“People wax eloquent about this dish for good reason,” said my husband Brad last night, polishing off his third helping of feijoada. “Wax eloquent” is the way he speaks. Sometimes even his fellow septuagenarians find his language a little archaic. But he’s right about feijoada (pronounced fayje-wada), it is truly one of the world’s great dishes. We first had it in Brazil 30 years ago when we went for Carnival–a street party that takes place the week leading up to Lent. Here in America, it takes the form of Mardi Gras, in New Orleans. Feijoada doesn’t have any direct connection with Carnival, except that it’s the Brazilian national dish and when you go there, you’re bound to run into it. In it’s pure form, it’s a dish you shouldn’t attempt to make for less than 12 greedy people because it involves 5-10 kinds of meat (smoked tongue, pigs feet, dried beef, and a variety of sausages, among others) and includes black beans, rice, kale, oranges, farofa and hot sauce. I used to do an annual pre-lenten feijoada and people would come from far and wide to see who could eat the most, but these days I am less ambitious (and it seems like a lot trouble). So after Brad asked for the third year in a row–“no feijoada?”–I decided a mini version would be better than none at all. The brilliance of the dish is its combination of diverse flavors and textures that blend deliciously together, either one on one or all at the same time. I decided that as long as I stuck to the basic ingredients I could cut down on the meat and, while it might not be a “real” feijaoda, it might, as Brad would say “pass muster.”
1 lb. dried black beans
Water to soak them
1/4 lb. slab bacon
1 lb. linguiça sausages*
1 lb. smoked pork chops* (* These are usually pre-cooked.)
1 medium onion plus one cup chopped
3 large cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 lb. kale, stripped from its tough central stalks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1-1/2 cups rice
1/2 cup farofa (toasted manioc meal)
Hot sauce (the Mexican El Yucateco brand Green Chile Habanero makes a fine sub for the Brazilian)
The beans and meat
Soak the beans overnight in water to cover by 2″ (or use the quick-cook method of bringing them to the boil over high heat, boiling briskly for 2 minutes, turning off the heat and letting them sit for 2 hours). Add the bacon in one piece, the whole onion, one chopped garlic clove, and the bay leaves. Add enough water to cover again by two inches, bring to the boil, skim off any scum, turn the heat to low and cook until the beans are still a bit bitey, about an hour, depending on their freshness. In the meantime, brown the sausages briefly on all sides in a little oil, then drain off any fat. If you can’t find linguica, good garlic pork sausages, chorizo, kielbasa, or a mixture will do (no fatty breakfast sausage or chicken sausage please!). Cut the sausage into 1″ rounds and add to the beans. Cut the pork chops, including the bones, into large bite size pieces and add them to the beans as well. Simmer until the beans and meat are cooked, about 30 minutes more. You may need to add more water as you go – do not let the beans or meat stick. Remove and discard the whole onion, the bay leaves and the bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste. In a separate pan, cook the chopped onion and the rest of the garlic in a little oil until softened, about 10 minutes. Tip the onion mixture, along with a good cup of beans and their liquid (no meats) into a food processor and pulse several times to make a thick sauce, then pour it back into the bean pot. Or you can just mash the beans into the onion mixture. Simmer for another 10 minutes or reheat when ready to use.
Blanch the kale for 3 minutes in boiling water. Drain. Roll up several leaves at a time and cut them into thin strips. Repeat until it’s all shredded. In batches, saute the kale in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes, adding the garlic towards the end so that it doesn’t burn. Salt to taste. The kale can be sauteed ahead and warmed up when needed.
Cook the rice by your preferred method to be ready at the right moment.
Peel the oranges with a knife, removing all outside pith and if necessary a slice off the bottom so each orange stands proudly on its own.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Brazilian store close by, as we do, they’re certain to have farofa. You can also purchase it online here. It’s delicious, healthy and lasts forever. (It kind of resembles a finely ground panko.) Toast about a cup of farofa in a tablespoon of oil over very low heat until light brown, stirrring from time to time (about 15 minutes).
Serve the beans and the meats (sprinkled with the farofa) accompanied by the rice, the kale, the oranges, and with as much (or as little) hot sauce as you fancy.