Brazilian breakfast

August 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

Breakfasts in Brazil are many and various depending on where you are in this vast country. I chose to prepare Açaí na Tigela, a breakfast dish popular on Brazil’s beaches, from Caraivo in the north to Florianópolis in the south as the Brazilian breakfast date coincided with our family beach holiday to Southwold in Suffolk.

OK so both Southwold and Florianópolis are both on the coast but that’s where the similarities end. Southwold is famous for its pastel-coloured beach huts and sedate way-of-life whereas Florianópolis is known as one of Brazil’s hippest cities with “dental floss” bikinis rather than Cath Kidston florals being the beachwear of choice.

Let’s compare and contrast some other features of these two towns/cities :

1) Population: Southwold – 1,458 (compared to a national population of 62,641,000); Florianópolis – 427,298 (compared to a national population of 196,655,014)
2) Administration: Southwold – within Waveney district council in Suffolk in the east of England; Florianópolis – capital and second largest city of Santa Catarina province in the south of Brazil
3) Distance from capital city: Southwold 154km from London (but looks a long way on the map of our crowded little island); Florianópolis – 1,673 km from Brasilia (but looks quite close on the map because of the vastness of the country)
4) Climate: Southwold – temperate (really?!); Florianópolis – sub-tropical
5) Number of beaches: Southwold – 1; Florianópolis – 42
6) Main educational establishment: Southwold – Sailors’ reading room; Florianópolis – Santa Catarina University

I needed more for this breakfast than just the Açaí na Tigela. Brazilians love their coffee so this was a must, made from Brazilian beans, naturally. Finally, rather than ordinary white rolls I made a batch of cheese rolls, Pão de queijo, which are made from tapioca starch so perfect for anyone on a gluten-free diet.

Here’s the whole spread:

Back to the Açaí na Tigela, literally “bowl of açai berries”. This turns out to be a smoothie the main ingredients of which are super-trendy (and, over here, superexpensive) açai berries and banana, topped with granola and, optionally, more banana slices. I read about it here and instantly wanted to try one.

The smoothie was quickly whizzed up with a stick blender and I added a spoonful each of ginseng, guarana and maca powders to the whole fruit and juices to give it an extra Brazilian lift. It certainly gave my 90 year old father-in-law Lawrie an extra gear in his wheelchair travels that day.

I poured the smoothie into individual serving bowls:

and topped it with a spoonful of homemade granola:

Yes of course you can buy granola readily these days but it’s quite satisfying to make your own now and again. I discovered this particular granola at a friend’s house a couple of years ago, asked for the recipe and was told I already had it as it’s in Nigella Lawson’s “Feast”. She in turn attributes the recipe to Andy Rolleri of The Pantry deli in Fairfield, Connecticut. It’s a cinch to make – the only remotely tricky bits are making sure you’ve bought all the items on the lengthy ingredients list and getting the correct bake – not underdone and not burnt. A long and slow toasting is what you’re aiming for, not a quick char. Be warned, it’s addictive stuff and you’ll find yourself eating it by the handful rather than rationing it just for breakfast.

I found my pão de queijo recipe on this website in 2008 but can’t remember now why I was trying to find a Brazilian cheese bread recipe back then. The list of ingredients sounds surprising – what, tapioca, the stuff that school dinner nightmares are made of? Yes , that’s right, but look for tapioca flour rather than the tapioca processed to make school dinner puddings. You can find it at specialist health food stores – mine came from Chorlton’s fantastic Unicorn deli. It’s a starch made from the cassava root and you might find it sold as manioc flour – all rather confusing. I have once made a batch using pudding tapioca which I tried to grind down to a flour in my liquidiser. It didn’t work as the stuff is rock hard. I made the recipe with it anyway and it was OK but there were occasional lumps, so do make every effort to find the right flour.

The recipe requires you to make a choux-type paste by throwing the tapioca starch into boiling water and then beating like crazy to make a smooth paste. Beaten eggs are then added before the soft dough is blobbed onto lined trays for baking.

Miraculously, these blobby balls transform when baked into light and fluffy rolls:

Recipe for granola

Adapted from a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s “Feast”.


450g rolled oats
120g sunflower seeds
120g white sesame seeds
175g apple compote (a little bought jar is fine)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
120g brown rice syrup (from health food shops or the healthy eating aisle of your supermarket)
4 tablespoons runny honey
100g light brown sugar
250g whole unskinned almonds
1 teaspoon Maldon salt
2 tbsp sunflower oil
300g raisins

Mix everything except the raisins together very well in a large mixing bowl using 2 curved spatulas.

Spread the mixture out on 2 baking tins and bake at 170 degrees C for about 40 minutes. Keep an eye on the mixture and turn it over with a big spoon after about 20 minutes. It may need longer than 40 minutes in total. You need to achieve an even golden colour without overbaking or burning. Once cool, mix with the raisins and store in an airtight tin.

Recipe for Brazilian cheese bread (Pao de queijo)

From the website “”. Makes about 70 individual rolls.


1 cup water
1 cup milk
½ cup oil
1 teaspoon salt
450g tapioca starch
2 to 3 eggs
200g grated parmesan cheese

Bring to a boil in a big pan the water, milk, oil and salt. Remove the pan from the heat and add the tapioca starch. Mix well with a wooden spoon and allow to cool down. Put the mixture in a bowl, add the eggs and knead well. Add the grated cheese and keep kneading until the dough is smooth.

Roll into small balls (each ball requiring 1 tbsp mixture). Oil rather than flour your hands.

Place the balls on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake at 180 degrees C for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Nourishment for the traditionally built: breakfast from Botswana

August 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

I chose to learn about Botswana via the gentle medium of Alexander McCall-Smith’s bestseller “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” featuring the “traditionally built” heroine Mma Ramotswe. I was also helped by Stuart Brown’s “Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook”, almost a companion volume to the series and a browsable mix of cookbook, travel guide and introduction to Botswanan geography and culture.

Thanks to both books I finally got to grips with the various confusingly similar words Batswana, Motswana, Setswana and Tswana. Batswana is the name for the people of Botswana; Motswana the singular form of the same word; Setswana, also Tswana, the name both for the main language of Botswana and the population group speaking this language living in Botswana, South Africa and Namibia.

Botswana, formerly Bechuanaland, gained independence from Britain in 1966. Its capital city is Gaborone, newly established when the country gained independence. Botswana has since grown to become an African success story, relatively prosperous and with a strong tradition of democracy.

It’s a large but sparsely populated country as much of its land area is taken up by the Kalahari desert. Despite being landlocked, Botswana can lay claim to the spectacular Okovango delta, formed where the Okovango river spreads out across a tectonic trough. The water in this inland delta never reaches the sea, being lost through transpiration and evaporation.

On to the breakfast. Deciding what to drink was easy – the first thing Mma Ramotswe and her able assistant Mma Makutsi do on their first morning at work in the Detective Agency is to drink a cup of bush tea, Mma Ramotswe’s favourite, with just a little condensed milk. And they go on to drink bush tea throughout the rest of the book. We followed suit:

The bush in question is of course the Rooibus or Redbush (Latin name Aspalathus linearis), a shrub from the Western Cape of southern Africa whose needle-like leaves turn red once dried in the sun and fermented. The resulting fragrant brew has a slightly medicinal quality, a beautiful red colour and is eminently drinkable with or without milk.

On to the food. Whilst there are plenty of food references in the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series books, I didn’t find a definitive Setswana breakfast. I read with some trepidation about mopane worms, chipolata-sized moth caterpillars preserved by drying in the sun. Fortunately these seem to be eaten as snacks or made into a main-meal stew rather than being eaten for breakfast.

One blogger writing about a trip earlier this year to a “Sons of the Soil” festival in Botswana describes one possible breakfast option:

“On the breakfast menu was chicken necks with fat cakes cooked the very traditional way.”

Fat cakes are Botswana’s answer to the doughnut, a deep-fried yeast-raised wheatflour dough. My fryer needed cleaning and an oil-change before it could be used and I wasn’t sure how to get hold of chicken necks so I decided to focus my efforts on getting hold of some sorghum meal to make the thin soft sorghum porridge, Motogo, another traditional breakfast staple.

Sorghum is relatively unknown here in the UK but is a staple grain crop in large parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent thanks to its nutritious qualities and ability to withstand drought. It’s known as Mabele in the Setswana language and as Jowar in Gujarati (useful to know if you’re shopping in one of the many ethnic Indian foodstores over here in the UK). I bought myself a distinctly unauthentic pack of American sorghum flour from an Amazon marketplace supplier:

I had to buy in bulk so am busy giving away my remaining packs of sorghum flour to gluten-free friends. Marian, one of my remaining packs has your name on it!

I was a little concerned that my sorghum flour rather than a coarser sorghum meal would not make an acceptable porridge. I needn’t have worried as mixed with water and a little milk and cooked gently over a low heat for 10 minutes or so, the sorghum produced a perfectly acceptable porridge, albeit lacking a little in terms of texture:

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