I hope everybody has had a happy and festive holiday season. This year Christmas plans were quite different for me. I usually celebrate Christmas with my aunt, uncle, cousin and her husband. He's a guy from London, England and his family came from across the pond to have Christmas with us a couple of years back. This year it was the Canadian in-laws turn to go to the UK for Christmas. So I had to make alternate arrangements for the holidays. On a personal note, this year I have been learning Brazilian Portuguese (as well as Spanish). I have met a lot of Brazilian ex-pats in Toronto that have become good friends of mine. They invited me to spend Christmas with them and I gladly accepted.
In Brazil, they traditionally do the big dinner and exchange gifts on the 24th of December. So we did that and enjoyed a Brazilian Christmas dinner then. Since the 25th of December is my traditional Christmas Day, they let me prepare dinner that day. It was a lot of fun. I got to try some new and exciting things and I couldn't help but share them here.
For our Brazilian dinner they made a traditional roast turkey, gravy, empadão, farofa, salpicão, rice and beans. Most traditional Brazilian meals, as I understand, have meat, rice and beans. I will explain everything else.
Here is a picture of the roast turkey that was cooked with herbs, spices, peppers and onions. It was warm, inviting and everything turkey needs to be. They made a rich gravy sauce from scratch which is also pictured in the red bowl in the background. I wasn't expecting turkey to be a traditional Brazilian Christmas dinner since it's more of a British influence and Brazil's colonial past is mostly Portuguese. Consider it something I learned this year!
Beans and rice, of course, standard and familiar.
In the following picture, you can see farofa at the top and empadão at the bottom. Farofa is essentially onions, garlic and meat sautéed in some kind of fat (in this case, butter) until it's nice, golden and aromatic and then they dump in a coarsely ground cassava flour. For those who may not be familiar, cassava is a root vegetable native to warmer countries of the world. The flour soaks up some of the fat and flavour from the meat, garlic and onions but enough is added so that overall the texture is still drier than mushy. It kind of looks like sand, but I can assure you it tastes much better. My Brazilian friends have made farofa for me more than once. It seems you can use any kind of meat you want: bacon, sausages, chicken, offal, etc... In this batch they used chicken hearts (a delicacy in Brazilian cuisine) and chicken livers. Admittedly, the first time I tried chicken hearts several years ago I wasn't blown away by them. But my Brazilian friends have made them for me earlier this year and I have since changed my opinion. They're actually quite good. They have more of a familiar chicken flavour than liver and the texture is more... I'm not sure, "sweetbready" which I also like. Farofa can be a bit of a hard sell visually and descriptively, depending on who you are, but it's quite good. It tastes like meat, onion, garlic and root vegetable and has a crumbly texture. It's great at sopping up sauce and other juices on your plate!
Empadão is much easier to explain. It is essentially a meat and veggie pie. You can make empadão with any kind of meat or seafood but in this case they used chicken. They cooked the chicken in a pressure cooker and mixed it with tomato sauce, spices, seasonings, onion, scallions, garlic, corn and green olives. You can put anything you like in it, really. It's cooked in a casing of pastry made with flour, butter (any solid, cold fat can be used), a bit of water and salt. An egg wash was brushed over the top for colour. The whole thing is baked in a casserole dish. Think of it as South American chicken pie.