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Almanara – The Beacon

11 Sep

Almanara, in reality Al Manara (Arabic: المنارة‎), literally means “the beacon”, but in Brazil, particularly in São Paulo, it’s synonym to Arabian food.

In 1876 the Brazilian Emperor D. Pedro II visited Lebanon resulting, among other things, in a wave of Lebanese immigrants, which was quite intense until 1890, and lasted until the mid-50’s.  Most of them were running away from the Turkish-Ottoman politics with its lack of perspective.  In Brazil, most of them started small industries and commercial establishments.

Around 1950 one of these families, which had a few years earlier disembarked at the port of Santos (to this day Brazil’s largest port), decided to spread in São Paulo one of the treasures they had brought from Lebanon – a collection of traditional Arabic recipes. The Restaurant Almanara was created.

Around 28-30 years later, by the end of the 70’s, I was in São Paulo as a graduated student (I’ve told you that already – See “The Best Chinese Food Ever“), and to have a meal at the Almanara was something I could only dream of.  Definitely, that was not a place for students.

Well, another 30 years have gone by, and now I can afford to turn some of old dream into reality, among them to have dinner at the Almanara.  So, there we went (my wife and myself and, our friends Renan and Leila).

We ordered the sampling menu composed of:

1. Antipasto

The Almara salad

The Almanara salad, nothing special about it.  A few vegetables with a rosé sauce.

2. First Courses

Babaganuche, curdled milk and homus

Babaganuche (eggplant patê), curdled milk and homus (chickpeas paste) served with pita bread, probably the best dish of the whole dinner.

Sfiha and kibbe

Sfiha, a dough folded in a triangular shape and filled with ground lamb, and kibbe (or kibbeh) a mixture of bulgur and ground beef stuffed with minced lamb.  Not bad, but you can find better ones in literally hundreds of small diners and snack bars in São Paulo.

Kibbe and tabbouleh

Kibbe  and tabbouleh, a salad made of bulgur, chopped parsley and mint, tomato and spring onion, seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil.

Raw kibbeh

Raw kibbe, what I’ve classified as a Middle Eastern steak tartare.  Not that I’m a very good cook but, honestly, a can prepare a much better one.

3. Main Courses

Dolmas

Dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice.  The leaves were quite old and bitter, while the stuffing had too much rice and almost no meat at all.

Kousa mihshi

Kousa mish is a dish of Syrian origin composed of a zucchini stuffed with ground meat and rice. At Almanara it was served with a tomato sauce.  Quite tasteless, I’d say.

Kafta and michui

The kafta, grilled ground beef seasoned with Lebanese spices, and the michui, chicken breast skewers with onions and red bell peppers were way too overdone.

To finish the dinner a black coffee, which unfortunately can’t stand up to the Brazilian, and specially to the Arabian, tradition (see Some Arab Contributions)

Coffee

In conclusion, this visit to Almanara was quite a deception.  Wish I had kept my student dream undisturbed.  Will try to keep that in mind for the future.

“El Bulli” and “Linguiceira”

14 Apr

Last week, during a trip to the most wonderful island in this world, the Isl. of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil were the city of Florianópolis is located, I had the privilege of receiving two fantastic gifts from my two brothers-in-law, Rodolfo and Reynaldo (they’re not so bad after all).

1. Rodolfo has a daughter, Julia, who happens to live in France and to be a very close friend of the acclaimed Chef Mauro Colagreco.  Mauro Colagreco is the chef de cuisine of Mirazur, a modern restaurant set in  Menton, on the Côte d’Azur right at the Italian border. He earned his first Michelin star in 2007. In the same year Gault Millau, the French restaurant guide, named Mirazur newcomer of the year (Révélation Gault Millau de l’Année).  Chef Colagreco was born in the La Plata province, Argentina, and after travelling throughout Latin America arrived in Paris to cook with the finest chefs, like Bernard Loiseau at La Côte d’Or, Alain Passard at L’Arpège and Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athénee.

Well, Chef Colagreco and my niece Julia went to Spain for a visit to the 3-Michelin star Chef Ferran Adriá and his world-famous “El Bulli“.  There, they received, from the hands of Chef Adriá himself (and I like to imagine him asking Chef Colagreco to give it to me as a personal sign of his appreciation for this most amazing blog) a copy of “Un dia en El Bulli” (A Day at El Bulli).  Guess I don’t need to add anything else, except maybe for a special thanks to Mauro and Julia.

A Day at El Bulli (The Veuve Clicquot Ponsirdin was a most welcomed extra)

2. Reynaldo was in Itajaí, a city colonized by Portuguese from Madeira and Azores Islands, were he was introduced to a “linguiceira”, or “chouriceira” as it’s called in Portugal.  “Linguiceira” is a clay pot specially designed to prepare “linguiças” (sausages).  He thought of me and immediately brought one home, which now happens to be at my kitchen.

The “linguiceira” is a plain round clay pot with a kind of clay grill at the bottom.  You have to place some alcohol (ethanol)  in it (bellow the grill of course), place your sausage on top (I prefer a smoked sausage similar to the German “Mettwurst“), and last but not least, light the fire. As the alcohol burns it heats up the sausage, which releases some of its fat which then feeds the flames (they are blue at the beginning, turning red as fat starts to burn). After a few minutes you are ready to have a wonderful snack (we had it with some Pita bread and Veuve Clicquot while talking about El Bulli and Chefs Colagreco and Adriá).  The sausage, produced in Pomerode (the most German city in Brazil), was rather similar to the “Holsteiner” variety, typical of northern Germany.  You can have an idea of the whole process observing the pictures bellow:

Starting of the process - burning alcohol placed at the bottom

Stage 2 - Fat released from the sausage starts to burn

Time to turn it around

Enjoy it!

German sausage, prepared in a Portuguese way by Brazilian cooks, and eaten with Middle Eastern bread and French champagne while enjoying a Spanish book . Can anything else be more Borderless?????

Linguiceira

This is why you’re fat

24 Mar

Have you visited the website “This is why you’re fat“?  Well, they sure do have some wonderful ideas on how to turn dreams into heart attacks.

Although my heart has already shown some signs of complaint, after seeing some of the wonderful pictures they have on the site I’ve decided to take my shot on the subject.

To tell you the whole story I have to confess that the final inspiration came from a show by Bobby Flay I happen to have watched on the net a few weeks ago, as he is not presenting his skills on Brazilian television.  That was the first, as well as the one and only show by Bobby Flay I have ever watched (please, don’t ask me for the season and episode number, as I don’t have the slightest idea).  On that show, Mr. Flay and a female guest (famous???????, not on this side of the world) each prepared his/her own version of an American classic:  hamburgers.  Here is my version (clearly inspired on theirs):

1.  A homemade bun. I used a classical and rustic bread recipe – take a look at “Our Daily Bread“. They didn’t mention, but I bet the production bought theirs on a supermarket just around the corner – not as good though;

2.  Butter fried onions to which I added my secret BBQ sauce recipe.  I say “secret” because it seems every American man (and I bet quite a few women too) seems to have his own secret recipe.  Mine is simple: catchup, some water, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, chilli sauce and some Kentucky Bourbon (after all it’s an American sauce);

3.  Pork and beef hamburgers (1:1) seasoned with some salt and chopped spring onions;

4. Slices of cheddar cheese;

5.  Fried slices of bacon;

6. Lettuce;

7. Tomatoes;

8. Homemade onion rings (flour, salt, pepper, baking powder, 1 well beaten egg with some milk)

8. Freshly prepared mayonese (2 egg yolks – one raw and one boiled – Dijon mustard to taste, few drops of lemon, pinch of salt, whisk oil into the mixture a few drops at a time – keep it smooth).

This is why you're fat - My version of an American classic

Man, let me tell you…that was good, specially considering it was eaten with some cold Mexican beer with a slice of lime.

Hamburgers on FoodistaHamburgers

Die Wurst

15 Dec

Food conservation, since the most ancient times, has always been a problem, as it was (and still is) the single most important way of assuring a continuous and adequate food supply for an ever-growing population. One very old method for preserving meat is the preparation of sausages, which by 500 BC were already known in China, Rome and Greece. This history probably had its beginning when man learned that salt could be used as a meat preservative (the word sausage itself is believed to come from “salsus“, the Latin word for salt).

Presently sausages can be found either fresh or cured. Fresh sausages can be conserved for shorter periods of time, being usually kept under refrigeration. Cured sausages, which can be cooked or dried, however, can last much longer. The curing process can involve a variety of techniques and agents, such as salt, smoke, nitrates, nitrites and even sugar.

Germany is, I believe, the champion of sausage making, and thus no trip to this country would be complete without a visit to a “Wursthaus”. Guess the pictures speak for themselves.

Buying "Wurst" at "Schlemmermeyer", downtown Heidelberg/Germany

"Wurst"...

More "Wurst"...

More "Wurst"...

And more "Wurst"

The state of “Santa Catarina“, where I happen to have been born, still exhibits very strong signs of a 19th century European immigration, the vast majority of the population being descendants of those European settlers. Among these are the Germans, which started to arrive in 1828, and have formed large colonies. Even today, in some areas of the state, towns exist where over 90% of the population is composed of German descendents, and the German language is fluently spoken. No wonder German tradition, including the preparation of sausages, is still much alive in these areas.

During my last trip to Florianopolis, the capital of Santa Catarina state, which itself was founded by Portuguese, I had the opportunity of visiting an open-air market, where “colonos” (people from the original German and Italian colonies) come to sell sausages, cheese, bread, and other products prepared at home or at small family owned factories.

Sausages at the market in Florianopolis/Brazil

More sausages at the market in Florianopolis/Brazil

More sausages, and some smoked pork ribs, at the market in Florianopolis/Brazil

More sausages, and some smoked pork ribs, at the market in Florianopolis/Brazil

And some more sausages from Santa Catarina/Brazil

Literally hundreds of sausages varieties exist (as you can easily figure out from the above pictures), a sample of which can be found at the Cook’s Thesaurus. If you have any interest on the subject, and would like to prepare your own sausages at home (why not?), I suggest you start by taking a look at “The art and practice of sausage making“, published by the North Dakota State University and freely available on the net. I’m quite sure the end result will be much better than most of the products you’re presently getting from your supermarket.

German Sausage on Foodista

That’s BBQ

16 Nov

I’ve read dozens of blog posts about barbecue and the art of cooking various types of meat with the heat produced by a wooden fire or with the use of charcoal. I’ve even written a few lines myself on this subject (see From the heart, “Churrasco” – the Brazilian BBQ and Parrillada in Uruguay). Nevertheless, nothing prepared me for what I saw last Sunday – a gigantic BBQ made with around 1,500 pounds of ribs by my friend Tito. Yes, that’s right, 1,500 pounds of ribs, not to mention the additional 100 pounds of various other cuts and sausages.

This BBQ, or “churrasco de chão” in Portuguese, is a typical “gaucho” preparation, and can be found throughout the pampas region, from Southern Brazil to Southern Argentina (where it’s known as “asado”). Whole ribs ( or “rib windows” as they are called in this area of Brazil), each one weighting around 20 pounds, are placed in vertical iron spikes which are then stuck into the ground at a certain distance from a huge open air fire.

The only seasoning employed was coarse sea salt, and around 25 pounds of it were consumed.

Coarse sea salt was the only seasoning used

Seasoning - coarse sea salt only

The fire was lit around 7:00 a.m. and the meat started to cook around one hour later, when the 5 cubic meters of wood had already produced a nice amount of charcoal.

Overview - BBQ with 1,500 pounds of ribs

Overview - around 1,500 pounds of ribs being grilled

Just before serving, around 4 hours later, the salt was beaten off the meat and the “windows” cut into small pieces by skilful “gauchos”.

batendosal

Ready to serve.

tito

Tito (Gabriel Molon) proud of his BBQ

I should mention that I don’t recommend you to try this at home, unless you can guarantee that: (1) You have a huge enough garden where you can set tables for around 1,000 people, (2) The process is going to be coordinated by a professional who makes a living preparing food for the crowds, like my friend Tito.

Watch a video of the event on YouTube.

Barbecuing on Foodista

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