Sunday 4 September 2011

Holidays are made of this

Rio de Janeiro - the most beautiful city in the world

Holidays are one the best things in the world (I’m sure you agree), especially when you revisit your home country, after becoming an expat. My Brazilian holiday ended yesterday and I’m already getting the blues, but I have the pictures and the memory of family, of friends and – most importantly – of great meals to cheer me up. The good news is: I’m back with blog!, and I’m going to share with you some of the food experiences I had during this trip.

To say that I had a great time in Brazil is an understatement. Brazil is a country with a lot to offer in every aspect. On the food front, it’s a very rich place, with naturally good cooks who create incredible meals. I must say I indulged in a diversity of gorgeous meals from around the country, and I’ll mention two high points. 

I started my holidays in Vila Velha, Espirito Santo, on the Southeast coast, visiting my mum, my brother’s family and some of my old friends. Mum’s food is the best welcome, ever. While there, I went back to a friend’s bar/restaurant, which to me is one of the best in the region. Betina Fassarella is a super talented cook. Her understanding of the alchemy of the food ingredients makes me envious. She forages and buys her organic locally sourced ingredients daily for the evening menu (she only opens her restaurant for dinner). I invited myself to go with her to pick aroeira, a native red peppercorn that grows along the coast and gives a very distinctive taste to dishes.

Betina was kind enough to reveal one of her signature salad dressings, which I highly recommend. It’s a super-sexy flavour bomb. (see below)

The next stop was Rio de Janeiro! As we were landing in Rio, I remembered Tom Jobim singing Samba do Avião: “Rio, você foi feito pra mim” … (Rio, you were made for me). It remains, in my opinion, the most beautiful city in the world!

There, I met my friend and chef Teresa Corção, who invited me to eat at her gorgeous and elegant restaurant O Navegador, in the Naval Club in historic downtown Rio. Teresa’s cooking warms my heart. I had a fish served on couscous made with cassava flour and jambu leaves (a type of cress from the northern state of Pará) and tucupi sauce (made from cassava juice). My mouth waters.

Teresa cooks traditional food from different regions of Brazil with a contemporary touch. She is president of the Non-governmental Organization called Instituto Maniva where she develops educational and social projects for impoverished children and youngsters. She works with producers who focus on traditional indigenous techniques for preparing cassava. She is also affiliated to the Slow Food Rio de Janeiro. Teresa is my hero.

I brought back as a present from Teresa some cassava flour wrapped in leaf and encased in a basket (see photo). Cassava is an amazing root which has a wide culinary potential. I will talk a lot more about it here. Watch this space!

Vila Velha, Espirito Santo - visiting my mum's
Farmer's market (feira) from the mountain region 
of Espirito Santo
there are colours everywhere
cassava and yam root
passion fruit scents the market
Betina and I in her bar restaurant
Betina's stunning tropical salad with passion fruit dressing and
aroeira (red peppercorn)
the ingredients for the dressing minus olive oil and sea salt
photo by Alastair Hallam
My tropical salad version in London
photo by Alastair Hallam

Betina's Passion Fruit salad dressing

2 passion fruits
1 lime
1 teaspoon of molasses (or you can use maple syrup instead)
Olive oil and sea salt (optional) Betina doesn't add these in her dressing

Put all ingredients inside an empty jar and shake well. Serve over a tropical salad (see photo) and enjoy it with a nice salad. I made my salad with some fruits and leaves I had in my fridge and basket: gem lettuce, rocket, mango, papaya, peach, avocado, blackberries, golden kiwi fruit and button mushrooms.

The ingredients and their healthy benefits

Lime: As previously mentioned here

Molasses: it comes from the sugar cane during the process of extraction of sugar (in Brazil it’s called, melado). It is what is left when the white sugar is taken out. In England we find the thick and dark coloured syrup, while in Brazil we can find a lighter coloured version. Molasses retains all the nutrients from the sugar cane and is specially known for its high iron content (one tablespoon of molasses contains 4.5mg of iron). It is recommended for people with low iron levels or suffering from anaemia, pregnant women, vegetarians and vegans, and people suffering from constipation. You can dilute it in water or use in stews or casseroles. In the rural areas of Brazil, molasses is eaten with cassava flour (good source of carbohydrate and calcium) and raw cheese amongst other things.

Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis): it is a very good source of vitamin C, beta carotene and potassium. The seeds of passion fruit are a fantastic source of dietary fibre. It has properties that are helpful in treating people with high blood pressure. It is well known for its somniferous properties, which can help those who suffer from insomnia to relax and a have a restful sleep. According to research, the phytochemicals found in passion fruit are considered to inhibit cancer cell growth. Another study conducted in 2008 found out that the large majority of asthma sufferers who took passion fruit extracts got relief from the symptoms of coughing and wheezing. The fruit contains antioxidants that are believed to block histamine, reduce allergy and inflammation. 

aroeira tree (a Brazilian native red peppercorn)
they are so beautiful and fragrant
In Rio, chef Teresa Corção standing in front of her
gorgeous restaurant holding the cassava flour
wrapped in leaves  

delicious fish served on cassava couscous with tucupi sauce
by chef Teresa Corção, restaurant O Navegador
Rio de Janeiro
coconut water... a daily must in Brazil!
Till next week!


  1. Bem-vinda, Margot! Estou aqui extasiada com as fotos maravilhosas da nossa terra! Que encanto!
    Muito sugestiva a receita de molho para saladas, mas aqui eu não encontro melado. Comprei um enlatado, mas não vim mal habituada com o melado caseiro, feito na No entanto, eu sempre uso mel de abelha no molho que faço, com sumo de limão, azeite de oliva, sal e oréganos. Agora vou adicionar a polpa de maracujá. Adorei a sugestão!
    Beijinhos mil!

  2. Eu sabia que voce ia gostar das fotos! Como voce, prefiro o nosso melado. Por isso trouxe um na mala comigo. Ate encontro o melado aqui mas ele eh muito mais escuro do que os nossos feitos na roca. Voce pode sim substituir o mel pelo melado e dessa vez experimenta fazer com o maracuja pra adicionar o sabor tropical. As sementes adicionam uma crocancia deliciosa. Um beijo grande


  4. Oh meu amigo querido! Obrigada! Foi bom demais estar com voces. Obrigada mais uma vez pelo convite do Tacaca e do CT Boucherie! Agora eh a nossa vez de recebe-los aqui! Venham logo! Bjs


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