Brazil – A Culinary Journey
By Cherie Hamilton
Hippocrene Books, Inc., 2005
205 Pages, $24.95
Hippocrene Books deserves kudos for its extensive cookbook library, of which Brazil – A Culinary Journey is a part. The publisher has managed to develop an extensive array of cookbooks focusing on less published cuisines, such as “Estonian Tastes and Traditions” and “My Mother’s Bolivian Kitchen.” As is the case with many modern cookbooks, the first-hand experience of the author while living in the country whose cuisine is being featured adds both a personal and cultural perspective that aids the reader and cook in the preparation and presentation of the food. Clearly, Cherie Hamilton has a profound affinity for the cooking of Portugal, which has manifested itself in cuisines from Asia (Macau) to South America (Brazil). If there is any doubt of her expertise, she lists her bibliography in the preface. While interesting, it is a lengthy effort at reciting credentials that is unnecessary. Embracing the cuisine of another country – or even in one’s own – is equal parts training and passion. It is those credentials that should be established in a cookbook such as this. No better example of this is “The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking” (Evans, 1965) by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz.
What follows is an invaluable Introduction that is a geographic, cultural, and historic roadmap of this largest nation in South America and how these various factors influence the diverse cuisine of Brazil. Additional context is provided by the short introductions that precede each of the regional sub-sections of the book. The recipes are easy to follow and well laid ou, even if not all recipes are easy to prepare given the sometimes exotic ingredients. It is also very helpful that the author provides some representative menus for each region near the end of the book, adding to the ability to navigate some of the less familiar recipes with relative ease. The publishers did a disservice to the readers by not including web addresses for suppliers in the “Ingredient Sources” section at the back of the book. Additional research would likely have made the ingredients necessary for some of these dishes more accessible for readers across the United States.
The recipes themselves are fascinating, especially when viewed within the regional context the author sets out in each of the regional sub-sections. The grilled steaks from the Center-West area are straightforward and easy to prepare, as one would expect from a recipe from the rural areas of that country. The idea of marinating beef in melted butter, vinegar, garlic, onions and salt and pepper may cause your cardiologist to intervene, but is so wickedly tempting as to be irresistible. You can almost taste the richness of this grilled beef just by reading the recipe. Reflective of the incredible diversity of this nation, the São Paulo – style Shrimp Couscous reminds you of a dish that should be cooked up in a tagine in North Africa rather than in South America. The author also provides regional appetizers and desserts for a complete dining experience.
There are also many unique recipes in this book that would be the talk of any dinner party. Mato Grosso-Style Fish, for example, utilizes a fruit sauce with bananas and pineapple over fried fish fillets. While this sounds relatively straightforward, this intriguing sauce also uses onion, green onion, black olives, parsley, palm hearts, tomatoes, and tomato puree. If you have access to some of the more exotic ingredients necessary for many of these recipes, then the options truly expand when planning what would be a unique culinary adventure through this country.
This is a book that should be in the library of any cook who periodically seeks to do something different. The style of cooking is a reflection of the many and varied foreign influences that have made their imprint in this country over the centuries. The publisher would have served the public better had it been more determined to provide easy access to some of the ingredients necessary for many of these dishes, but there still remains a wealth of unique recipes that would make for an entertaining and satisfying dining experience.
Reviewer Mark Webb is an insurance executive and gourmet chef. He is married to former actress and director Christina Hamlett, who is an award winning author and script coverage consultant for the film industry. They reside in Pasadena California, although on any given week Mark may be found at his satellite office – Aioli Bodega España – in Sacramento.