It’s time for another installment of my food finds – all the foodie stuff I love all around the world. I joined the fabulous Chef Simone for a cooking class Rio de Janeiro-style.
Rio de Janeiro has flavor. You don’t come here expecting bland music, a bland party or a bland meal. When it comes to the food there’s an abundance of ingredients straight out of the Amazon, plus the influences of the indigenous native, Portuguese and African cuisines.
So to really get a taste of Rio, I had to get into the food. But rather than just watching from the sidelines, I hopped into the kitchen with a true brasileira to make a home-cooked meal.
We met chef Simone de Almeida at her cozy kitchen off a Copacabana side street for her class Cook in Rio. She welcomed us with a vibrant hello and an enormous smile. Right off the bat I could feel her electric enthusiasm for sharing the recipes, traditions and stories of her country.
Simone offers two classes focused on traditional Brazilian dishes. You can make moqueca, a Brazilian fish stew, or feijoada, a bean and meat stew and Brazil’s national dish. Our class was making seafood moqueca with caipirinhas.
Brazil’s national cocktail is perfectly refreshing for a hot tropical day in Rio. With just three ingredients, you can make it in seconds. The main ingredient is cachaça a sugarcane liquor. With a 5 second pour of cachaça (this drink is bout to be poppin!) we mixed sugar, lime and some passionfruit for extra flavor.
As she worked, Simone not only educated us on cooking, but also dispensed wisdom on Brazilian culture and how to prosper in love and life. From history and bloodlines to love and lust, she took us on a journey with her storytelling. I was enchanted by every minute of it.
With drinks in hand we were ready to get back to cooking.
Before the moqueca, we started off with a few tasty appetizers. The first was queijo coalho, a traditional snack made from a lightweight cheese of the same name. The prep was super simple. The cheese is grilled until golden brown and topped with pepper and guava jam.
After the first bite I was ready to gobble down the whole plate. I held back though to make sure everyone else had a chance to try it. The cheese doesn’t melt much, but has a nice creamy texture. Plus it’s a sensational combination of salty and sweet. You’ll also find a street food version in Rio that’s served on a stick.
Next, Simone made one of my childhood favorites, fried yucca, or as the Brazilians call it aipim frito. If you can make french fries this is pretty much the exact same thing. The yucca (manioc/cassava) chips were fried and served with a dipping sauce of vinegar and peppers.
Now for the star of the show Bahian seafood moqueca with banana and farofa. The dish, originally from the Bahia state, represents Brazil in a mouthful.
The first step was marinating the fish in a mixture of lime, salt, pepper and cumin. Next, we sauteed red peppers over African palm oil, or dendê. Then added coconut milk to the party. Finally, the fish is drained and added to the pan to cook. In just a few short minutes we had a delicious stewed fish.
As the aroma of the meal started to fill the kitchen Simone bellowed, “In Brazil, the neighborhood needs to know that you’re cooking. The neighborhood needs to be jealous of your kitchen!”
To go with the moqueca, we also prepared the traditional farofa, a meal of manioc with a texture similar to cornmeal. Then we mixed in fresh sauteed bananas for an extra kick.
The final dish we made was frango com quiabo — Brazilian chicken with okra. It heralds from the Minas Gerais region of Brazil and is a perfect family dish that sticks to your bones. It reminds me a lot of the gumbo my grandpa made when I was growing up.
I know okra has a lot of haters out there, but you have to give this version a try. I didn’t detect a hint of sliminess!
With that, dinner was served!
We sat down to enjoy an incredible meal of Brazilian staples in Simone’s school. The wine and caipirinha continued to flow for another hour, and before leaving we were awarded congratulatory certificates for completing the class.
If you’re looking for an amazing cooking class Rio de Janeiro-style, please visit Simone at Cook in Rio.