Today we start a culinary adventure to Brazil! The kids and I are doing a month-long exploration, so I thought I’d do it through food as well. Oftentimes when we do our country unit studies we do it for a week or two, and at the end we always somehow feel that we didn’t do enough or we only barely scratched the surface. This time around we’ve extended it to 4 weeks, so I’ll have plenty of Brazil food posts as we move along. For starters I’ve had the kids read some non-fiction kids’ books on Brazil, and today, as it is Ash Wednesday, I served Bolinhos de Bacalhau, made from salt cod. At some point I will probably add some notes on Brazil’s history and culture, but for now I wanted to mention that I was surprised to find out about the African influence in Brazilian cuisine. I’ve known about the Portuguese influence, but never knew the African influence was so extensive. More on that later.

Bolinhos are little snacks found all over Latin America. Another dish that’s particularly tempting to me is bolinhos de arroz which I’ll prepare before the month is up if we have time. This one’s based on a recipe from Fiesta! A Celebration of Latin Hospitality.

Ingredients:
1 1/4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 pound salt cod
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, beaten (I used egg substitute for half of the mixture for my egg-sensitive kids)

Instructions:

Pre-soak cod for 1 1/2 days in the refrigerator, changing the water every 4 hours or so. Taste a little piece and if it’s still very salty, soak in scalded milk for 10 more minutes to draw out the rest of the salt. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Shred the salt cod by hand then drain again and pat dry with paper towels. Boil the potato cubes in salted water until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Mash or run through a ricer. Set aside in a bowl. In a large skillet, cook the chopped onion in the oil over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Add cod and cook another 5 minutes. Add parsley and cook for 2 more minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then add to the mashed potatoes. Mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Heat oil in deep fryer. Using two spoons dipped in cold water, form balls and drop into hot oil. Fry balls in batches, about 3 minutes per batch, until golden. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven while you fry the rest. Serve immediately.

Ms. Von Bremzen suggests serving it with a Latin-style tartar sauce, flavored with green olives, cilantro, hot sauce and lime juice, but my kids and I enjoyed this plain. In the Philippines, or at least in several Filipino cookbooks that I have, it is mentioned that bacalao is usually found at the rich man’s table during Lent. The opposite is true here in the US, since salt cod is very affordable. It’s certainly less expensive than fresh fish.

Tomorrow, another fish dish, perfect for Fridays in Lent!