Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cooking in Rio de Janeiro

I was not prepared for the amount of cooking expected of me in this city.  Pre-kids and husband, I used to survive off of Tonino's pizza rolls and Top Ramon.

5 years later, I couldn't be any further from where I started.  First off, I'm feeding a family.  It's pretty frowned upon to feed your kids instant foods, at least all time.  So I've discovered the wonderful world of cooking in Rio de Janeiro.

Cooking in Rio de Janeiro requires a couple of things. 1. stop looking for canned items. You will basically find tuna, corn, peas, and mixed corn and peas. Slight exaggeration. You can now find some other items including canned baby peas.

Secondly, I introduce the pressure cooker. It's used for practically everything down here!  The oven is used so infrequently that my mother-in-law lived for years without a functioning one. The only part that worked was the stove top, and that's all she used anyway.  Pressure cookers are principally used for cooking all different types of dried beans (the state you'll find most uncooked beans in Brazil), meats like carne asada, and anything else that can be thrown in and pressured the crap out of.

Thirdly, be prepared to make the big meal for lunch. The American dinner is the equivalent of the Brazilian lunch. A family friend once saw me give my son a PB&J for lunch.  I think she had a small heart attack. It's just not done here. Sandwiches are not acceptable lunch foods.

Keep in mind though, American lunches are equivalent to Brazilian dinners. Pre-babies, when we lived for a time with my in-laws, dinner was a kind of free for all. The table would be set up with fresh bread, deli meats, salad, fruits, some other extras.  Anyone who wanted to have leftovers from lunch could and, occasionally, we'd eat pasta.

My boys now have a wonderful combo of the American and Brazilian ways of life.  They essentially have 2 dinners, or a Brazilian lunch and an American dinner. I've gotten into the habit of the Brazilian lunch and I can't put them to bed without knowing they've eaten a good dinner.  That, of course, means Mom is cooking 2 full meals twice a day.  You can only imagine the prep time since most things are from scratch and the clean up without a dish washer.

The solution, a maid. I have a wonderful maid who comes on Mondays and Thursdays. She makes lunch both those days and makes beans for the days she won't be here. Black beans are a Carioca diet staple.  After a little while here, you'll wonder what you ate when you weren't eating beans and rice.  Her bean prepping saves me one complicated cooking step.

Yes, Brazilian black beans are complicated to cook. It's a gentle balance of simple ingredients that can make heaven or hell depending on how well you do. 

Of course, all of this falls to the wayside when Mom is too tired and/or has not done the shopping.  PB&Js are served and I just don't tell anyone. 


  1. so... what's the the "gentle balance of simple ingredients" for black beans? Please share!

  2. Shannon, it usually starts with regular garlic-onions and salt, but you can add any part of a pork, jerked beef, a sausage called paio, to make it a feijoada. Most people put leafs of "louro", dont know how to translate that or even if there is an english word for it. I put beets in my beans, to make it stronger for the kid. Black beans is classic, but white/red/carioca beans are also really good for a change, and the fradinho kind works great for salads.
    Rach, I had a maid who cooked even the rice in the pressure pan. I had never noticed how much we actually use it. As for the oven, I guess it goes from family to family, I use my oven almost daily, since I don't like to fry stuff. Even my frozen nuggets go into the oven. We make all kinds of chicken, potatoes, souffles, meat, etc. And, for X sake, get a dish washer and a drier! It's not that bad, you can pay in 10 installments and live happily ever after! I have both, can't tell you enough how much it was worth every penny (well, technically, both were wedding gifts, but I would have definetly gotten them anyways).

  3. Wow Thais, you're so lucky to have a dishwasher and dryer...tou com ciumes!!! I think if I got both, I could say goodbye to a faixineira, except for once a week, and our clothes would last SO much longer, and retain their shape. Nothing like drying your jeans in a dryer to let you know if you've packed on a few kilos. The problem is for us, there's no more room for either in our kitchen/empregada area, only if I took out the pia/washsink, and that has not been met with approval. For me, washsink or brainer.

    Rachel, you've touched upon a subject (as you often do) that I work so hard at...I cook here 2-3 times a day, trying to give my child (and husband) a good, varied and mostly nutritious experience. It's a silent war, I mostly feel like the lone warrior. Usually I get shrugs or a roll of the eyes when I give my son a tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat with light mayo or a curried organic chicken salad sandwich with celery and raisins, the side dish always being a from scratch vegetable housekeeper thinks I'm being a bad Mom, truly. Better that he eat meat and rice and beans EVERY single day for lunch, god forbid I give him ANY type of sandwich. HELLO! My in-laws are the same way with me (and when he spends a day with them, he eats bolinhos de bacalhau and brigadeiros...hmmm). Kids like variety and I think if you introduce lots of different and healthy flavors and foods into their diets when they are young, why not? My son will always choose sushi over McDonalds's, he's acquired a taste for it, and while it's far more expensive, while they're growing, if we are able to give them the best foods, why not? When I feel defeated, I read Jamie Oliver's site or another blog I love is , these types of things (like Food, Inc.) really inspire me and keep me going strong, even when it seems everyone here thinks I'm not doing the best by following the Brasilian standard 100% of the time. I think he truly gets the best of both worlds. As a stay-at-home Mom, it is MY job to do this and I put a lot of thought and effort into it, even if no one notices or if it is just met with negativity and criticism. I shop EVERY day for fresh ingredients and I scour the net and cookbooks for new recipes. I try to mostly not buy processed stuff or frozen stuff, I'm not perfect nor is life but I'm really working my butt off while I still have influence over what my son eats (I really don't want him to ever have man-boobs!). It won't be forever but while I can, I certainly am giving my full attention to this! It's exhausting mas vale a pena. He's thin, he's smart, he's healthy...something must be working.

  4. Oh, and Louro is "Bayleaf" in English. = )

  5. My Mother-in-Law uses her oven as a cupboard to keep all of the pots and pans. Figure that one out.
    Also, every single time my family-in-law sees me eating a sandwich for lunch, they NEVER fail to point it out. Not just casually either. Always a big, roaring "you're just going to eat a SANDWICH???" and occasionally I've even gotten "a sandwich for lunch? YUCK!"
    WOW, don't hide your feelings or anything!
    I was just talking about this with Ro today as well. I've learned how to cook so many more things from scratch which (while I probably wouldn't have resorted to it at home) has allowed me to eat way more naturally, eat less preservatives, and generally just be in control of what I eat. With your PB... I make my own now. Do you buy or make? It's super expensive to buy and soooooo much better now that I am eating homemade. Gostoso! :D

  6. Stephanie,

    It is a great idea to dedicate so much time and effort to your kids, remember, one day they might be cooking for us and God forbid even changing our diapers :)
    Also according to Brazilian culture, kids never ever, ever, put their parents on a nursing home.

  7. I like the idea of adding beets to the beans. We have friends with a young boy (now getting into his teens) who would NEVER eat a vegetable, just beans, rice, french fries and grilled meat (such a Carioca). His mother was always grating up carrots and slipping them into the beans without his noticing.

    Luiz swears he ate beans, rice, french fries and meat EVERY DAY for practically his entire childhood. And if I didn't cook he/we would still be eating just that.

    I discovered Harissa paste at a Middle Eastern grocery shop yesterday (mixed peppers, made in Tunisia). It's probably too spicy for the kids, but we enjoyed roasted eggplant with a Honey and Harissa glaze. Super yum!

  8. Stephanie, my dryer was nailed to the wall a few inches higher up my washer. We didnt have any space either, it was hard to open the drier's door when there were clothes hanging, but it was ok. As for not wrecking your clothes, you mean your american clothes, right? Bc dryers ruin Brazilian clothes for good, they are all so delicate and not made for washer/dryer
    As a Brazilian person who lived in the US, I'm ok with eating sandwiches for lunch, but I think that eating heavy food for dinner is always worse for digestion and good sleeping. Of course americans don't eat beans every meal, and those are super heavy, but still, there's enough grease on american traditional food to compensate.
    Jim - my husband is the same, he only ate the same stuff at his house (and pizza) all his childhood and teens, when I met him he told me he was allergic to shrimp. Guess who can't get enought shrimp these days? That's a family thing, his mom can go to the beach and have all the wonderful seafood available and she'll ask for a burguer. No need to mention everyone there is obese, except for him.