Street food in Brazil has the festive personality of sambas and the erudite composure of operas; in other words, it is quintessentially Brazilian.
The treats parade untroubled like a bunch of congenial artists mingling at every street fair, or groups of ascetic scholars reveling in solemn soirées. The most popular street food in the country is the famous Trio: Empadinha, Coxinha and Pastel.
During the late ’70s, I was the “and Guest” at a wedding celebration at the ultra-chic Automóvel Clube in Belo Horizonte, and I was charmed by the daintily sculpted Trio, passed around in crystal little dishes by waiters in white gloves. The delicate appearance of the finger food was harmonized with lacy gowns, black ties and soaring sopranos. I would have never recognized the Trio, if we weren’t so well acquainted since my childhood.
In my neighborhood, the trio’s presence at birthday parties was a matter of course. Platefuls of them surrounded the birthday cake with colorful candles in the center. We ate them eagerly without reproach from the adults, who paid attention to our eating delight, only to decide when to cut the decorated cake and introduce platefuls of beijinhos, brigadeiros and pé-de-moleques (the sweet counterpart of the savory trio).
As mothers added candles on our birthday cakes, they added hot spices into our empadinhas, coxinhas and pateis. When eventually I moved to the adult table, I got to meet the exotic combination of the trio, which included the empadinhas filled with hearts of palm, olives and peppered cheese.
The street food was present when I tasted my first beer and most of the others that followed. They were with me at every rite of passage, at every celebration. Carnivals, neighborhood soccer games and festive gatherings never happened without them.
The Trio’s recipes are as diverse as the people they celebrate - they are made according to socio-economic backgrounds, cooking abilities, environments, etc. But in the end, you’ll always recognize the trio for its exquisite comfort.
The exotic Brazilian finger food has reached international fame. The street food sash of late is noble – with globalization at the reins, the international travelers look for the Trio by name at airport cafes as soon as they arrive.
And I am glad to know that empadinhas, coxinhas and pasteis still celebrate birthdays in my neighborhood, and that our kids still enjoy this scrumptious legacy.
In my kitchen, I make a smaller and lighter version of coxinhas and empadinhas, but the pastel is full-fledged street smart: not only does their size matter, but also their unabashedly thick crust and their robust filling of meat and potatoes. The leftover cold and deflated pastel is the ultimate morning-after food.
So, before you return home from Brazil you must taste Brazilian street food, whether at a farmer’s market or at a fancy luncheon with friends. They are one and the same – just different costumes.
Prepare the filling of your choice (see recipe)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt
8 ounces unsalted, cold butter chopped into small pieces
3 eggs lightly beaten
1 yolk (for egg-wash)
1. Mix the flour and baking powder and salt in a large bowl, work in the butter until it forms a coarse meal. Add the eggs and knead the dough by hand until it is smooth and shining.
2. Allow the dough to rest for about 15 minutes. Separate a small part of the dough and stretch it by hand to cover the bottom of the mini pie tin (not buttered) – fill it with cold filling – use another part of stretched dough to cover the filled tin.
3. Brush with the egg-wash and bake in 350-degree preheated oven for 30 minutes or until golden.
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large tomatoes, chopped
3 cups cooked chicken breast, finely shredded.
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup peas
1/2 cup chopped parsley
salt to taste
1 whole pitted green olive in each mini pie
1. In a medium pot, sauté onion, garlic, green pepper with the olive oil over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes.
2. Add the chicken and cook for another minute, then add the flour and mix it well. Add the milk and stir for 3 minutes.
3. Add the peas, parsley and salt to taste.
4. Wait for the filling to cool completely before using.
5. Place one whole pitted green olive inside each mini pie.
Hearts of Palm Filling
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, skin removed, seeded
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 (8 ounce) can hearts of palm, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup small green peas (fresh, frozen or canned)
1 egg, hard boiled, chopped
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup whole milk
1.In a medium pot over medium heat, sauté butter, onion and garlic
2.Add tomatoes, salt and pepper and vegetable broth. Cook for 10 minutes
3. Add the hearts of palm, peas and egg.
4.Mix the cornstarch and milk in a small bowl, then add it to the pot and cook for another 3 minutes until it thickens
5.Wait for the filling to cool completely before using.