Happy Valentine’s week fellow kitcheners! Since love and romance are dominating the spotlight right now, it’s wonderfully fortuitous that the featured destination on our International Vintage Recipe Tour this week wound up being Brazil. It’s not good to generalize people or countries, but Brazil is known to be a passionate place.
Consistently included in top ten lists as one of the world’s most romantic nationalities, it’s safe to say that Brazil is in love with love. And we are not just talking romantic relationships here. Brazilians are known to be equally passionate about their hometown soccer team, their spouse, their favorite carnival and their kitchen. Ah serendipity! On this week of hearts and roses and pink colored everything, a romantic holiday dinner awaits us here in the Vintage Kitchen.
Or so I imagined!
I was hoping that our vintage recipe was going to highlight a dinner food that matched the passionate place from which it came. Surprisingly that wasn’t quite the case. On today’s menu we are making Picadinho a Brasileira, a recipe that roughly translates to “Minced to the Brazilian” in Portuguese. A popular heritage dish especially in Southeastern Brazil, there are two main versions of picadinho – one a hearty beef stew with whole vegetables and the other a slow simmered light and fluffy ground beef cooked with wine and vegetables.
Our recipe this week involves the latter. Not exactly one of the glamour foods usually touted on Valentine’s Day menus (steak, lobster, oysters, anything drenched in champagne or chocolate) ground beef always tends to get relegated to more humble, homey everyday recipes like meatloaf, burgers, tacos and casseroles. It’s never a dish you see people eating in romantic movies. It’s never the culinary centerpiece tucked in between candlelight and flower bouquets. And it’s definitely not the most tantalizing type of meat to photograph.
I don’t know exactly what I expected of Brazilian food at the start of Week 6, but I think I was hoping for something a little more exotic in the food spectrum, something that matched the passion of the people. A recipe that involved colorful fruit perhaps or a sea swimmer from the waters of the Atlantic. Picadinho a Brasileira is neither of those two things. But after making this recipe and thinking about it for a bit, I came to realize that it is in actuality, an absolutely wonderful and appropriate dish to share with your sweetheart or your gaggle of loved ones on Valentine’s Day. More reasons on that shortly.
Tonight we’ll dive right into the recipe so that we can talk about the unique aspects and attributes of it after all the steps are laid out. A super easy recipe to make (a nice reprieve after the confusing fondue affair of last week!) Picadinho a Brasileira is a one pot dish that slow simmers on the stove for almost two hours. It includes half a bottle of wine, a satisfying amount of vegetable chopping and six eggs (something that originally sounded a bit unusual). It’s also low-maintenance thanks to the slow cooking so it conveniently allows time for you to do other stuff while its simmering away. Maybe that’s where you can fit some extra time for romance:)
Picadinho a Brasileira
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coursely chopped
2 lbs ground beef (I used grass-fed)
2 ribs celery, including leaves, finely chopped
1 green pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped parsley
2 cans (17 oz. each) Italian style tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups dry red wine (I used Storyteller Red Blend)
Hot red pepper flakes to taste
Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Cook until golden brown, stirring frequently.
While the onions are cooking, place the meat in a large bowl. Add the eggs, celery, green pepper, parsley and tomatoes.
Combine everything together with your hands until it is thoroughly mixed. (Note: This step is a little soupy and a little sludgy not to mention both visually and tactile-wise pretty unappealing, but don’t worry, it gets better soon.)
Add the mixture to the onions in the pan and cook stirring until well blended and the meat loses its red color. Cook the mixture 15 minutes and then add the salt (I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons), pepper (I used about 1/2 teaspoon) and one cup of wine. Cover and cook 15 minutes longer. (Side Note: If you are following the Recipe Tour over on Instagram too, you can see a little video of this step in the Highlights section. Every Sunday, I post a sneak peek video of the recipe coming up, so if you are big into previews come visit the Vintage Kitchen Instagram page on Sundays!)
Now back to the recipe!
Add the remaining wine and red pepper flakes (I used about two pinches), then partly cover and cook, stirring occasionally, one hour or longer. At the beginning of the one hour of cooking, the picadinho will be very liquidy, but as it cooks over the next 60 minutes, it will dry out and all of the moisture will evaporate. At that stage it will look like this…
…a mixture that mirrors taco meat but is much lighter and fluffier. Once all the liquid has evaporated the dish is done and is ready for serving.
Traditionally, you’d accompany Picadinho a Brasileira with white rice or farofa (which is a Brazilian form of farina – something similar to cream of wheat). However, I wasn’t that excited about either option when it came to pretty plating, visual appeal and a Valentine vibe. As you can see the picadihno has lost most of its vegetable color and is pretty much in the end just one shade of brown. It is not the most visually striking dish that we have made so far, but what it lacks in appearance it more than makes up for in delicious flavor.
Between the fruity notes of the wine, the citrus notes of the tomatoes and the sweetness of the onions, combined with the fact that it looks a lot like taco meat, my first impression upon tasting it was to pair it with something in the corn family. Something like tortillas. Although this dish would be fantastic with such a companion, corn tortillas are not widely consumed in Brazil, so to stick a little closer to a more authentic meal, I chose corn grits since they are more similar to the consistency of farofa. Made with milk, Parmesan cheese and butter, the grits add color, a creamy texture and a complimentary corn flavor that blends all the ingredients in the picadinho together so well. I also added some freshly chopped onion, parsley and green pepper for a burst of fresh crunch and more color.
All sorts of other garnishes like sour cream, cheddar cheese, olives, avocado, cilantro, basil (basically anything you enjoy on a taco) would also be delicious here, albeit not very Brazilian. But that, I discovered, was really the fun of this recipe. It is open to creativity, to interpretation, to personal touch. Which brings us back to why this recipe is actually a very good choice for Valentine’s Day. Let’s look…
- It has the ability to showcase your own creative flair and your personal passion for cooking. Wrap it up in pastry dough like empanadas, stuff it into pasta shells, serve it over potatoes or transform it into a patty melt. It’s yours to experiment with, to make, to mold, to accent and to call your own. It’s a love letter to your culinary ingenuity!
- For all the lovebirds that like to eat together, it’s a shareable meal.
- It’s family friendly, thanks to its basic ingredients, making it inclusive for all the ones you share your life with.
- It feeds a crowd, so if you wanted to throw a galentine party this Valentine’s Day it’s a delicious option for both entrees or hors d’oeuvres.
- It’s a food that stimulates the art of conversation and encourages new ideas, which means it’s pretty much guaranteed to keep the attention of fellow diners for at least a little while.
Picadinho a Brasileira may not be chocolate covered strawberries or lobster thermidor or a fancy special occasion food brought out once a year, but any Brazilian would tell you that love deserves to be extended, extolled and celebrated every moment, every day, not just on February 14th. Romance doesn’t have to be elaborate in order to be understood or received. A simple meal served to someone special is such a sincere act of love. The enjoyment that follows – tasting something new, talking about the experience and exploring some culinary curiosities leads to unexpected discoveries. This one dish opened up a whole conversation between myself and my valentine of a husband about spices that had us chatting and speculating the day away. Also, while researching this blog post, I discovered some new favorites courtesy of Brazil…
Two new vintage books to read by Brazilian authors Paulo Coelho and Jorge Amado…
and a new art book to explore…
And it also led to the discovery of two new artists. I love this 1920’s era portrait, untitled, but referred to as Woman with Lemons by Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973)…
and the colorful botanical collage paintings of Brazilian-born artist Beatriz Milhazes…
So you just never quite know where your dinner will wind up taking you! At the start of this particular cooking adventure, I thought this post was going to be all about a traditional romantic Valentine’s Day worthy dinner. An idea I understand now sort of bordered on the cliche side of things. But in reality, this seemingly unromantic Brazilian ground beef recipe turned out to be quite a little passionate catalyst that produced new loves in art, literature and conversation. That’s pretty romantic after all!
I hope this Valentine’s Day your hearts and bellies are full to the brim with thoughts and foods that you make you feel happy, loved and inspired. Cheers to the holiday and cheers to foods that surprise and satiate us not only physically but mentally and emotionally!
Next week finds us making a sweet treat that hails from the land that Meghan and Harry now call home…Canada! Until then, happy cooking!