By Melissa Roberts
On a recent, chilly March evening, members of the Westport, CT Chabad community were treated to a taste from the warmer shores of Brazil, featuring chef Leticia Moreinos Schwartz. Leticia, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York and a Weston, CT resident by way of Rio, honed her considerable skills in restaurants, including Le Cirque 2000, La Grenouille, and Payard, and as a writer for magazines such as Saveur and Fine Cooking.
Brazilian and kosher cuisine may not seem a natural pair; in fact, Leticia admitted that keeping a kosher home while growing up in Brazil was difficult for her parents. Kosher butchers, for example, weren’t easily accessible, and overall the country’s Jewish population is small–150,000 in total with roughly 30,000 in Rio alone. Conversely, she recalls Jewish culture, as rich and very much alive, heavily influenced by an Israeli connection.
Leticia spoke fondly of being educated in Hebrew day schools, and having a strong sense of her heritage through music and song. And while Jewish life didn’t have a huge impact on her cooking, the backdrop of her native country did.
Brazilian food is a varied mix of flavors that reflect an equally diverse and far reaching population. African, Portuguese and Indigenous cultures all have an overriding influence, though other European countries, even Lebanon and India make an appearance, dashes of each exemplified in the dishes Leticia presented in her warm, lively way.
A side dish featured hearts of palm. The tender trunk of a tree with over 100 varieties in Brazil alone, many of us have seen it in jarred or canned form, nestled in salads. Leticia brought it front and center, sauteed with shallots and parsley, perhaps a nod to France, the palm hearts very Brazilian.
Xim Xim de Galinha, a braised chicken stew in a tomato and coconut based sauce was enriched with ground cashews and peanuts, an African technique, the tomatoes an addition from the New World, the turmeric and paprika nods to India and Hungary, the chopped cilantro at the end, Latino. The sauce was creamy and rich without a lick of dairy. Different and delicious all at once.
The recipe featured here, Guava Thumbprint Cookies, sums up the mongrel nature of Brazilian cuisine perfectly. Guava being indigenous to the country and its tropical climes, the crumbly nut based cookie drenched in powdered sugar reminiscent of a Mexican wedding cookie, the thumbprint, very American. Leticia omitted dairy from her recipes accordingly, easily adapting them to a meat centered meal.
Thanks to Leticia, it was a special lesson in the diversity and flexibility of Brazilian cooking, and how kosher can go beyond familiar borders.
Leticia Moreinos Schwartz is the author of The Brazilian Kitchen and the upcoming My Rio de Janeiro. To learn more about participating in Leticia’s cooking classes you may contact her at http://www.chefleticia.com/cookingclasses.
Portrait of Leticia: Chia Messina.
These fragrant cookies are a specialty of Leticia Schwartz, The Brazilian Foodie. She blogs at http://www.chefleticia.com/
These tasty bites may be dairy or parve (dairy free).
We found kosher guava paste at www.earthy.com. One lb is $7.50.
- 2 cups lightly toasted walnuts
- 1¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 sticks ( 1 cup) margarine or butter substitute (such as Fleishman’s or Earth Balance) or unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- Confectioners sugar for dusting
- 1 cup guava paste
- Few drops of lemon juice (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Place the walnuts in the food processor and whir until finely ground, being careful not to turn into a paste. Add the flour and pulse until well combined.
- Using a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the margarine or butter and sugar together on medium speed, until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the extracts and beat to blend. Reduce the speed to low, and add the nut-flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl, mixing only until it is incorporated into the dough.
- Working with a teaspoon of dough at a time, roll between the palms of your hand to form small balls and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Secure each cookie with one hand down at the sheet pan, and use the pinkie of your other hand, or the end of a wooden spoon, make an indentation in the center of each cookie (be careful not to go all the way through). Bake until slightly colored (pale golden), about 15-18 minutes, rotating the sheet at the mid time point.
- Remove the baking sheets from the oven, and let them cool for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. When it’s cool, dust with confectioners sugar. Repeat baking procedure with all the dough.
- Place the guava paste in a small saucepan and add just a few drops of water to melt the paste to the consistency of jam. Add a few drops of lemon juice to balance the sweetness to taste (optional). You want to fill the cookies while the jam is still warm, so that it sets inside the cookie. Fill the indentations of all cookies with enough warm guava jam to come to the level with the tops. Cool to room temperature.