I loved “meeting” the Feijão tropeiro in New York City, in one of those chic churrascarias at Central Park West.
I looked at the unpretentious dish on the buffet table with admiration — not dressed up in some mango chutney or ornate with cilantro and cayenne guacamole foam; it mingled comfortably among the parade of skewered meats, plainly beautiful as it was born among the hills of Minas Gerais during the gold rush era.
The name tropeiro comes from trooper, but it relates to an organized group of gentlemen transporting goods for sale on horseback through a vast countryside region. It is said that “trooperism” was initiated in Brazil by the Portuguese Crown, to transport the gold extracted in Minas Gerais to the ports in Rio de Janeiro, on the way to Portugal. Through history, the Brazilian tropeiro transported more than goods for sale; he transported cultures and guided pioneers through passageways and roads they created.
The rustic troopers’ bean dish has been a staple in Brazilian cuisine since colonial times. The mixture of sausage, bacon and onions with cooked beans and yuca flour was easily prepared on the sides of roads, by the Brazilian trekker. Unlike me, the Feijão tropeiro in New York still endured its original characteristics as it sat there in that sophisticated restaurant on the island of Manhattan — demanding a price of the gold nuggets of its time. I would have high-fived my fellow citizen, but the waning of my own compatriot identity stopped me.
I experienced the tropeiros’ bean dish all through my life; although with less frequency on this side of the Atlantic, I have managed to keep its presence alive in my kitchen.
The comfort it inspires bares the steady glory of family allegiance. From a childhood with so many siblings, through disagreeable adolescence and to the conventional rites of passages into adulthood, this food is a safe port through my journey.
Today’s recipe is a traditional feijão tropeiro, but in the photos here I have replaced the yuca flour with cornbread flour.
Some people in my family might consider the replacement as sacrilegious, but I’ve promised feijão tropeiro to a few friends gathering for a barbecue.
I first manipulated the dish’s characteristics when I lived in Sullivan County, N.Y., informally known as the Borscht Belt, with not a single chance to get my hands on yuca flour, alien to the region. To pacify the traditionalists in my family, I call it tropeiro-style beans.
The tropeiro bean dish may be the proudest expat among my cronies. Unlike so many lively Brazilian foods that dresses up or down according to the social events, the feijão tropeiro does not take adorns. It is quintessentially Brazilian… as Brazilian as Carmen Miranda — although too abstemious to adopt the fruity hat.
Serve your feijão tropeiro as a side dish with barbecued beef or roasted pork.
Traditional Feijão Tropeiro
1 pound red beans
10 medium collard greens leaves, cut very thin
1/2 pound bacon, chopped and fried
1/2 pound your favorite sausage, cooked and sliced thin
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
3 fried eggs, cut up
Chopped parsley and scallion to taste
2 cups yuca flour (or called Cassava flour)
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1. Wash and cook the beans until soft, but not breaking apart, about 30 minutes. Drain it and set aside
2. In a medium skillet sauté the collard greens for about 5 min. Set aside
3. In a large heavy bottom pot, heat the bacon and sausage; add onion and garlic. Sauté until onion is soft.
4. Add the reserved beans and collards – add salt and pepper
5. Add cut up fried eggs, parsley and scallion
6. Mix in the yuca flour slowly, making sure the mixture is evenly coated (you can use more or less yuca flour depending on how moist you prefer your Feijão tropeiro).
7. Sprinkle the hard-boiled eggs and olive oil on top before serving – serves 6-8