Cooking up some World Cup flavor

Brazilian food shares the spotlight with soccer

(Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
June 23, 2014|By Karen Nitkin, For The Baltimore Sun

Marcelo Salles' food truck is getting a little more attention now that all eyes are on the World Cup games. But despite the fact that Brazilian culture is in the spotlight, Salles is not convinced that Baltimoreans are ready to embrace what is standard fare in his home country: chicken hearts.

So his truck, called Darua, instead serves other classic Brazilian dishes like feijoada, a hearty stew of black beans and meats, and pastel, fried dough pockets with sweet and savory fillings.

Just don't expect to get any if Brazil is on the field. The Sao Paulo native has his priorities: He closes up shop when his home team is playing a World Cup match so he can make sure to catch every moment on television.

"People in Brazil, if they have soccer, they're happy," he says, adding that he's already been asked by a customer to cater a World Cup party if Brazil makes it to the final round. He plans to take the assignment, but only if he can watch the game.

The World Cup is a good excuse to host a party — or at least whip up a meal — with dishes from South America's largest country. You could bake some of the country's famed cheese bread, pao de quijo. Serve feijoada, the national dish of Brazil. Saute collard greens in olive oil, garlic and salt until they wilt. Wash the meal down with a cool, potent Caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil. Make chocolate truffles known as brigadeiro.

"The World Cup is a religion for us," says William Vanzela, 28, the Brazilian-born goalkeeper of the Baltimore Blast. "In America, you guys have five, six sports. We just have soccer." The soccer obsession is paying off for Brazil, which has clinched five World Cup titles and is the only country that's been in every World Cup since the first one in 1930.

When Vanzela invites friends to his White Marsh home, he might serve steak and ribs. He'll toss together a simple salad of tomatoes and lettuce, dressed with nothing but lime juice and salt. He'll serve Skol and Brahma beer.

And he'll almost definitely serve chicken hearts, even though "you guys [in America] think it's weird."

Sold in packs of a dozen or so, the protein-dense organs are super-cheap here in Baltimore, where demand is apparently not so high.

Vanzela's teammate, Blast forward Lucio Gonzaga, who is also from Brazil, recommends marinating the hearts overnight in a cup of beer and a quarter-cup of olive oil, seasoned liberally with black pepper, garlic salt and salt. Soak bamboo skewers in water for an hour, then spear about five hearts through each skewer. Grill over high heat, turning often and basting with the marinade, until the exterior darkens. "You don't want to burn them, otherwise they will get chewy," says Gonzaga.

Barbecue, called churrascaria in Brazil, would be the centerpiece of your party, even though some of Brazil's most popular meats, the picanha (a rump cut of beef with a thick layer of fat) and linquica (a garlicky smoked sausage), are difficult to find in the Baltimore region. (One resource is a store called By Brazil, in Silver Spring,

Local Brazilians consider top sirloin a reasonable alternative. Rub the meat with sea salt and sear over high heat. Do not trim the fat until after the meat has cooked, and do not even think about serving hamburgers or hot dogs.

"Brazilians like to keep the barbecue open and use high flame to seal the flavor, turning the meat until it is not bleeding, but not overcooked either," says Camila Sgrignoli Januario, who is from Sao Paulo and moved to Maryland in 2000.

Brazilian recipes are fresh, boldly flavored, gloriously imprecise. "We cook with the heart, and sort of 'know' when it's ready," says Januario, 37, who lives in Timonium and started a Facebook group of Brazilians living in the Baltimore-Washington region that has 168 members.

This is food that fuels the famously fit and attractive population. Protein from chicken hearts and other grilled meat "helps body development and muscles," says Gonzaga, 33, who was recruited in 2007 and lives in White Marsh with his wife and 7-month-old daughter.

Gonzaga enjoys cooking, which is fortunate, because the only Brazilian restaurant in Baltimore is the downtown outpost of the international steakhouse chain Fogo de Chao. The restaurant's general manager, Jair Cavagnolli, who hails from the southern Brazil city of Parana, says the restaurant is known for its grilled meats, served with sides including cheese bread and black beans and rice. Chicken hearts are not on the menu.

Pao de queijo (cheese bread)

Makes 4 servings

1 cup whole milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups cassava flour (or use a tapioca flour)

2 eggs

2 cups (or more) shredded mozzarella or Parmesan cheese

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