Living in Brazil taught me a lot about food and cooking. First I had to overcome the mini-stove and let go of my perceptions of must-have ingredients. Then the learning and appreciation began.
The lesson I’m remembering this summer is that the simpler a food, the more delicious it can be. A single, fresh ingredient, whether meat or plant, matched with one spice, an herb or an oil can bring out more natural flavor than a recipe that includes 25 exotic ingredients.
I felt like I understood the concept of simple food before our move, but being exposed to local Brazilian cuisine made me realize I had a lot left to learn.
The main place that this lesson was reiterated to me was the churrascaria, those famous Brazilian barbecues (or churrasco if you are describing the cooking style or going to one at a home). I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to experience this type of dining and food from the source, and not at an overpriced Estados Unidos version, as authentic as they might be.
It starts with the meat. The meat is seasoned with salt. A lot of salt (as in bags of the stuff), but still, just salt. Now this may not be the case everywhere, but it was at the barbecues we attended at the houses of friends.
These barbecues whether at a restaurant or a residence also included what would translate in the States as a salad bar buffet. However, not the layer-your-ingredients type of salad bar, but plates of vegetables in simple oil-based marinades, vinegar and herbs. Pastas were also included at restaurants and my favorite was always the spaghetti ao alho e óleo– spaghetti with garlic and olive oil. Again, pretty simple.
Now that we are being invaded by loads of cherry tomatoes I remember a lot about how we enjoyed tomatoes in Brazil. I’ve never especially disliked tomatoes, but I was never the type of person who could sit down and eat just a tomato with salt and pepper either.
Then, in Brazil, I came across tomatoes quartered, drizzled in olive oil and fresh lime juice, topped with either parsley or cilantro and seasoned with salt and pepper. Wow, there was something about that citrus juice and those herbs that made a tomato so much better!
I am crazy about the little orange cherry tomatoes we have in our garden this year. They are so sweet you think you just popped a sugar cube in your mouth. In an effort to avoid taking away from their already delicious flavor, I’ve been including them in simple salads that mimic the flavors we had in Brazil.
This specific salad isn’t exactly the same, but I wanted to use all the ingredients from our garden with lots of color. I decided to switch out the lime juice for lemon this time, and parsley for fresh basil. Any variety of peppers will do, but I used a combination of orange, red and yellow because I am thrilled that we have a few from the garden.
If you want to go all out, I highly suggest using aged goat cheese. That is my absolute favorite, but unfortunately I just ran out of it last week, so here I’ve used feta which is good in a pinch.
Enjoy the simple flavors of summer!
Sweet and Simple Tomato Pepper Salad
4 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
½ candy onion, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced bell peppers (I used a combo of orange, red, and yellow)
5 to 7 fresh basil leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup crumbled feta or aged goat cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
The preparation is easy on this one. Simply combine all the ingredients in a bowl, stirring gently. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Sprinkle on more basil or cheese just before serving if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.