Comfort Food Inspiration:
Memories of eating transformed into cooking
Written by Beatriz
There are three women in my family that I have always looked up to: my mom, and my two grandmothers. When I recall childhood memories, my grandmothers’ food is always present. Every weekend I would go to my grandmother, Maria’s house with my dad, mom and sister. During those days, I was always excited for the pão de queijo (cheese bread) and rapadura (a sugar cane sweet) always available in her house. We used to gather in the kitchen, where she would spoil us with an uncountable number of those items. For the adults, coffee was the rule for an afternoon visit, and consequently the kitchen (and my grandma) always smelled of coffee.
My grandmother Lourdes, on the other hand, lived far away from my immediate family, so we would visit her once or twice a year. The car drive usually took around 10 hours, which we would do during summer time in a no-air conditioned car. The drive sometimes felt like forever, but we had our ways to pass time. We would listen to music from the CDs my parents had, like Drão from Gilberto Gil, one of my favorites. We also would eat the deli meat sandwiches I would have prepared along with my mom the night before the trip, always ham, cheese and tomato were involved.
After so many hours on the road, we would arrive at grandma's house hungry for something different and eager to see the whole family after months apart.
We’d walk into the smell of bean soup with vegetables and noodles waiting for us, and for the adults a very cold beer always was a go-to. Throughout summer vacation, I strongly recall the “coffee pauses”, always accompanied by snacks, usually cake or bread. The “Coffee pause” is essential in a Brazilian household, it is part of daily life and a moment to share with family and friends. Even the saints would have their share: Saint Benedict’s image at grandma's house always received a cup of coffee as an offering. As a Catholic, she would pray for the Saint to give abundance to the household.
My mom Isabel always cooked on the weekends, and I would be- as she likes to say- her “sous chef”, helping with anything needed. I learned how to cook during those years, as she shared old family recipes including my grandmother Lourdes’ Bolognese pasta sauce. However, the dish recipe I want to share here is another passed from generation to generation: Feijoada. It is a Brazilian classic and favorite, every Brazilian family having its own version of the recipe, but basically consisting of a mixture of meats with black beans. Feijoada is my dad’s favorite food, and his go-to during birthday celebrations. To make this dish, preparations should start at least one day prior, as the meats have to be cut, and some soaked in water to remove the salt.
My mom always says feijoada has to be done in big amounts, because it is a collective food, it is impossible to do little of it, due to the amount of ingredients.
Besides taking some time to prepare it, it is supposed to be eaten by many people, and you should reserve the day when you eat feijoada as a special one. It is a heavy fatty meal, accompanied by rice, collard greens, orange and farofa (yucca flour). After eating you will have to make sure that you save space to have some sleep.
Living in the US, these memories of eating and preparing food are even more important than before, connecting myself to my roots, reminding me of core moments from childhood that built the Beatriz of today.
The pão de queijo I used to have at grandma Maria’s house, I bake in Bloomington from time to time. I do the same with the bean’s soup by grandma Lourdes, which turns out to be a perfect dish for the cold and harsh days of Indiana winter. Feijoada, on the other hand, I reserve for shared moments with friends. From what I have realized so far, feijoada is one of the most difficult dishes to reproduce due to the specificity of meats required for its preparation. I have talked to other Brazilians about tips on how to make feijoada with the ingredients available in the US. One possibility to mimic the taste of that variety of meats, is to put pork knee in the beans stew, with southern creole sausages. The taste is never the same, but it brings the spirit of home. When we Brazilians make feijoada in the US, it is like we do at home, we invite a group of people to eat, drink and enjoy the whole day around the table. And of course, don’t forget to play pagode (a Brazilian music genre).
Prep Time: 120 minutes
500 g dried Brazilian meat (Carne Seca)
250g of Pork Loin
100g of Pork Ribs
100g of Pork Tail
50g of Pork Ear
2 Paio Sausages
2 Calabresa Sausages
250 g of Bacon
6 cups of Black Beans
2 cups of Pinto Beans
1 clove of garlic
4 Bay leaves
Leave all meats, beside the sausages and bacon, to soak in fresh water the day before. Change the water as many times as possible.
The next day, cut the soaked meats and boil them for 5 minutes.
Throw away the water used to boil and cook the meats on the pressure cooker for 20 minutes and reserve.
Cook the beans on the pressure cooker for approximately 30 minutes with salt and 2 bay leaves.
Add the beans to the cooked meats and then add the sliced sausages.
In another pan, fry the sliced bacon and reserve. On the bacon oil, fry the minced garlic and minced onions. Put the bacon back on the pan and add the remaining bay leaves.
Add the ingredients from Step 6 to the beans and meat stew and let it cook for at least 30 minutes. After putting the cooked pinto beans on a blender, add them to the Feijoada. This will help to thicken the stew.
Serve this delicious dish accompanied by rice, collard greens, farofa and sliced orange!