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November 5, 2009

Brazil food: Kitchens and cooktops (Recipe: chicken with ora pro nobis) {gluten-free}

The fourth in an occasional series of posts about Brazilian food and ingredients we discovered during our recent visit.

Wood stove

On our first morning at the Pousada do Capão, we drank cashew juice and ate homemade granola and fresh, really fresh, mango and pineapple, and we toasted our own bread-and-cheese sandwiches in a cast iron griddle on a fogão a lenha, the freestanding wood stove that is the heart and soul of every kitchen in Minas Gerais.

For me, owner of a six-burner Viking, this simple stove was love at first sight.

Every kitchen we visited had a fogão a lenha, each one sheathed in a different material (wood, tile, stone), like this kitchen in a beautiful old home (now a bed-and-breakfast inn) in Diamantina.

Diamantina kitchen

In most kitchens, the wood stove radiates heat and provides a surface for "holding" food, like a giant warming tray. The actual cooking usually takes place on a more efficient, and more energy-conscious, gas burner.

This beautiful red stove anchors the farmhouse kitchen at Cachaça Velha Serrana...

Cachaca farm kitchen

...but the actual cooking happens here, on the gas range.

Cachaca farm stovetop 

In another farm kitchen, the wood stove heats water for tea, and beans for lunch.

Boiling water for coffee on the wood stove.

At the pousada, Peter and Marlene, the wonderful cook who works with him, prepare all of the food for the inn in an oven built into the wall, and on this two-burner gas stove.

The old gas cooktop at the pousada.

A newer gas cooktop has been waiting to get hooked up, so for now, all of the cooking is done on two burners. Food prepared ahead can be kept warm on the wood stove.

Pousada new stove

On one of our first nights at the pousada, Marlene made this traditional Mineiran meal of beans, rice, polenta and chicken with ora pro nobis, in traditional stone pots called panelas de pedra sabão.

Pousada cooktop with dishes

On another evening, Peter baked this dish of squash with dried beef (more like our corned beef) in the wall oven and kept it warm on the wood stove's tiled top.

Pousada kitchen sweet potatoes

One winter long ago, Ted and Cousin Martin and I spent a memorable New Year's morning huddled around the Aga range in our friend Peter's (yes, another Peter) 400-year-old farmhouse kitchen in southwest England, trying to keep frostbite at bay.

Although winters in Minas Gerais don't get quite as cold as Cornwall, the warmth from the fogão a lenha took the chill off the air in early Spring, and warmed our spirits.

I wanted to bring one of these wood stoves home with me and put it right next to my Viking range. I really did.

Chicken with ora pro nobis.

Chicken with ora pro nobis

Another delicious recipe from Peter, chef-owner of Pousada do Capão in Brazil. Ora pro nobis (literally, "pray for us") grows wild in Minas Gerais, and is cultivated in some warmer parts of the United States, where it's known as Sweet Mary or Spanish Gooseberry. Purslane would be an excellent substitute, especially if what you find at the market is as past-its-prime as these leaves we found at the market in Diamantina.

Orapronobis

Usually this dish is made with free-range chicken (frango caipira) cut in serving pieces, which takes a lot longer to cook than tender dark meat thighs. Some people use urucum or turmeric for color, and some add peeled, seeded, diced tomatoes, but Peter likes it as is, to let the smoky flavor of the ora pro nobis come through unadulterated. Serves 4; can be doubled.

Ingredients

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, grated coarsely
2 cloves garlic, pounded to a puree in a mortar and pestle or chopped fine
8 skinless chicken thighs
2-3 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium storebought
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
2 cups (packed) ora pro nobis leaves (or purslane)
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions green part only

Directions

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy pot. Fry the onion in the hot oil, stirring and regulating the heat to prevent burning. Cook 3-4 minutes or until deep golden brown. Stir in half of the garlic. Add the chicken thighs and sear on both sides in the onions. Skim off any excess oil and reserve.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Then, reduce to a simmer, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the chicken is tender, 15-20 minutes. If the sauce seems overly thin, continue simmering to reduce to the desired consistency.

Meanwhile, wash and trim the ora pro nobis leaves, and julienne coarsely. Heat the reserved oil in a small frying pan, stir in the remaining garlic and fry 30 seconds, just until it begins to take on color. Add the ora pro nobis and sauté until wilted, adding a bit of stock if it seems too dry. Add the ora pro nobis and half the scallions to the chicken, stirring them into the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Sprinkle the remaining scallion greens over the top and serve with white rice, beans, polenta and sautéed collard greens.


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Mozambique chicken
Jilo and onions
Farofa with liver and onions
Chicken ratatouille
Hearts of palm, shrimp and cheese pizza

Thanks to cousins Martin, Ben and Sandra for contributing photos to this post.

Comments

Hi Lydia ! I've never had ora pro nobis, even being a Brazilian. I will try to find some around here, but if I can not find it, next year a friend of mine from Minas Gerais will get married and I will have a chance to try it. Thanks for sharing the recipe and the beautiful pictures !

You know I always like the exotic best - those things that are delicious and wonderful, but completely unexpected/unknown - well, a lot of your Brasilian pictures and notes are like that. Amazing. I'd want one of those cooktops too (but maybe only if someone else was tending it?)...

This is fascinating. So many questions: Is is awkward to add
wood? What species of wood is burnt? I love that long warming tray..the stoves are beautiful.
Is the ora pro nobis mucilaginous?
Great post!

These photos are absolutely haunting! I want to be there! The dish looks fantastic. I hope my first serving is in Brazil. No, wait, anytime! Then compare with the Brazilian dish when I get there...

This is a wonderful series of photos. As I am looking to replace my stove soon, this pictures remind me how central the stove is to the "spirit of the kitchen."

Oh my god I would like to have all of those Brazilian appliances! It's all very basic and real somehow. And my that food looks gorgeous!

Love the photos of the stoves! And once again you've introduced me to a new ingredient. How fun to get to try these things at the source.

Eliane, I know it grows wild in Minas, but I thought ora pro nobis would be easy to find in markets all over Brazil. I hope you get a chance to sample this dish; it was delicious.

Paul, I'm so glad you've enjoyed these little glimpses of a more rural part of Brazil. We can't wait to go back.

Marcia, Peter says that there is a man who goes off into the woods and collects fallen tree limbs for them to burn (never green wood); he will inquire about the specific variety and I'll add a comment here when I have the answer. The ora pro nobis is slightly mucilaginous, not as much as okra, but it does have a pronounced flavor, a bit musky. [update: see comment below.]

Candy, you would love this part of Brazil. It is a place of strong traditions and connection to the land.

TW, yes, these stoves were the spirit of the kitchen, and I felt drawn to them in every kitchen we entered.

Laura, our visit reminded me of how much can be done with a sharp knife, a good pot, and some heat under it. Nothing fancy.

Kalyn, ora pro nobis was new to me, too. I think you could substitute kale in this dish, but I'm going to check the Brazilian markets near here to see if they have ora pro nobis in the frozen food aisle.

Marcia, this in from Peter about the type of wood used in the stoves: "A few types that are good -- aroeira branca, aroeria pomba, caraiba, pau magro, pequi, sucupira, frutinha, eucalipto... there are others that definitely don't take, or give off lots of smoke, or smell bad."

Lydia, my dear, it is so wonderful to see the photos of your trip to Brazil!
I have never had ora pro nobis, but have heard a lot about it.

Lovely photos and food. In Tobago people did a "cook" outdoors with wood to burn and cook in a large pot--curried shark--lovely memories.

What a great experience, thanks for sharing it with us - I want one of those wood warmer stoves too!

Thanks again Lydia I see these leaves in several of the grocery stores and never knew what the heck they were so now when I see them again they won't be a head scratcher.
Many thanks for showing the panelas de pedra sabão. I've been batting around several years on how practical buying one of these pots would be so I feel a bit better about making the plung.

Lydia, thanks to you and Peter for the answers.....I think I'll have to get a Natural History Guide to Brazil! The things...besides
ingredients...that go into a dish are interesting. Again, thanks for such an interesting post.

I loved looking at those kitchens!

Patricia, I know this dish is a specialty of Minas Gerais, but I didn't realize ora pro nobis wasn't used more in other parts of Brazil.

Melanie, curried shark sounds delicious!

Natashya, I'm so glad you're enjoying my posts about Brazil. We had a wonderful time there.

Kim, do you find the leaves frozen or fresh -- and in regular grocery stores, or Brazilian markets? I'm hoping to find ora pro nobis at some of the Latino markets here.

Marcia, you asked, we answer!

Pam, I'm so glad. I love looking at other people's kitchens too.

Oh my God! I´m brazilian but I´m living in Canada and I really miss these things! Brazilian food is really delicious!!!

I was born in Minas Gerais state and lived one year in Diamantina but in our home it hasn´t this kind of stove. It is only in rural area or restaurant and hotel (pousada). But I know, for me, it´s the best food because it tastes soooooooooo gooooood when it´s prepared on the wood stove.

When I was young, I spent my vacantion at my uncles´ house and one of my aunt used to prepare a kind of cheese called ´requeijão´ on the wood store(fogão à lenha) that you showed above. OH OH OH! It was delicious!!! Also a kind of cookies called `biscoito de polvilho´. Oh, I really miss these things!

I´ve never seen ´ora pro nobis´! I lived in a lot of places in Brazil and I haven´t known this plant!!!

(Sorry for my bad English, I´m better in French ;)

Beautiful pictures!!!

This was very interesting. Thanks for sharing the pics of these Brazilian kitchens!

I just found your blog via Dorie Greenspan's and was so happy to see this post! As a little girl my family spent every vacation on our farm in Brazil and we had a wood oven exactly like this for occasional cooking and to heat the house's water. Seeing these pictures really brought a smile to my face, thank you! I'm subbing to your RSS feed in just a second, great site.

That is a great looking stove. I bet it must be great to cook on.

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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