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 Cooking Ideas
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.