Mexican vs Brazilian Challenge, Day 224 & 225

No, I’m not referring to the Olympic soccer upset on Saturday. I’m talking about food.

As I had smuggled in stacks of authentic, corn tortillas from my U.S. trip, I was inspired to make some Mexican dishes. But even in a big city like Sao Paulo, this type of effort can get complicated. (Do not despair if you are craving Mexican and do not have the corn tortillas – I have a few solutions which you will find at the end.)

First off, why can’t we make Mexico a full member of the MERCOSUR?? Sure, they depend heavily on U.S. trading. But we are in desperate need for items like Mexican cheeses, peppers and tortillas in Brazil. Shouldn’t the Latin countries be sticking together when it comes to cuisine?

So my big challenge on Day 224 and 225 was to complete a series of Mexican dishes with only a few stacks of corn tortillas and what I could find in the city of Sao Paulo. Here is what was on my menu:

  • Chile con Queso
  • Ceviche Rojo de Camarón y Sierra
  • Guacamole
  • Burritos com Frijoles y Queso
  • Rollo de Queso y Aguacate

I began my quest the day prior, Saturday, to gather what goods I could from the Mercado Municipal. Unfortunately, I was unaware that the previously mentioned Olympic soccer game was in the works as I was inquiring from the vendors about certain Mexican ingredients, explaining that I was going to be making Mexican food. I did not make friends.

First challenge – the cheeses. As far as I can tell, Mexican cheeses are totally unavailable here. I was scouring the largest fresh market in the city, maybe even the country, and despite the many cheese vendors, could not find queso asadero, nor any of its most obvious substitutes such as Monterey Jack. So I had to be satisfied with queijo Estepe, with the main objective being a cheese that would easily melt. The cheese has a mild swiss flavor, which is not idea for Mexican food, but would not totally destroy my Chile con Queso. I also eventually found Fontina (a distant option) at Santa Lucia, which I used for my Burritos. FYI – if you need Manchega, you can find the Spanish version, which is made from cow’s milk instead of sheep’s milk, but should work.

Next – the peppers. Thank goodness you can find jalapeño. There is one particular vendor that sells an array of fresh pimentas. However, they did not carry the other two chiles my recipes required – Anaheim and Serrano. They did have Habanero, which is what I used to substitute the Serrano. And to replace the Anaheim, I purchased Dedo de Moça, a milder pepper.

The produce – of course you can find an assortment of tomatoes. You also CAN find Haas avocados – although you’ll pay quite a bit for it, but totally worth it. Just make sure you ask the vendor for ripe avocados if you plan to make the dishes within a couple days and put directly in the refrigerator when you get home until you use. The Brazilian avocado is definitely not the same. The struggle I had was for white onions. I’m a firm believer that a white, yellow and red onions are not casually interchangeable in recipes. Yet, the white onion I know and love is not easy to locate. The best I could do was what looked like small yellow onions, but were labeled white onions. Hmmm.

The fish required for the ceviche was easy enough. The Mercado has plenty of fresh fish to choose from.

Finally, the oil. I knew I wanted to do some of my corn tortilla chips in lard. Now hear me out… it makes for the most fabulous (although heart stopping) chip. But I also wanted to make a batch in peanut oil. There was none to be found at the Mercado, but I did locate a thin bottle at Santa Lucia – for about US$20. No thanks. Corn oil would be just fine. But we were able to buy a block of pork lard at a meat vendor at the Mercado.

The Chips

Making your own tortillas chips is actually pretty easy. We used our wok to work with. Just put in the block of lard or enough oil to float a stack of chips and put the heat on high. Here is the trick – you want the oil hot enough to cook, otherwise the chip just soaks up the oil unnecessarily. So take a strip of tortilla to test, and when you dip it in the oil and it bubbles, the oil is ready. Flip and fry only until slightly golden, you don’t want it to burn.

Salt the chips immediately after pulling from the oil (we line a strainer with paper towels and rotated batch by batch to a container). Important to note if you decide to use lard – your kitchen must be well ventilated and you should be able to close it off from the rest of your place, or your home will smell like lard for days.

The chips were delicious with the chile con queso, the guacamole and the rollo de queso y aguacate.

I’m not so great at writing out recipes. My Brazilian variations are roughly based on Williams-Sonoma’s “Savoring Mexico,” by Marilyn Tausend. However, I’ve done the research on where you can find equivalent recipes on the internet and can use my modified ingredient list.

Chile con Queso… in Brazil

A note on the peppers: The number of peppers really is to taste. I’m not a huge “hot” fan, so my dishes are more on the mild side. But if you like things spicy, throw in a couple more jalapeños and double the Dedo de Moça.

(2) jalapeños, seeded and cut into strips

(6) Dedo de Moça chiles, roasted, seeded and deveined and cut into strips (to roast the Dedo de Moça chiles, cut in half and put on a baking sheet in the oven at 190C for about 15 minutes. Then you’ll have to scoop out the veins and seed – for the love of God get all the seeds out – and peel the roasted part of the skin off. Ok, it is kind of a pain and the real reason I only used 6 when the recipe actually called for 15.)

(2) tomatoes, chopped

(4) of the small Brazilian version of the white onion, chopped

(2) tablespoons unsalted butter (the Brazilian kind is OK in this dish)

(1) cup creme de leite

500g queijo Estepe, shredded

1/4 cup water

(1) teaspoon sea salt (if you don’t have some you happen to have brought from outside, “flor do sal” is available at grocery stores)

Here is what I did:

In a great big frying pan –

  • Sauté onions and jalapeños in the butter for five minutes
  • Throw in the Dedo de Moça chiles and tomatoes and cook another five minutes
  • Pour in the creme de leite and the water with the sea salt and let simmer for 8 – 10 minutes
  • Stir in the cheese and let cook until it is just about to boil and then take off the heat, cover and serve

Full disclosure – the cheese was not as melty as it should have been, but still good. 

Here is what the experts do:


Ceviche Rojo de Camarón y Sierra

250g white fish (at the Mercado, we asked for sushi quality white fish)

250g bay shrimp (the small ones)

(2) small Brazilian white onions, minced

(2) teaspoons garlic, minced

1/2 cup fresh lime juice (see recipe because this is really going to depend on what type of dish you are using)

(2) teaspoons sea salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

(1) cup tomato ketchup (I know, sound gross, but just do it!)

Here is what I did:

  • Put the white fish in a flat glass dish that has a cover and pour in lime juice. The key here is that you want the white fish to be covered by the lime juice, so depending on your dish, you may need to use more lime juice.
  • Set the dish aside for about an hour and a half – not in the refrigerator.
  • Stir in the shrimp, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
  • Drain the lime juice and add the cilantro and ketchup. You can also spice it up with some hot sauce if you’d like.

Full disclosure – both times I made it, the shrimp didn’t seem to be cooked all the way. The first time I got hives. Maybe go without the shrimp or pour in some additional lime juice. Good luck with that.

The other recipes I found all seem to be based on the one from my WS book, so here is the original version straight from William-Sonoma:



(3) Haas avocados

(1) tomato, chopped

(1) small Brazilian white onion, chopped

(1) Habanero chile

(2) tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Here is what I did:

  • Place the tomato, onion, chile (all already chopped) and salt in a bowl and mash up as much as you can before you get too tired with a fork
  • Cut the avocados in half, remove the pit and scoop out into the bowl
  • Add the cilantro and mush it up some more, but leave some avocado lumps
  • Add more salt if needed

Here is what the experts do:


Burritos com Frijoles y Queso… in Brazil

If you want to make this dish totally from scratch, it is a multi-step process that might take days – just FYI.

First you make the “pot” beans. The recipe called for pinto beans, but I used black beans because I like black beans better and I couldn’t figure out which beans were the pinto beans in Portuguese.

560g (2 1/2 cups) dried beans

(2) tablespoons lard or canola oil

(2) small Brazilian white onions, chopped

(1) glove garlic, minced

(1) teaspoon sea salt

The recipe also calls for epazote sprigs, but…

Here is what I did:

  • Soak the bean for about 30 minutes in water and rinse
  • Place beans in a pot and add water until beans are covered by a few inches
  • Bring beans to a boil and then reduce to a simmer
  • Sauté the onions in the lard/oil for about 4 minutes until it is dark yellow
  • Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute
  • Add the onion and garlic mix to the beans and cook partially covered at medium low for about two hours (Check on the bean during the two hours to stir in case you need to add more water to keep it going, or you will have a burned bean mess. In other words, do not use this time to take a nap.)
  • Once the bean are tender, add the salt (and 2 springs of the epazote if you know what that is and have it, I did not) and cook another 40 minutes
  • Store overnight if you want more flavor

Next you make the “well-fried” beans:

Previously created “pot” beans

1/2 cup lard or canola oil

(1) small Brazilian white onion, chopped

sea salt to taste

The recipe also called for (3) toasted avocado leaves – good luck with that

Here is what I did:

  • In large frying pan, sauté onions for about 5 minutes
  • Pour in the pot beans (1) cup at a time, mashing it up and stirring it around as you go
  • Keep going until the beans are all in the pan and all fried up so it draws away from the edge of the pan

Finally (big sigh), the actual burritos:

You can fry up the beans with onions again, but I actually stopped the madness here. I simply added a bit of salt and heated up the beans, then I chopped up some tomato, white onions and cilantro to add on top with shredded Fontina cheese.

They do sell what is kind of like a flour tortilla here, only it is called a wrap. But it works. I heated up to “tortillas” in the oven on low – not too much or it gets too crispy to wrap, like just a couple minutes – and then load it up with the beans, tomatos, onions, cheese and cilantro.

Here is what the experts do:


Rollo de Queso y Aguacate… in Brazil

250g cream cheese

(1) Haas avocado

(1) small Brazilian white onion, chopped

1/2 Habanero chile, seeded and chopped

(2) tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

(2) cups mashed up pork rinds

Here is what I did:

  • Place the cream cheese between two pieces parchment paper, although I didn’t have parchment paper so I used wax paper
  • Roll with rolling pin until a flat 6″ x 8″ rectangle – this is not so easy, but it’s ok if not perfect
  • Mash up avocado flesh in a bowl
  • Stir in cilantro, onion, chile, lime juice and salt
  • Spread avocado mixture over cream cheese (after you’ve removed the top parchment paper of course…)
  • “Using the bottom sheet of paper, roll up the cream cheese to form a log” – hahahahah, this is not easy. But it is possible, you’ll just have to scrape some of it off the paper during the rolling process at various points
  • Coat the log with the crushed pork rinds

This was actually delicious with the chips!!


The Margarita

And finally, you can’t have Mexican food without a margarita! Triple Sec seems to be scarce here, so I made the agave nectar version instead. I did bring the agave with me from the U.S., but you can buy it here. The only place I know of to buy it is “My Yoga” organic market in the yoga studio in Jardins, but it has got to be other places too.

For each drink:

(1) tablespoon agave nectar

the juice of 1/4 lime

1/4 cup of tequila

Wet the rim of the glass with the juiced lime and rim in kosher salt

Shake cocktail and pour



Now, if you don’t have a stack of corn tortillas, you can actually buy from a woman in Sao Paulo who makes and delivers Mexican food. (I guess you can just actually buy all the menu items from her as well if you don’t like to torture yourself with cooking).

Here is her email and tortilla pricing:

  • Paquetes de Tortillas de Maíz con 10 unidades R$ 6,00 / paquete (Tortillas de milho assadas na chapa. Pode ser esquentado na frigideira sem óleo ou no micro ondas )
  • Paquetes de Tortillas de Harina de Trigo con 10 unidades R$ 5,00 / paquete (Tortillas de farinha de trigo. Pode ser esquentado na frigideira sem óleo ou no micro ondas )
  • Paquetes de Tostadas con 12 unidades R$ 12,00/paquete

According to William-Sonoma, you can also make tortillas out of black beans:

(Sorry W-S about the copyright infringement, but you got some free promotions in this post.)


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11 Responses to Mexican vs Brazilian Challenge, Day 224 & 225

  1. Alex says:

    Are you freakin kidding me? That looks sooooo good, my mouth is WATERING. I believe in one of my past lives I was Mexican, considering I eat Mexican food like, 5 times a week. I LOVE it. Good job!!!

    I have heard time and time again that the Mexican food market in Brazil is pretty sucky, so my idea is to open THE BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT in all of Brazil. Probably not possible, considering I’m a white boy, but let me dream.

    I’m going to Mexico in 5 days, so….be jealous! MWAHAHAHA

  2. Stephanie says:

    Wow, I’m so impressed! That was a lot of work. And thanks for detailing everything for us (esp the photos)! Love it! And now I’m hungry! So what do you do for sour cream? Please don’t tell me they have sour cream in Sao Paulo?! I am jealous just to hear you have habaneros and jalapenos. Great job with the beans I have to say! I must try that someday. YUM!

  3. Andrew Francis says:

    I’m impressed with the sheer amount of cooking this involved. For me it’s like Spanish tapas: I love eating them but I don’t think the effort scales well to making them at home. And we have good Spanish restaurants nearby. 🙂

    By the way, the spanish-made Manchego we buy in the UK is made from sheep’s milk so I guess there are two types. Well, actually it’s ewe’s milk, right? That reminds me of Brazilians who say “mozzarela de bufalo” instead of “bufala” – if you’re getting your milk from the male animal, making cheese is the last of your problems. Any, I digress… We use pinto beans as a substitute for the everyday beans you get in Sao Paulo (feijao carioca) so you can probably do it the other way around. Lastly, Triple Sec can be found online or from places like Rei dos Whiskeys and peanut oil is available at Pao de Acucar:

    I’ll ask my wife if she’s up for cooking with lard. It will be worth the look on her face. 🙂 No, actually I won’t, not for corn chips anyway. For torresmo, maybe…

    • Yeah… well… this is an annual event at best. I’m not one to be a slave to the kitchen, but it was worth it because we ate Mexican for days. On the cheese – whoops I wrote that backwards. The Mexican is the cow version. So many words in the post…. aye, aye, aye. Ah HA! Feijao carioca is the pinto beans? Many minutes spent staring at bags of beans trying to figure it out. Thanks! Really, they have peanut oil at Pao? I couldn’t find it. But I’m totally willing to try and order it online. I was also appalled at the idea of cooking with lard, I swear. But I had a (skinny) chef friend in NYC who swore by it – and I gotta say, it makes a huge, delicious difference in taste for sure.
      Thanks for all the tips for next year time.

  4. Corinne says:

    Wow, impressive spread!! You can use Cointreu instead of Triple Sec in margaritas and it is easily found (just not cheap). Also a faux sour cream can be made using either fresh cream or the boxed creme de leite. Just squeeze the juice of one lime (2 if you are using the whole 500ml bottle of fresh cream (creme de leite pasturizada) into the cream and add a little salt and stir. Let it sit out for about 30 minutes and then refrigerate. The longer it stays in the fridge the thicker it will get. Also the consistency is better using fresh cream, but the boxed stuff works fine too.

  5. Rachel says:

    Thanks for these recipes! Awesome!

    I have made the corn tortillas before. It is a bit of a bitch if you don’t have the tortilla press. Of course it is manageable and worth it anyway. I hear you can get the corn flour for it in SP. Is that true?

  6. Um, WOW! I just stumbled across this page, and I haven’t even read through the recipes yet, but it all looks freaking delicious!

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