Are you ready to whip up some delicious Brazilian food recipes? Then, Mari Coelho of Together We Cook has you covered. Born and raised in Brazil, she grew up savoring vibrant, multiethnic Brazilian cuisine, and she’s developed a variety of tasty recipes evocative of her homeland’s delectable dishes.
We recently caught up with her to talk Brazilian recipes and the key to crafting show-stopping meals.
1. Tell our readers a little bit about your background and how you were first introduced to Brazilian cuisine.
I’m originally from São Paulo, Brazil. I’ve been living in the US for the last 13 years with my husband and three children in Alexandria, VA, near the DC area. My previous career was in the law. While working as a lawyer in Brazil, I attended cooking classes at a local cooking school, Escola Wilma Kövesi. There, I explored my passion for cooking for several months before moving abroad.
As our family grew, I felt inspired by my children’s natural curiosity for cooking and the many benefits that I saw while cooking with them. In December 2016, I returned to Escola Wilma Kövesi for a brief internship in their summer program for children before launching my business. With Together We Cook, I combine my passion for cooking and love of children by teaching kids basic (and not so basic!) cooking skills in a fun, relaxed, and creative environment.
My first memories of traditional Brazilian food come from spending time with my grandmothers while they prepared the simple flavors of everyday Brazilian life, like rice and beans, fried cassava (mandioca frita), collard greens (couve refogada), and crispy chicken wings. From an early age, I was hooked.
2. What is it that you love most about Brazilian cuisine recipes?
The great variety of creative and exotic flavors! Brazil’s multi-cultural heritage (from its Portuguese-African-Indigenous roots and influences from immigrants from other European countries and Japan) combined with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables creates endless possibilities for dishes.
When I eat out in Brazil, I seek restaurants that focus on using fruits and vegetables native to the country and simple preparations. Like most expats, I crave my roots and childhood food memories. I also love most what seems difficult to recreate when you live abroad: street food, bar food, and food that tastes better enjoyed locally with family and friends. These dishes aren’t a part of our everyday lives in the US. (Think crispy pastries filled with melting cheese, beef, or hearts of palm; deep-fried crunchy manioc or cod fish balls; or, shredded chicken and dough covered in breadcrumbs).
3. What do you think is the secret to crafting delicious Brazilian cuisine?
Like the secret to every cuisine, I believe the secret to Brazilian cuisine is cooking with the best ingredients. Living abroad, it is not always easy to find the ingredients that I would like to cook with. Here in the Washington, D.C., area, we are fortunate to have access to many ingredients like tapioca flour, hearts of palm, açaí pulp, and cashews, along with others more readily accessible like cod, shrimp, black beans, and rice.
We are lucky to have a specialty store in our area that imports a variety of ingredients from Brazil, such as cassava flour and queijo coalho. And then I’ve also learned to adapt and make substitutions, often from other expat cooks. When I go to Brazil, I do bring a few treasures in my suitcase, like queijo meia cura, a type of semi-soft cheese that makes my pão de queijo to die for!
4. Tell our readers a bit about the recipe that you chose and why.
Torta de Palmito often appears in Brazilian cuisine. It is delicate in flavor and a great dish for a brunch, lunch, or dinner (especially if made ahead).
Recipes sometimes will include chopped tomatoes, peas, corn, hard boiled eggs, or even shrimp. But the classic and simple version is a favorite. I chose this recipe to share with your readers, a dish that is fun to make with children (making dough is the best!) while teaching them different skills.
Torta de Palmito
For the crust:
1/2 cup of corn starch
1 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
6 tablespoons of butter, cut into small cubes and refrigerated
1/2 cup of cold milk
To brush the crust: 1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water or milk whisked together
For the filling:
1 can or jar of hearts of palm, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of flour
2 cups of milk, warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave
1 tablespoon of parsley finely chopped
1 tablespoon of pitted green olives, chopped
salt to taste
Make the filling first. It needs to be refrigerated.
Combine flour, corn starch, and salt in a large bowl. Work the butter into the flour with your fingers or a fork. Then, add the milk. Knead the dough until it is smooth, uniform, and stretchy. Do not overwork the dough. Form a ball, flatten it, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1/2 hour. You can prepare it the day before and refrigerate it.
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter and sauté onions until soft and fragrant (about 5 minutes). Add the flour and stir it well, cooking for about 1 minute, until combined. Turn off heat and add milk, a little at a time, constantly whisking to make sure no lumps remain. Turn heat on low, and let the sauce boil and thicken, stirring often. Remove from the oven and add the hearts of palm, parsley, olives, and salt to taste. Let it cool. You can also prepare the filling the day before and refrigerate it.
To assemble the pie:
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Sprinkle flour on a clean surface and on a rolling pin. Reserve 1/3 of the dough for cutting strips to cover the pie. Roll out 2/3 of the dough to cover an 8- or 9-inch pan with a removable bottom. Spread the filling over the dough and cut the excess dough. Roll out the remaining 1/3 of the dough and cut out strips of dough using a pastry cutter. Place strips of dough over the filling, forming squares. Cut excess dough, and fold the dough over the edges of the strips. Brush crust with the egg wash and bake it for approximately 40 minutes or until brown. Allow the pie to rest for 15 minutes before serving. In Brazil, we would likely serve it with a nice salad and rice!
*recipe adapted from Escola Wilma Kövesi.
Brazilian Food Recipes
Mari remains dedicated to empowering children to be confident in the kitchen through Together We Cook. By teaching kids how to cook beloved Brazilian food recipes and other international dishes, Mari hopes to inspire them to explore new flavors while developing valuable life skills.
Want to get your kids cooking and traveling from home this summer? Check out our Virtual Travel & Cooking Summer Camps in partnership with Together We Cook.