- Written by Cynthia Presser
My Goodness! How much have I missed working on my recipes and, especially, sharing them?! Life with two boys – one being a two-year-old that is not yet at school - and our move to Tampa, “forced” me to take a step back on my cooking activities.
Well, one thing is for sure: I HAVE NO REGRETS!
In fact, spending the last year focusing on the needs of the boys and helping our family to adjust into our new hometown have been a great experience. I feel incredibly grateful to have being able to do that.
That said, I am ready to push the restart button and go back to the kitchen!
I believe that a great come back calls for a super traditional dish – for that reason, I am sharing with you a recipe for Brazilian Cuscuz (Cuscuz Paulista).
I know what some might be thinking: “I had no idea that Brazilians had a couscous recipe!”. Yes, we do! And the version I am sharing here is delicious and it is spelled Cuscuz.
Couscous has its origins in the Northern part of Africa – mainly Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. The geographic proximity to Portugal made the recipe make its ways into the Portuguese table – and in the 1500’s it was a very popular dish (not anymore these days).
When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, they found out the indigenous people had a very similar dish. But instead of using semolina flour, the natives used maize flour and/or yuca flour to prepare it.
So the Portuguese incorporated some of the ingredients that they were using already - such as seafood, green olives, and eggs - into this new found flour mixture. Boom! The Brazilian Cuscuz was born.
The version I am sharing here was inspired by the traditional recipe found on the book “Viagem Gastronomica Atraves do Brasil”, by Caloca Fernandes. I made some adaptations on the method and ingredients. I also added a spicy sauce to serve on the side to suit the American palate ;)
This specific version is very popular in the state of São Paulo – that’s why it’s called Cuscuz Paulista. There are different versions around Brazil, especially on the Northern and Northeastern parts of the country. Those versions are more basic, with less ingredients; and often served as side dishes.
This gorgeous and delicious version I am presenting is definitely the center of attention at the dinner table! Enjoy!
Serves 10 to 12
- 2 ½ cups yellow cornmeal, medium or coarse grind (See Cook’s Notes)
- ½ cup yuca flour (manioc flour)
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing
- 2 medium onions finely chopped
- 1 medium, seeded red bell pepper finely diced
- 1 medium, seeded green bell pepper finely diced
- 1 dried bay leaf
- Salt and black pepper
- 4 large garlic cloves minced
- 2 cups (13 ounces) hearts-of-palm drained and chopped
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 ¼ cups (12 ounces) tomato sauce (See Cook’s Notes)
- 1 ½ pounds small or medium shrimp, cleaned and deveined
- 2 cups frozen sweet peas (set aside about 1/3 cup for decoration)
- ½ cup green olives finely chopped
- 1 cup scallions finely chopped
- 4 cooked eggs, carefully sliced into 5 to 6 parts (set aside 8 slices for decoration)
- 8 large shrimp, cleaned and deveined
Ingredients for Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (See Cook’s Notes)
- 3 mediums, ripe tomatoes chopped
- ½ cup tomato sauce (See Cook’s Notes)
- ½ cup cilantro chopped
Combine yellow corn meal and yuca flour. Set a strainer or fine sieve over a large bowl. Pass the mixture of flours through the sieve using a large spoon to help the process, if needed. Set aside.
Set a large sauce pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add onions, red bell pepper, green bell pepper and bay leaf. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft; about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add hearts-of-palm, chicken stock, and tomato sauce. Bring to a low simmer.
Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Add shrimp and sweet peas to sauce. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add green olives, scallions and eggs (see picture below).
Add flour mixture to pan, stirring constantly until well combined (dough should be moist and soft). Keep stirring over medium-low heat until dough is cooked; 4 to 5 minutes. Add more salt, if needed (see picture below).
Remove from heat and cover.
Prepare the shrimp for garnishing by setting the oven broiler to high. Make sure that oven rack is about 5 to 6 inches away from flame. Layer shrimp on a greased baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Transfer sheet to pre-heated oven and broil for 3 minutes, or until shrimp turns pink and curls. Remove from oven and set aside.
Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9.5 x 3.4 inches’ mold pan (Bundt pan). Carefully place the sweet peas, egg slices and large shrimp on the bottom and sides of the pan (See Cook’s Notes). Using a spoon, carefully spread small amounts of the mixture in the Bundt pan. Gently press the dough to fill in all the spaces, making sure to be so careful to not move the garnishing around. Once the pan is filled up, press the dough gently once more and cover with aluminum paper. Set aside.
Direction for Sauce:
Set a medium skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Once oil is hot, add onion and jalapenos. Cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft; 3 to 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and tomato sauce and reduce de heat to medium. Cook, until incorporated; another 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and remove from heat. Fold in cilantro and transfer to a serving dish.
Carefully flip the mold pan into a serving plate. Serve immediately with the salsa on the side.
Use a high quality cornmeal; something that is free of additives and is made of 100% corn. In Brazil we use farinha de milho em flocos (aka farinha biju) which can be found in international grocery stores or Latin markets. Regular, high quality “American” cornmeal should work fine ;)
Yuca flour (manioc flour) can be found at most Latin and International markets. Do not mistake it by yuca starch. They are different!
Use a tomato sauce that has no extra ingredients besides real tomatoes.
If you are a fan of spicy food, use a couple of extra jalapenos in the sauce. People can adjust the amount of heat added to the dish by using more or less of it.
When working with the garnishing, I found easier to start with placing the sweet peas and the eggs on the bottom of the pan. The shrimps could be supported by the eggs, so I placed the shrimp on the sides. The sweet peas that are surrounding the plate (see picture) were placed after the Cuscuz was unmolded.
My 6-year-old, Sebastian, came back from baseball practice and saw the Cuscuz ready. Guess what he said? "Did YOU make this?" HAHAHA!! He as blown away by the presentation!
The cover of the book and the original recipe I used as a base to create my version. Sorry for writing all over it, but I could not help!
My sweet parents are visiting from Brasil! They help out so much with the kids... That way I can cook ;)