Flavors of the Brazil Olympics

In London’s Southbank Centre, the 2016 Rio Olympics party started long before the opening ceremony.
Coxinhas with Spicy Pepper Marinade. (Kansas City Star)
Coxinhas with Spicy Pepper Marinade. (Kansas City Star)

In London’s Southbank Centre, the 2016 Rio Olympics party started long before the opening ceremony.

Since May, the U.K.’s popular Cabana chain has been hosting a pop-up restaurant on a beachy outpost of trucked-in sand, and the carnival atmosphere will run through the end of the Paralympic Games in September.

The menu includes chimichurri steak with rice and black beans and what Lizzy Barber, marketing manager and one of the co-authors of “Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond,” calls “cheesy dough balls” — because it’s easier to say than pao de queijo (PAWN-dee-kay-zhew).

Wait! Chimichurri? Isn’t that the national steak sauce of Argentina? Blame the cross-cultural confusion on the cultural melting pot that is modern Brazil: Yes, the parsley-heavy chimichurri — an Argentinian creation — has become the No. 1 sauce at Brazilian-style steakhouses, Barber says.

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, such as the popular stroganoff, originally from Russia.

Adaptable recipes

“Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond” aims to “replicate the flavor and vibrancy” of Brazilian food in London without copying it, Barber says during a recent phone interview. That approach makes the book’s 80 recipes both appealing and adaptable.

I’ve been married to a Brazilian for 29 years, and for nearly as many years the signature cocktail at Casa Silva has been the lime-and-sugar-muddled caipirinha. When we have friends over for a barbecue, my husband grills churrascaria-style meats. He also makes huge pots of the pork and black bean stew known as feijoada every August (which reminds me, I will be chopping 10-pound bags of onions very soon).

I have always been a helpful spectator and an enthusiastic and knowledgeable eater, but I’ve never really taken control of the menu. A few weeks ago, I grabbed the colorful “Cabana” cookbook (it has a different name and cover in the U.K.) that had been on my bookshelf since 2014 and began thumbing through it, searching for recipes that would work nicely when hosting a Rio-themed Olympics watch party.

In addition to traditional skewers of meat, I wound up making my first batch of coxinhas, a snacky chicken croquette shaped like a drumstick that is typically served at botecos and barzinhos, literally “little bar.” (The Brazilians add “-inho” to practically everything to show affection.) The coxinhas were, if I may brag, among the best I’ve ever had. Bonus: I got over my fear of deep-frying.

My non-Brazilian girlfriend, who has been partying Brazilian-style with our family for nearly three decades, is so smitten with Brazilian food that she made learning how to make the cheesy bread a New Year’s resolution.

Inspired by her success — I taste tested for quality assurance — I wanted to learn to make them myself. She found a ridiculously simple version on simplyrecipes.com and she remains the official head pao de queijo maker of our party group, but when I get a craving, it’s good to know I can make my own.

Let’s get this Rio party started!


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

21⁄2 teaspoons tomato paste

21⁄2 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

11⁄2 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 three-quarters 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.


Cachaca is a Brazilian-style rum that is available at large liquor stores. It is the key element of the caipirinha, a refreshing cocktail made with lime and sugar.

Makes 4 servings

11⁄2 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.


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

11⁄2 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 ` 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.

Categories: Food

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