A while back I started a quest for a decent substitute for “queijo de coalho” , one of my favorite types of cheese from my hometown in Brazil. The options had varying qualities, but it never really hit the spot with the perfect substitute. Earlier this year, however, while going to my local farmer’s market, I found one type cheese from a local producer, Ladysmith (from Samish Bay Cheese) which had all the qualities I was looking for: appearance, taste, crust when fried. I’d say that it’s about 90% of the original, which was amazing. Every Saturday when we went to the market I had to buy some of that cheese.
But our local farmer’s market is only opened from May to October, so with the year getting close to the end, my weekly cheese fix was coming to an end. So last week I decided to get a larger-than-normal piece of cheese, and to start enjoying it more – not only by itself, but within Brazilian recipes as well. And this one is from my home state of Pernambuco, called “Baião de dois”, which combines rice, beans, cheese and some other ingredients.
There’s no good translation for “Baião de dois” – “baião” is a kind of music from Northeast Brazil, so it could be roughly interpreted as a pairing of two ingredients (in this case, rice and beans) to make something so great that it’s almost musical. Dried beef, bacon, coconut milk and some vegetables complete this dish.
Another thing which I like about it is that it’s one of the everything-in-one-pan meals, like lasagna, which don’t require any side dishes – it already has everything in it. I got its recipe from the great cookbook collection “Cozinha Regional Brasileira”, in the book about Pernambuco, but I changed it a little: used less coconut milk, butter and oil than it suggested; added some regular beef in addition to the dried beef (I can’t find it around here with very good quality); used black-eyed peas for the beans (they’re actually considered “beans” in Brazil, not peas); and some other minor changes.
Ingredients (for 8 people):
- 10 oz. thick-sliced bacon, cut in 1/2” pieces
- 6 oz. dried beef (found a piece in a local Brazilian store)
- This type of beef is really, really salty, so you need to de-salt it first: cut it in 1/4”-thick slices, then add to water in a pan and bring to a boil; change the water and bring it to a boil again, then discard the water
- 1lb. beef strips (it can be found in supermarkets marked as “for stir fry”), seasoned with salt and pepper
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 5 cups of cooked black-eyed peas (that comes out a little less than 1lb uncooked)
- 2.5 cups cooked rice
- 8 oz. coconut milk (the recipe asked for 1 liter, I think it was too much)
- 1/4 lb. fresh Ladysmith cheese (if you can’t find it, you can substitute it with “queso fresco”, although it won’t have the same tanginess of the original), finely crumbled
- salt & pepper
- chopped green onions, for decoration
Add the bacon to the pan, frying it until most of the fat has rendered, then reserve. Remove about 1/2 of the rendered fat and reserve. In the remaining fat in the pan, fry the beef strips until the desired doneness, then reserve. on the Cut the dried beef in thin slices, and fry it (in the same pan) for about 5-10 minutes (the beef that I found was really hard, so I sliced it really, really thin), then reserve.
Return the reserved fat to the pan, add the chopped onion and the garlic, season them with salt and pepper, and cook until the onion is soft. Add back the bacon and dried beef, the beans, mixing it well, then the rice and the coconut milk. Add back the beef and mix well. Finally, add the cheese and cover the pan, leaving it on slow heat for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts.
Sprinkle chopped green onions and serve hot.
P.S.: At the end, I talked to the farmer at the market, and he mentioned some other farmer’s markets where I could find them year-round, so my cheese fix is safe after this month :-)