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My wife and I just got back from a week on the North-Eastern coast of Brazil where the primary diet seems to consist of grilled meat, fried fish, fried potatoes, fried yucca, and, oddly enough, lots of pizza. Sounds fun, but after about day two, my mouth—not to mention my gut—was aching for something—anything—green and crunchy.
The only glimmer of hope I saw on the horizon: feijoada. While the Brazilian national stew of black beans and salted pork is anything but vegetable-friendly, it's only about 25% meat, which makes it a good 30 to 40% more vegetable-heavy than any of the fare I'd been exposed to until then.
Pork and beans go together like, well pork and beans. Enough so that pretty much every bean-and-pork-eating culture in the world has figured out some way to put them together. Lentilles aux lardons, garbanzos con chorizo, sweet Okinawan pork belly cooked with beans, cassoulet, Boston baked beans, even good old beanie-wienies.
Like all good pork and bean dishes, feijoada is a dish of economy, intended to offer complete nutrition and great flavor with a minimal amount of expensive protein. Indeed, it's made with all the parts of the pig or cow that most people don't eat.
Salted ears, salted trotters, salted belly, tails, back fat, snouts, faces—any and all of it has a place in the pot. Cooked down with black beans and a few token vegetables (onions, tomatoes, cilantro, bay leaf) until it nearly melts apart, the often off-putting gelatinous or cartilaginous texture of offal breaks down as those random a**holes and elbows melt into the rich, salty broth.
It takes a good six to eight hours for everything to come together, but that leaves you plenty of time to down a few caipirinhas and work up an appetite.
The standard accompaniments are rice (obviously!), sautéed greens (kale or collard, or whatever the Brazilian equivalents are)—which in this case were actually replaced with a crunchy cabbage slaw (vegetables!)—vinegary hot sauce, orange wedges to squeeze or suck on between bites to lighten things up a bit, and farofa, the crunchy fried manioc (yucca) flour that is served alongside pretty much everything. It's more gritty than crunchy, but oddly appealing.
If you're planning on making feijoada at home, the first thing to do is make sure you've got enough friends, because it's not something you make in small batches. The good part is that telling people you're making a massive pot of feijoada is a great way to make new friends. Try it, you'll see.
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