Cooking with Nando: Feijoada (Traditional Brazilian Pork & Beans)

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This is a new series where we cook with friends and learn the secrets to making their favorite dishes.

If I were to name my favorite cuisine in the world, Brazilian food would be in my top three. When I first traveled to Brazil in 2010, I was blown away by the mixture of flavors and textures in Brazilian cuisine. My favorite dish, by far, was feijoada, a traditional pork and bean stew served with rice, farinha (cassava flour), collard greens, oranges, and a spicy chili oil. Since feijoada isn’t a dish to be made for just one person, it’s been a few years since I’ve had the pleasure of eating it. My sister’s boyfriend, Fernando, promised to make it for me one day, and a few weeks ago he made good on that promise and showed me his mom’s method of cooking the national dish of Brazil.

Fernando is an expat from Belo Horizonte, Brazil and although there are plenty of Brazilian restaurants in the Bay Area, he still misses the down-home cooking that can only be found in one’s hometown (or their own kitchen). In his opinion, feijoada is much more than just a plate of beans as Americans understand it. We might consider a can of beans as a last resort meal that we eat when we’re camping or have nothing left in our fridge. To Brazilians, however, flavorful and well-seasoned beans are a staple food that they’d happily eat for the rest of their lives. For those who turn their nose up at a simple plate of beans, trust me – feijoada isn’t your ordinary plate of beans!

Feijoada is actually a Portuguese dish of beans and pork that can be found in many Portuguese colonies, but the preparation differs from country to country. Even within Brazil the ingredients differ by region, with the Rio de Janeiro style feijoada utilizing black beans, and the Bahian style containing red or brown beans. It’s said that Brazilian feijoada dates back to the slavery era in Brazil, where slaves concocted the rich stew from beans and the throw-away cuts of pork, like the feet, ears, and tail.  Nowadays, health-conscious Brazilians and fancy restaurants forego the fatty bits of meat and use prime cuts of meat. However, despite its elevated status in recent times, it’s still considered a homey dish that can be enjoyed at your grandma’s house just as much as at an expensive restaurant.

According to Fernando, one of the most important aspects of feijoada is the ambience and celebratory nature of the dish. Feijoada isn’t eaten on just any weekday (especially since it takes a painstaking process to prepare) – it’s usually reserved for a Saturday afternoon spent among friends and family. Fernando’s favorite ritual was to wake up after a night of partying and get feijoada with his family and friends at a nearby restaurant. There’d be a buffet of feijoada with all the fixings, samba music playing in the background, a soccer game on TV, and lively chatter and laughter as they leisurely enjoyed their food. Although we can’t replicate the ambience of a lazy Saturday afternoon in Brazil, you can still enjoy the flavor’s of Brazil with Fernando’s feijoada recipe.

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Fernando skipped many of the traditional cuts of meat typically found in feijoada because they can be pricey and difficult to find in the US. All of the ingredients we used can be found at the grocery store. You’ll need: 2 1/2 cups dried black beans, 1 sheet of kombu (optional), 2 chopped onions, 9 minced garlic cloves, ½ cups parsley still in a bunch, ½ cup cilantro still in a bunch, 10 whole green onions (green part only),6 pork baby back ribs, ½ pound pork sausage (sliced), 6 ounces ground pork sausage, 5 slices of bacon (cut into chunks),3 bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. Oh, and of course beer to wash it all down!

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The night before, we soaked the black beans with a sheet of kombu, or seaweed, in a stainless steel pot. The seaweed adds minerals to the beans and also makes them more easily digestible and leaves you less gassy (a must for people who need Bean-o!) We made sure to leave at least 2 inches of water over the top of the beans.

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When we were ready to cook the next day, we drained the beans and removed the kombu. We then put the beans in a pressure cooker along with the ribs, parsley, cilantro, green onions, bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt.

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We cooked the beans in the pressure cooker for 30 minutes until the beans were soft. (If you have never used a pressure cooker before, read the instructions for how to use your pressure cooker first. Start the 30 minutes when the valve begins to vibrate and you have lowered the heat. Always allow to cool sufficiently before opening the pressure cooker).

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We took out 1 ½ cup of beans from the pressure cooker and mashed them in a smaller pot.

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Then we poured the rest of the bean mixture into a larger pot, added the bacon and sausages, and heated on low.

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We heated 1 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and added 1/3 of the onions and garlic to the pan, along with 1 teaspoon of salt. We caramelized them, then added the pureed beans. We cooked the mixture for 3 minutes, then added the mixture to the large pot of beans and sausage.

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We then took out another 1 ½ cups of beans from the large pot, but this time we didn’t mash them. We heated 1 tablespoon of oil in the frying pan, heated up another 1/3 of the onions and garlic, then added ½ teaspoon of salt and the 1 ½ cups of beans. We cooked it together for 3 minutes, then added the mixture to the large pot of beans and sausage. We repeated this step 1 more time, omitting the salt (although you are welcome to add more salt if need be). In other words, we took out 1 ½ cups of beans from the large pot, cooked the remaining 1/3 of onions and garlic, mixed in the beans, cooked for 3 minutes, and then added it back into the large pot of beans. In total, you will have done this step 3 times. At this point, we left the beans to simmer for 30 minutes on low until it thickened.

(I know, this seems tedious, but Fernando insists that this step is what infuses the beans with so much flavor!)

Once the feijoada becomes a thick stew, it is ready to serve. It is typically eaten with garlic rice, farinha, collard greens, and slices of oranges, a combination of flavors and textures that is uniquely Brazilian. It’s important to note that the RIGHT away to eat this dish, according to Nando, is to eat everything at one time. In other words, don’t pick at it like a bird, mix it together and enjoy the intricate and complex flavors all at once!

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*Note: This recipe requires overnight preparation.

Feijoada (Yield: 9 servings)

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups dried black beans
1 sheet of kombu (optional)
2 onions, chopped
9 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup parsley, whole
½ cup cilantro, whole
10 green onions, green part only and whole
6 pork baby back ribs, separated
½ pound pork sausage, sliced
6 ounces ground pork sausage
5 slices bacon, cut into chunks
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Soak dried beans overnight in a stainless steel pot with a sheet of kombu (kombu, or seaweed, helps make the beans easier to digest and less gassy). Make sure that there is at least 1 inch of water covering the beans.
  2. In the morning, drain beans and remove the sheet of kombu. Add the beans to a pressure cooker with ribs, parsley, cilantro, green onions, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon of salt, and enough water to cover everything. Cover and cook in the pressure cooker for 30 minutes, or until beans are soft (If you have never used a pressure cooker before, read the instructions for how to use the pressure cooker first. Start the 30 minutes when the valve begins to vibrate and you have lowered the heat. Always allow to cool sufficiently before opening the pressure cooker).
  3. Once beans are soft, remove 1 ½ cup from the pressure cooker and puree in a separate bowl. Transfer the rest of the beans from the pressure cooker to a large pot, along with the bacon and two types of sausages, and heat on low.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a frying pan and then add 1/3 of the onions and garlic (You will be frying them in batches of 3). Add 1 teaspoon of salt and brown the onions and garlic. When they are caramelized, add the pureed beans and cook for 3 minutes. When they are well combined, add the mixture back into the pot with the rest of the beans.
  5. Remove 1 ½ cup of beans from the large pot again, but this time, don’t mash them. Heat oil in a frying pan and add in another third of the onions and garlic, along with ½ teaspoon salt. When caramelized, add in the 1 ½ cup beans and cook for 3 minutes. Once finished, add the mixture back into the pot with the rest of the beans.
  6. Repeat step 5 one more time, but do not add more salt. Remove 1 ½ cup of beans from the large pot, caramelize the rest of the onions and garlic, mix in the beans, cook for 3 minutes, then add back into the large pot of beans.
  7. Simmer the pot of beans on medium-low heat until it thickens, around 30 minutes.

Note: Before serving, the bean broth can be served in a small cup as a tasty appetizer. Give it a try!

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