Can’t be in Rio? You can still eat like a Brazilian

Cachaca grilled chicken.
Cachaca grilled chicken. TNS

In a vast country where there are many regional cuisines but no tradition of haute cuisine, home cooking is the status quo. That also means every cook has his or her own version of a recipe – “no carbon copy recipes exist” – and the country’s immigrant roots are reflected in its dishes.

A case in point: The parsley-heavy chimichurri sauce – an Argentinian creation – has become the No. 1 sauce at Brazilian-style steakhouses.

The following recipe uses cachaca, a Brazilian-style rum that is available at most liquor stores. Any good white rum can be substituted. It is the key element of the caipirinha, a refreshing cocktail made with lime and sugar.

Cachaca grilled chicken

Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs

3 garlic cloves, finely crushed

1/2 teaspoon dried or fresh chopped oregano

4 tablespoons cachaca

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Italian parsley sprigs, finely chopped, for garnish

Lime wedges, for garnish

Open the chicken thighs and place them on a cutting board. Cover them with plastic wrap and lightly bash them with a meat mallet or rolling pin until the meat is of even thickness. Place meat in a zip-close bag. Add garlic, oregano, cachaca, olive oil, salt and pepper. Use your hands to toss and coat the chicken, working the marinade evenly into the flesh, then place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minute before cooking and let come to room temperature. Light the grill and let the flames die down. Thread the chicken on metal skewers and grill for 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Let the thighs rest for 5 minutes before sprinkling with parsley. Serve with lime wedges on the side.

Per serving: 211 calories (54 percent from fat), 11 g total fat (2 g saturated), 81 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 19 g protein, 554 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber.


Coxinhas (koh-SHEEN-yahs) are a popular Brazilian bar snack that resembles a tear-shaped croquette.

I adapted this recipe from “Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond” by London-based authors David Ponte, Jamie Barber (owners of Cabana restaurant) and Lizzy Barber. Rotisserie chicken makes a quicker and more flavorful base than shredded poached chicken.

Brazilian food is not particularly known for spiciness, although malagueta peppers are sometimes offered as a condiment. When I couldn’t easily find malagueta peppers at the grocery store, I turned to Gourmet Garden’s Chili Pepper Stir-In Paste, available in a resealable tube.

There are about as many ways to shape coxinhas as there are cooks. While all coxinhas are teardrop-shaped, some are large, others small, some have a fatter base, depending on the size of the cook’s hands. I adapted the recipe for bigger rather than smaller bites, but you could make the coxinhas half the size if you have a big crowd.

Hot oil: Use a thermometer and wear appropriate attire. Watch what you are doing; keep children and pets away.

Makes 12 to 14 pieces

Spicy chili pepper marinade paste:

3 tablespoons chili pepper paste (see note)

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Scant 1/3 cup light olive oil or sunflower oil

2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

2 1 / 2 teaspoons tomato paste

2 1 / 2 teaspoons superfine sugar

1 / 2 teaspoon dried pepper flakes

1 heaping tablespoon sweet paprika

2 teaspoons sea salt

Pinch of dried oregano

For the coxinhas:

1 rotisserie chicken, traditional flavor (approximately 2 pounds)

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 large onion, very finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 / 4 cup chopped parsley

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 / 4 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 1 / 2 cups panko bread crumbs

Vegetable oil for frying

To prepare the marinade paste: Place all ingredients in a small food processor or blender and pulse to make a smooth puree. Transfer to a clean jar, seal and keep refrigerated for up to a week.

To prepare chicken and potatoes: Discard chicken skin. Remove meat from the bone and finely chop. Place chicken in a mixing bowl; set aside.

Fill a 4-quart Dutch oven 3 / 4 full of water; salt and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and return to a boil, then turn to a simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender. Drain well, then return the potatoes to the pan and place pot back on turned-off burner to dry over the residual heat.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the olive oil in a small pan and add the onion, cooking gently over low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until translucent. Add the onion and olive oil mixture to the dried potatoes and mash until smooth.

Add 4 tablespoons of the marinade paste to the chicken. Add chopped parsley and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, then taste to adjust seasoning. Stir in mashed potatoes.

Set up breading flour, then egg, then panko bread crumbs. With damp hands, shape about 1 cup of the mixture into a drumstick or teardrop shape using the contour of your hands to form a croquette with a rounded base and a pointed top. Lightly flour the coxinha, then dip in eggs to cover, then lightly roll it in panko until evenly covered. Set breaded coxinha upright on a plate and repeat with the rest of the mixture. Cover the plate of coxinhas with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour to firm up.

To fry coxinhas: Heat 3 to 4 inches of oil in a deep fryer or a Dutch oven until it registers 325 degrees on a thermometer. Fry coxinha in batches, making sure not to crowd the pot. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, turning once or twice with a slotted spoon, until golden brown. Carefully remove and drain the coxinhas on paper towels.

Serve warm with additional marinade paste for dipping or sprinkle with Tabasco or other hot sauce.

Per piece, based on 12: 315 calories (55 percent from fat), 19 g total fat (3 g saturated), 65 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrates, 14 g protein, 1,930 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber.


Pao de quejo – literally translated from Portuguese as “bread of cheese” – is a delectable cheesy puff that gets its chewiness from tapioca (sometimes called cassava or manioc) flour. This Simply Recipes version whips the batter up in a blender. The batter can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator up to 2 days. Be sure you have mini-muffin pans on hand.

Makes 24 cheese puffs

Vegetable cooking spray

1 egg, preferably at room temperature or warmed in hot water

1/3 cup olive oil

2/3 cup milk

1 1 / 2 cups tapioca flour (available in the health food area of well-stocked grocery stores)

1 / 2 cup packed grated hard Italian cheese (choose Parmesan, Romano, Asiago or a combination)

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray 2 mini-muffin pans with vegetable cooking spray.

Put all the ingredients into a blender and pulse until smooth, using a spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender. You can store the prepared batter in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Pour batter into prepared mini-muffin tins, not quite to the top; leave about an 1 / 8 inch from the top.

Bake tins in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until all puffy and just lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for a few minutes. Cheese bread is best served warm.

Per cheese puff: 72 calories (49 percent from fat), 4 g total fat (1 g saturated), 11 mg cholesterol, 8 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 127 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber, 49 percent of calories from fat.


Cachaca is the prime ingredient in caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail.

Cachaca is an unaged sugarcane rum, and it is consider a drink of the people. The most popular cachaca name brands are the relatively inexpensive 51 or Velho Barreiro, and both are perfectly acceptable for a party.

In recent years, premium brands of sipping cachacas with artisanal pedigrees have entered the market, including Leblon and Novo Fogo. At my house, we are fans of Novo Fogo. We are on trend: Fogo de Chao uses a private label cachaca from its own distillery.

Cachacas are simple to make, but the process goes much more smoothly if you have a cocktail muddler. Go easy with the passion, though, or you might wind up breaking the glass.

Makes 1 drink

1 juicy lime, washed and quartered

1 tablespoon superfine sugar, or to taste

1 ounce cachaca

Crushed ice

In a highball glass, place the lime quarters and sugar. Use a muddler to extract the juice from the lime and crush the peel to allow it to release the essential oils. Add cachaca and fill glass with crushed ice. Stir and serve.

Per drink: 134 calories (1 percent from fat), trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 20 g carbohydrates, trace protein, 2 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber.


This recipe from “Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond” was adapted to use tri-tip beef roast (similar to picanha) instead of lamb, which is actually more typical. I also substituted Gourmet Garden’s Chili Pepper Stir-In Paste for the malagueta peppers.

Makes 8 servings

3 tablespoons red chilies or chili paste

5 to 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons mirin (Japanese rice wine)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 heaping teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted

1 / 2 teaspoon fresh or dried oregano

1 / 4 cup light olive or sunflower oil

2 pounds tri-tip roast, cut into 1-inch cubes

Salt and pepper

14 ounces canned palm hearts, drained, cut into 1 / 2-inch pieces

Put chilies, garlic, mirin, vinegar, salt, cumin, oregano and oil in a small food processor and blend until it forms a smooth, wet paste. (Use immediately for this recipe; keep excess in the refrigerator in a clean, sealed jar for up to a week.)

Place meat cubes into a ziptop bag, add 6 tablespoons of the marinade and let marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.

Light the grill and let the flames die down. Thread skewers alternating with meat and hearts of palm pieces. Season lightly with salt and pepper and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, turning the skewers a few times to brown evenly. (Brazilians prefer their meat rare.) Serve skewers with remaining marinade, if desired.