Last time (and only time) the four of us traveled southbound to my husband's native Brazil, was a disaster (yes, we were that family who's baby would not stop shrieking), but three years later, both, my husband and I, were happily surprised to see how well our kids handled the 10 hour night-time flight to Sao Paulo and the morning connection to Rio de Janeiro.
We all had gone to a restaurant. Once we sat down, my father-in-law ordered something I thought to be the specialty of the house. The waiter came with a basket full of light yellow, puffy looking spheres. I took one and couldn't believe my taste buds, nor my palate, nor my teeth! Cheese and bread fussed together, but the melted cheese still oozing out in every bite. It was bread-like, but not really bread. It was glorious! Thinking that this was my one and only chance to enjoy the house specialty, I ate like 200 cheese balls, barely paying attention to the conversation or anything else. I was in trance.
As the days passed and our dining adventures increased, I realized that the house special was actually a very popular (well deserved, if you ask me) snack in the whole country. The pao de queijo is as typical as caipirinhas (which I also discovered on that trip) and feijoada.
This visit, and two kids later, I still love them as much as the first time, and I'm glad my daughter isn't into them, as there are more left all for my self!
They are pretty easy to make. The tricky part is to find the ingredients, especially the polvilho azedo (sour starch), which is tapioca flour that has gone through a fermentation process prior to filtering. It's extremely common in Brazil, but not used anywhere else*.
* There's a Brazilian store in Manhattan's Little Brazil (W.46th St) where they sell it, and of course I found it in amazon. And good news: it's kosher pareve (more kashrut info at: http://www.bka.com.br/ )
Cassava root has traces of cyanide in it, so after peeling, the fresh root should be boiled in water until soft, and the water should be discarded. Commerically sold manioc flour or starch has already been through the poison's removal process.
I would not call tapioca a super ingredient in nutritional terms, as it is mostly carbohydrates with almost no protein and a very low concentration of vitamins or trace elements, however, I do believe that we will be seeing this root appear more and more often in American menus and products. Why? Because cassava flour (or starch, which is the same thing in this case) is GLUTEN FREE and as opposed to the common gluten substitutes, its texture, versatility and flavor are AMAZING.
Just try making pao de queijo and you'll see what I mean (although you have to use polvilho azedo, as regular tapioca flour or starch doesn't do the trick in this particular preparation).
PAO DE QUEIJO
Adapted from: All Recipes Brasil
- Gluten, soy and nut free
- Contains eggs AND dairy
3.75 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated