The fifth in an occasional series of posts about Brazilian food and ingredients we discovered during our recent visit.
Our first taste of the food of Minas Gerais, the agricultural and culinary heart of Brazil where we spent most of our visit, came not at the pousada in rural São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras, but in the heart of Rio de Janeiro.
Every neighborhood needs a place like the Bar do Mineiro, a combination café-gallery-hangout (where, if you lived nearby, everyone would know your name) that spills out onto the streetcar tracks in Rio's artsy Santa Teresa neighborhood.
At the bar, the menu features Minas food. Bolinhos, fried balls of fish or meat or cheese -- each a different shape, so you can tell one filling from another -- make the perfect accompaniment to the Bar do Mineiro's large selection of cachaça and beer.
We loved the bolinhos de bacalhau (codfish balls, above), which are made with salt cod. The square ones below were filled with meat.
From uber-cosmopolitan Rio, we traveled many hours inland to São Gonçalo, a small village on the old, often unpaved, diamond mining route from the coast to Diamantina.
Every village needs a place like Padaria São Gonçalo (where, if you lived nearby, everyone would know your name). From its two red metal tables, outside on the central square, you can watch life as it passes by.
The padaria (bakery) offers cold beer and freshly-made bolinhos de bacalhau, and the typically Mineiran biscoitos do povilho, which are crunchy, puffy, ethereal cassava biscuits.
At the Pousada do Capão, owned by our friends Peter and Marcinha, these biscuits were a constant feature on the breakfast buffet, along with the famous Serro cheese. Marlene, one of two local women who cook at the pousada, taught us how to make them. She's a bit camera-shy, so roll over the photos to follow her recipe.
Biscoitos de povilho (cassava biscuits)
Every morning at breakfast at the Pousada do Capão, we had Serro cheese, which is a cross between the saltiness of feta and the softness of mozzarella, and an assortment of breads and biscuits. Now that we're back home, I miss breakfasts like that. The Brazilian ingredients are available in our local Portuguese markets here in Rhode Island, or online. This recipe makes 60-100 small biscuits, depending on how you form them; Marlene's were smaller, and the ones we had at the local café in Sao Gonçalo were huge.
1 cup farinha de milho biju (a type of cornmeal or cornflour)
1 cup cold milk
2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup soybean, vegetable, canola or corn oil, plus additional to oil your hands
3 cups povilho azedo (cassava starch)
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a large bowl, stir together the farinha and milk. Add salt, eggs and oil, and stir to combine. Slowly add the povilho azedo, stirring with your hand until well incorporated.
Set out several rimmed cookie sheets. Oil your hands lightly, and break off a small ball of dough, about the size of a walnut. Roll the dough in your hand to form a small snake approximately 1/2 inch thick. Place it on the baking sheet and bend one end into a curve, like a small candy cane. Repeat for remaining dough, positioning the biscuits 1/2 inch apart.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the biscuits are dry and crisp. Let them cool completely, then serve for breakfast or with afternoon tea, or store in a covered container for 2-3 days.
Thanks to Sandra, Ben, Martin and Peter for the use of their photos.
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