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.