peas

Cuscuz paulista is a very popular dish from the region in Brazil that I call home. The main ingredient for the recipe is farinha de milho, or “corn flour.” Farinha de milho is made of white or yellow corn that is finely ground, mixed with water and baked in the oven. This has nothing to do with American corn meal. The process precooks the ground corn, gives it a light toasty flavor, makes it ready to eat, and augments shelf storage. It is very versatile and can be used in sweet and savory dishes. You can find it in Brazilian and sometimes generic South American or Latino grocery stores. Early colonizers spread the taste for this corn product throughout the Brazilian Southeast, mainly in the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais.

cuscuz paulista AKA savory Brazilian bundt cake

cuscuz paulista AKA savory Brazilian bundt cake

In São Paulo the most popular dish made with farinha de milho is cuscuz paulista. There are several versions. It can be entirely vegetarian or you can add shrimp, canned tuna, sardines, or if want to be fancy, crabmeat or even lobster. It is fairly low-fat, healthy and delicious!

I have been wanting to make this cuscuz for a while, but every time I suggested it, Steven would roll his eyes in disbelief, wondering if it would taste good. I think that he was afraid that it would be loaded with mayonnaise, like certain kinds of American deli salads. Poor thing: he detests mayo. He’s also suspicious of anything made of corn. Silly. When I finally prepared this for a dinner party, everybody loved it. I shaped it with a bundt pan. One of our friends, Juanita, called this dish a “savory Brazilian bundt cake.” So there you go.

Here’s another version.

cuscuz paulista AKA savory Brazilian bundt cake

3 cups farinha de milho
2 cups vegetable broth
6 tbsp olive oil plus more for finishing
1 cup tomato sauce (make your own* or pre-made would work)
1 white onion, chopped fine
1 cup fresh or fresh frozen peas
1 cup fresh or frozen sweet corn
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, cubed
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
½ bunch Italian parsley, chopped
1 can Brazilian palm hearts, drained, all but four cut in rounds
¼lb fresh shrimp chopped (optional)
1 cube vegetable bullion (optional)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
crushed red pepper

*For tomato sauce:

1 can crushed tomato plus juice (28oz/800grams)
2 cups water
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp olive oil
1 red Jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced
2 fillets of anchovies packed in oil (optional for vegetarian version)
crushed red pepper
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of fennel seeds

For decoration:

4 cherry tomatoes halved
2 parsley sprigs
4 sticks palm hearts (reserved from above) cut two in quarters along the long axis to make sticks and two into about four rounds each

Yoki Farinha de Milho aka Brazilian Yellow Corn Flakes

Yoki Farinha de Milho aka Brazilian Yellow Corn Flakes

To make tomato sauce:

Using a stockpot, sauté onion in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic, Jalapeño and anchovy fillets. Continue sautéing until aromatic. Add rest of ingredients and bring it to a boil. Reduce temperature to low and simmer for about 30-45 minutes stirring a few times to prevent sticking. Add more water if needed. The tomato sauce should be thick when finished. Reserve left over sauce for another use.

To prepare cuscuz:

Sweat onion in 3 tablespoons olive oil on high heat. Next add garlic, salt, red and black pepper followed by peas and corn. Push partially cooked veggies to side and continue by adding bell pepper, shrimp (if using), the remainder of the olive oil, scallion, parsley, palm heart and bullion until everything is cooked but not overcooked. Next add tomato sauce and hot vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and immediately turn temperature to low. Lastly mix farinha de milho and nutritional yeast together and pour them into the pan, folding delicately to incorporate without breaking the veggies. It will have a mushy consistency. Continue cooking another minute until mix begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.

To mold the cuscuz, oil a bundt dish (or any medium sized bowl with an interesting shape though the bundt is traditional) with olive oil. Lay parsley springs, tomato halves and palm heart rounds at the bottom of the pan. Stack pieces of palm heart sticks on the sides. Carefully transfer cuscuz to bundt pan to avoid moving decorative vegetables. Gently press with a spatula. Drizzle with some olive oil. Let it rest for about 5 minutes. Place a serving platter over pan, and, holding it tightly, flip the finished cuscuz onto dish. Tap at the bottom to dislodge. And voilá!

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vegan ajwain samosas

Our friends Christian and Alecks are moving back to the East Coast this summer. Alecks will be teaching at NYU and Christian is going back to grad school. Exciting times for these two boys with lots of changes happening in their lives right now! Congrats to both of you!

They are going to live on Washington Square at the end of 5th Avenue in Manhattan right, where the East and West Villages connect. How nice! I know that area well. When I moved to NYC in 2003 I lived on 8th Street at 6th Avenue in the shoe shop district. I was just a block from my beloved Balducci’s. I think that Balducci’s was the best gourmet food place I’ve ever been: small, well stocked with goods from all over, and always fresh and unique. Too bad they no longer exist. There were also other exciting places to shop around that area. I enjoyed Jefferson Market on 6th Ave; the fabulous cheese shop on Bleeker Street; and the farmer’s market on Union Square. In late summer, the Union Square Farmers Market had this scrumptious peach pie a la Martha Stewart that was just incredible. You know how peaches taste in the late summer: ultra ripe, sweet and amazing. Yumm! Sometimes I would venture south form there to Dean & De Lucca on Broadway and Spring Street or even further down, to Canal for Asian produce and fish. Downtown Manhattan kicks ass! Here I am reminiscing about the Big Apple. C&A enjoy your stay there! You’ll have a blast.

Last Saturday we held a small going away party at our place for the lucky couple. We wanted to make something different and memorable, so I suggested Ethiopian food. When I said that, I saw Christian’s eyes light up. I knew from then on that he had something brilliant in mind. He had cooked Ethiopian before; many times, actually. He wanted to prepare the meal himself. Alecs and I acted as sous chefs.

Alecs enjoying a vegan ajwain samosas

We made: pumpkin & cauliflower stew, spicy red lentils, gingered collard greens, and monk fish with Berber spice. The injeera bread came from a store in Oakland. With Christian’s supervison, I made the pumpkin and cauliflower stew which I will publish soon.

While reading about Ethipioan food, I noticed they use the spice ajwain in their cooking, which is similar to Indian cooking. With that in mind I decided to make these vegan samosas from the Ajanta cookbook as an appetizer.

Christian enjoying a vegan ajwain samosas

Since making these samosas, I’ve fallen madly in love with ajwain seeds. The week after the Ethiopian party, I made angú with leek, fava and ajwain. Delicious!

The samosas turned out divine! I served them with a tamarind/mint/cilantro salsa which was adapted from the same book.

vegan ajwain samosas for good bye

For the dough:

2 cups flour
¾ tsp kosher salt
6 tbsp canola oil
2 tsp ajwain seeds
½ cup water (plus more)

For the filling:

5 small cooked potatoes
4 tbsp canola oil
1 cup frozen garden fresh pea
1 cup sweet corn
1 cup frozen shelled edamame that has been boiled for 4 minutes
Kosher salt to taste
4 tsp coarsely ground coriander seeds
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp dried crushed red pepper
3 tsp mango powder (amchur powder)
2 tsp turmeric

To make the dough:

Mix all ingredients together plus ½ cup of water, then knead for few minutes. Add a little more water if too thick. It should have the consistency of pizza dough. Shape dough into a ball, place on a bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Let rest for about 45 minutes.

While dough rests, make the filling:

Cut potatoes into small cubes. Add oil to a non stick skillet followed by the sweet corn and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add salt, coriander, amchur powder, turmeric, black and crushed red pepper and give it a good stir. Add remaining ingredients and cook for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool.

stuffing the samosa

wrapping the samosa

Assembling the samosas:

Using a rolling pin flatten the dough on your counter top to about ½ inch thick. With a knife cut the dough into 12 equal parts. Roll each part into a ping-pong ball shape and place them on a tray. Cover with a damp towel.

To form each samosa:

Place one ball on the counter and flatten it with your rolling pin to make a circle of about 7 inch wide. Cut the circle in the middle to make two ½ moon shapes. Place 1 to 1&½ tsp of the filling in the center of a half moon. Fold corners over the filling to make them into triangular samosa shapes. Transfer to a lightly greased tray. Repeat process with the other 1/2 moon and 11 balls.

Makes two dozen.

stuffed samosas ready for frying

To fry samosas:

Fill a 10 inch wide pan to about 1 inch deep with canola oil. Bring temperature to medium high. Add 4 to five samosas at a time and fry them for about 4 minutes on each sides or until color becomes golden. Remove from pan and place on paper towels to drain. Repeat process with remaining samosas.

Serve hot or room temperature with tamarind, mint and cilantro salsa.

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Açai isn’t just a fruit caught up in a massive health and diet food craze. The heart of this tropical palm is also marvelously tasty. And though this dish may not reduce your weight, it will certainly help you enjoy life even more.

a piece of Brazilian açai palm heart pie

My sister Ana has been making açai palm heart flavored “pie” for years. Whenever I’m visiting Brazil, I make sure I always eat plenty. I write pie in quotes as this doesn’t have a crust in the sense that Americans mean when they think of “mom and apple pie.” Actually, Steven and I have been debating on the right term to use for the dish. He thinks that it’s sort of like a soufflé. I’m not sure. There’s definitely a dough, though it’s more airy and light than most; almost like a cake, a challah bread or perhaps a focaccia. Whatever you call it, the thing is good!

This recipe has been passed down to everyone in my family. On my last visit, I enjoyed my other sister, Tinha’s version. I loved it but Ana claims that hers is better. Thinha humbly agrees. Ana is an expert with this dish, but I don’t know. I’d love them to have a cook-off on my next visit with me the judge 😉 That way, I win whatever the outcome!

Like I wrote the other day, baking is sort of experimental for me. I tried to follow Ana’s recipe almost verbatim. But who ever really does that? I used soy milk instead of cow’s, for the simple reason that we had the former and not the later. Also the baking dishes that my sibs have are enormous compared to what I have at home. Since this made a lot of filling and dough, I ended up with a large 9 by 13 tray and a smaller loaf of the Brazilian açai palm heart pie at the end. Next time I’m going to try cutting the ingredients by half so it’s easier to manage.

some key ingredients for Brazilian açai palm heart pie

This treat is a bit high in cholesterol compared to our usual home cooked dinners. I don’t mind once in a while. It turned out outstandingly!

Brazilian Açai Palm Heart Pie

Filling ingredients:

2 cans (400g each) Brazilian açai palm heart, drained and cut into ¼ inch rounds
1 cup frozen garden peas
½ cup pitted Spanish green olives, halved
6 ripe plum tomatoes, skin and seed discarded, chopped
½ medium sized jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs partially removed, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Sauté garlic in olive oil for a minute or so in a heavy bottomed pan. Add jalapeño pepper and continue sautéing for another minute. Add tomatoes, palm hearts and cook on high heat with pan uncovered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Filling will be ready when palm hearts begin to dissolve and most of the water from the tomatoes has evaporated. Remove from heat then add olives, salt and pepper, and frozen peas. Taste it and add a bit of salt if necessary. Let cool down to room temperature.

press the filling into the dough before baking

Dough ingredients:

5 eggs
2 ½ cups milk
1 cup cooking oil (canola or walnut)
¾ cups flour (12 tbsp)
7 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
Dash of salt
1 tbsp baking powder

Pre heat your oven to 350F.

Grease a large baking pan and dust with flour (It might take two). Set aside

Beat eggs in a blender for about 3-4 minutes at high speed. Add milk and oil then blend for another minute. Pulse flour into egg mixture, two table spoons at time, making sure it gets incorporated into the dough. Pulse in cheese and salt then, lastly, the baking powder. The finished dough is a little runny. I ended up with slightly more than a ¼ gallon.

Pour the dough into the prepared baking dish. Then scatter the filling on top of dough, making sure it is at least partially covered by the dough. If using more than one dish, divide accordingly and fill each dish in a one part dough one part filling ratio.

Bake for 35 to 45minutes until it becomes golden brown. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean, the pie is ready. Remove from oven and cool completely.

To serve, cut into large squares and place on a serving dish. It’s very good with a simple green salad in vinaigrette.

my extra Brazilian açai palm heart pie

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I saw a 4-pack tray of sweet corn on the cob at our branch of TJ’s last week which made me long for summer. Aah! Summer sweet corn is the absolute best! It’s been so cold lately. Plus produce, aside from root vegetables, the cabbage family and of course citrus, all starts to look and taste a little flabby in January. In the summertime, sweet corn is at its peak in taste and is incredibly cheap. Often you can buy five ears for only a dollar, and sometimes even less. What a bargain that is.

collard greens with peas and sweet corn

I don’t even know where this sweet corn came from as the container says somewhat vaguely that it was packaged in the US. It must be from somewhere overseas, perhaps from Chile? I don’t want to think too much about carbon footprinting today…

So to celebrate summer in the heart of winter, I offer you this corn with collard greens dish. Now if only there was some country music to go along with this meal, all would be right in the universe!

This recipe is tasty and healthy. It’s cholesterol-free, and is packed with tons of vitamins, fiber and even protein. You can serve it as a side dish or eat it as a main course. It’s a little like quinoa love sans quinoa and tofu, but still full of love.

Collard Greens with Peas and Sweet Corn

4 ears sweet corn, kernels cut from cobs
1 bunch collard greens or Kale, rinsed and cut into thin strips (julliened)
½ bunch parsley, chopped
1 cup frozen garden green peas
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
fresh black pepper to taste
dry red pepper flakes to taste

How to:

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and sauté for few seconds until fragrant. Add corn and sauté stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper followed by the collard green. Stir. Add frozen peas. Cover pan and let it cook for another 5 minutes or so. You will know it is ready when collard greens have reduced to about a 1/3 of the original volume. Otherwise cook a bit longer. Adjust seasoning with more salt, pepper, red pepper and/or olive oil. I guarantee your guests will love it.

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