Feijoada: Brazil’s National Dish
Upon arriving in Brazil I was bombarded with several Brazilian facts, urban legends and local traditions. Every person I met had something different to share, but the one story they all had in common was the story of how feijoada became Brazil’s national dish.
Feijoada is a delightfully tasty meat and bean stew that is normally served on the weekends and at big parties or family get-togethers. While each version of the story may slightly differ, the resounding commonality is that it was once a dish of the slaves.
For those of you don’t know, the importation of African slaves in Brazil began in the 16th century when the “indigenous labor force” was no longer enough for the growing Portuguese settlements. Slave labor was the driving force behind the growth of the sugar economy in Brazil, as well as the coffee plantations and mining districts. It is estimated that more than 2 million Africans were sold into slavery in Brazil up until the “official” end of slavery in 1888–making Brazil the last nation in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery. Most of these slaves were first taken to and “broken” in Salvador, Bahia (my state!) before being sent to work elsewhere in the country. Today, Bahia is known as the “African Capital of Brazil,” thanks in part to its mainly black population, while Brazil in general contains the largest African population outside of Africa.
Like in the United States, the slaves became the backbone of the country and contributed to the local culture and lifestyle. This is evident in my state. Everywhere you go in Bahia you witness the beautiful afro-brazilian culture. So back to the feijoada…..
Per the many Brazilians I have spoken with, feijoada was the “poor slave’s dish”. In that time the African slaves were given only rice and beans to fend off hunger. Since this was usually not enough the slaves would scavenge for, beg for or be rewarded with unwanted cuts of meat (usually pork–skin, snout, ears, feet and intestine). While this may seem disgusting to us, these cuts of meat added vital protein to their diet and flavored the mundane rice and bean meal.
As the story goes, it wasn’t until the 19th century when feijoada became popular and “urbanized”. Instead of being the dish of the slaves, it was now the dish of the elite (with better cuts of meat of course). How ironic, right? Chefs in Rio de Janeiro began perfecting the dish and thus it became the unofficial dish of Brazil.
Quite the romantic story, no? Well some skeptics out there don’t believe it. They claim that feijoada is actually cassoulet, a popular meat and bean stew from Portugal. The only main difference is that the beans used in feijoada are black beans (black beans did not exist in Europe at that time). But who am I to doubt so many Brazilians who are so passionate about the story of how feijoada came to be? If they believe it, I believe it. I think in a way it represents the story of Brazil and there is nothing more beautiful than being proud of that story.
Anyways, two weeks ago a few friends and I decided to have a dinner party. Felipe, an amazing LEA student promised he would teach us how to make feijoada. I LOVE this dish, and couldn’t wait to learn how to make it. I had heard that it was pretty difficult to make and I was too scared to attempt this colossal recipe on my own. I was amazed by how well it turned out (probably the best one I have ever eaten) and wanted to share it with you!
Let’s Get Cooking!
1 bag of black beans
3 large linguiça (Brazilian sausage)
1 large cut of juicy bacon (skin probably still attached)
3 salted pig feet
1/4 kilo of paio (a type of smoke sausage)
5 cloves of garlic
4-5 Bay leaves
Salt, pepper and cumin
Step 1- Pour out your bag of black beans on a towel. Go through and pick out any stones, branches or ugly/discolored beans you see. As Felipe put it, “it’s a bean beauty contest”.
Step 2- Let the beans soak in water (follow instructions on the bag) while you begin preparing the other ingredients.
Step 3– Cut your onions and mince the garlic. Saute them until translucent.
Step 4– Cut linguiça and add to pot. As Felipe pointed out, it is important to cut it on a diagonal so that the meat itself has more contact with the broth, giving the stew a stronger flavor. Continue to cook and stir the onions, garlic and linguiça on medium heat until the meat beings to brown.
Step 5– While you are waiting for step 2 to finish cooking, you can start boiling the pig feet in water. Usually the pig feet come extremely salted and need to be boiled twice. So, boil the feet and dump the water. Boil the feet a second time in new water and also discard that water. Your feet are ready!
Step 6– Chop the bacon and paio and add to pot. At this time you can also add the bay leaves, black pepper and cumin.
Step 7– Add the pig feet and continue to stir. Make sure that all meats are getting even cooking time and exposure to the spices you just added.
Step 8– Add the soaked beans (beans and water).
Step 9– Because we were starving and couldn’t wait to eat the feijoada, we cooked it in a pressure cooker! This way we only had to let it cook on high for about 45 minutes. If you use a regular pot, it takes from 2-3 hours…..So really this step is just waiting while you are taunted by the delicious smell. You can use this time to prepare the rice and vinaigrette.
Step 10– Drink some cachaça and have fun with friends while you wait!
Step 11- Once the stew is done cooking in the pressure cooker we cooked it a little longer in large pot while we stirred it. I think it was to thicken it up.
Step 12– Eat the amazingness that is feijoada! Don’t forget the farofa!