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Brazil is preparing to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup this summer, with 12 host cities across the country building new stadiums, or renovating old ones, in anticipation of the biggest, single-event sporting competition in the world.

But first, the South American country famous for its "beautiful game" will get flashy with its flesh this week, as the world's largest street party — Carnaval — reaches an intoxicating climax on Fat Tuesday.

The 12-week, pre-Lenten party, exploding from the Northeast cities of Recife and Salvador to the Southeast cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, is accompanied by indigenous dishes as colorful and varied as its scantily clad, costumed revelers.

Brazilian cuisine boasts a unique hybrid of Portuguese and Afro-Brazilian traditions, offering many ways to fatten up before Lent, when the Roman Catholic country literally bids "goodbye to flesh" and abstains from eating meat.

While the Portuguese settlers brought collards and kale, salt cod and dried shrimp to Brazil, the Africans contributed their own smorgasbord, including okra, malagueta peppers, palm oil, peanuts, coconut and coconut milk.

In a cooking class this month at the Savory Spice Shop in Santa Rosa, cooking instructor Jennifer Torrey introduced locals to a few of Brazil's most venerable dishes, from the pork'n'bean extravaganza known as Feijoada to Vatap? a spicy, seafood stew.

Rounding out the menu, she shared a recipe for the beloved Pao de Queijo, a gluten-free cheese bread made with tapioca flour.

"I think most people are coming for the bread," Torrey said. "Everyone has either had it or heard of it."

Like many of the country's most popular dishes, the bread originated in the kitchens of African slaves who were brought to Brazil to work the sugar cane plantations of the Northeast.

After soaking the manioc root in water, the slaves would scrape the leftover starch into balls that they baked. Later, cheese was added for extra flavor and texture.

Torrey bakes the irresistible Cheese Bread from scratch, using the traditional tapioca flour that was once difficult to source here.

"You can find it everywhere now because it is gluten free," said Torrey. "They have it at Safeway."

Feijoada, known as the national dish of Brazil, has its roots in the Portuguese word for "beans" (feijao), but traces its roots back to the African slaves, who were often given the cheap beans and the unwanted remains of the pig to eat.

Rich or poor, Brazilians from all walks of life now enjoy the hearty stew with white rice and various condiments, including oranges, collard greens and farofa, a toasted manioc flour.

Like the humble paella of Spain, the dish provides sustenance but, more importantly, an excuse to party with family and friends on weekends.

Torrey, whose 15-year-old daughter raises pigs for 4-H, makes her Feijoada with pork from her own animals: neck bones for flavoring the black beans plus smoked hamhocks, pork shoulder, spicy chorizo pork sausage and smoked linguica sausage. She also throws in corned beef and cooks the beans in beef stock to boost the meaty flavor of the broth.

Vatap? a sinfully delicious seafood stew, hails from the Northeast city of Salvador da Bahia, where its African roots have been traced back to the Yoruba people of West Nigeria.

While there are limitless variations, key ingredients for the stew include ground nuts, chiles, palm oil and coconut milk, providing a luxurious texture as well as a nice kick of heat.

"I like to make it sweet and spicy," Torrey said. "It's very, very simple and quick. Being a stew, it's a good thing to eat here in the winter."

Torrey, who also works as a data analyst for Exchange Bank, created the Brazilian Carnaval menu as part of her Party Series, which continues with New Orleans Mardi Gras in March and Spain's Catalan Festival in April.

Her international food-and-wine series will visit Austria and Germany this spring, then continue on to France, Italy and Spain in the summer, landing in Australia and New Zealand this fall.

Torrey picked up a wide range of international dishes while travelling abroad on business trips when she worked in sales and marketing for Sebastiani and Geyser Peak wineries.

"Being a woman in the wine industry, I was invited to stay in the homes of the distributors," she said. "This was the real food that people ate at home."

Feijoada (Brazilian Black Bean Stew)

Makes 6 to 8 servings

12 ounces dried black beans, soaked in water overnight

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound carne seca (or corned beef), cut into chunks

1 pound pork shoulder, cut into chunks

2 onions, sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1/2 pound chorizo sausage, sliced into bite sized pieces

1 pound linguica smoked sausage, sliced into bite sized pieces

1 ham hock, smoked

6 cups beef, chicken or vegetable stock

3-4 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

14 1/2 ounces crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup green onions, sliced

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

— Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Brown the pork shoulder and carne seca chunks. Remove the meat and add the onions. Brown, stirring occasionally, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Sprinkle a little salt over the onions and add the garlic. Saute for about two more minutes.

Add back the pork shoulder and carne seca; add to it the remaining meats. Add bay leaves and coriander. Cover with stock and cook gently for one hour. Drain the black beans and add to the stew. Simmer gently, covered, until the beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Add the tomatoes and simmer, uncovered, until the meat begins to fall of the hock, about 2-3 hours. Remove the hock and discard the rind and fat; shred the meat and return to pot. Mash about one cup of the beans against the side of the pot to cream them.

Give the pot a good stir. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over white rice and top with chopped fresh cilantro, parsley and sliced green onions.


Vatap?(Shrimp with Coconut Milk)

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 onions, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated

1 to 4 jalapeno chile peppers, chopped

3 tablespoons dende palm oil (or extra virgin olive oil)

2 limes, juiced and zested

1 1/2 cups shrimp stock

1/2 cup natural peanut butter (or cashew butter)

1 cup breadcrumbs, unseasoned

2 cups coconut milk

1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed

2 scallions, thinly sliced

In a food processor, combine the onion, garlic, ginger, chiles, oil, limes, shrimp stock, peanut or cashew butter, breadcrumbs and coconut milk.

Transfer to a medium-sized skillet and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Drop shrimp into the sauce and simmer until cooked through, 2-3 minutes. Serve the shrimp and sauce warm in a dish. Garnish with sliced scallions.


Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

Makes 18 to 20 balls

2 cups whole milk

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup vegetable oil

4 1/4 cups tapioca flour or tapioca starch (same thing)

4 eggs, room temperature

2 cups grated farmer's cheese, or any firm, fresh cow's milk cheese

— Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix milk, salt, vegetable oil and butter in a pot, and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat.

Stir tapioca flour into the milk and butter. Stir in the eggs and the cheese and mix well. Let mixture cool for 15-30 minutes. With floured hands, shape the dough into balls the size of golf balls and place on baking sheet lined with a silicone mat (Silpat).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are puffed up and golden. Serve warm.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.

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