved Africans, the black bean provided a steady, nutritious and accessible form of sustenance. More affluent populations would flavor the beans with meat and vegetables (like modern iterations of feijoada) whereas the poor would typically eat beans with a medley of rice and cassava flour. Modern versions feijoada embrace both styles, in a strange way, so the dish may have created a culinary bridge between social classes.
With the expansion of the Portuguese empire, feijoada became even more complex in ingredients. Contact with southern Africa, India and South East Asia brought new flavors and ingredients to the dish and those same trade routes resulted in bringing of feijoada to the entire world with each version reflecting the unique palates and cuisines of the places where it found a home. Brazilian feijoada is the delicious and famous starting point, but myriad versions exist all waiting to be enjoyed.
For the rice, collards and beans:
- 1/2 pound Portuguese linguica sausage, sliced
- 1/4 pound paio sausage, sliced
- 1/4 pound Brazilian carne seca, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes
- 1/4 pound salt pork, cubed
- 1/4 pound smoked thick cut bacon, chopped
- 1 pound black beans, soaked overnight
- 6 dried bay leaves
- 8 cloves of garlic, crushed, plus 1/4 cup minced
- 10 collard green leaves, stemmed and sliced very thinly
- 2 cups of long grain white rice, rinsed and cooked in a rice cooker
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or olive oil)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
For the vinaigrette and serving:
- 2 Roma tomatoes, cored and chopped
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 ounce lime juice
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup good olive oil
- 1/4 cup prepared cassava flour (farofa)
- 1 orange, peeled and thinly sliced for garnish
- Add salt pork and bacon to an 8 quart stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and cook until fat begins to render (about 5 minutes).
- Add the remaining meat to the pot and brown over medium heat for an additional 8-10 minutes.
- Add beans, crushed garlic, bay leaves and enough water to cover and bring to a boil.
- Drop the heat to a simmer and allow the beans to cook until tender (approximately 1.5 - 2 hours).
- While the beans are cooking, mix the tomato, parsley, cilantro, shallot, vinegar, lime juice, oil and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
- On medium heat 3 tablespoon of oil in a large sauté pan or skillet and add the garlic.
- Fry, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant and add the collard greens, salt and pepper.
- Cook the greens until leaves turn a bright green and soften (about 4 -5 minutes).
- Serve the dish on a large plate with rice and collards on opposite sides with the feijoada in the middle. Garnish with farofa, vinaigrette and orange slices.
NOTE: Paio, carne seca and prepared farofa can all be purchased at Brazil by the Bay market. This is the best place to find these items. They sell pre-portioned packs of meat for feijoada.
Recipe and photos by Liam Fox
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