Dish: Banana com Queijo grilled sandwich
Ark of Taste products: Bananas (360 internationally) and Manteiga do Norte (Brazil)
Brazil’s grilled cheese and banana sandwich is the ideal Meatless Monday dish to be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is simple to prepare and ingredients are about as mainstream as they come. Considering the tragic role that GMO soybeans for cattle inputs play in deforesting this meat-loving nation, it is important to highlight meat-free dishes, like this one.
When I recently attended the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, I met an urban planner from Brasilia, an architectural enigma and the capital of Brazil. Briefly, we traveled together on the shuttle to the conference center. Our conversation reminded me of the intensely convivial Terra Madre bus rides. If you have attended yourself, you know what I mean: Make fast friends with delegates from all over the world.
We searched for things in common. Having visited Brazil many years earlier, I was curious about something that was described to me in Santarém. Located 1600km inland from the Atlantic Ocean, it is the capital of the State of Para. There, I had a long chat with the proprietor of a cafe.
Standing at the very spot where the Tapajos and Amazon Rivers meet, I learned that Banana com Queijo is Brazil’s national dish. When I confidently asked my fellow passenger, “Do you enjoy Banana com Queijo? Genuinely puzzled, he replied: “Never heard of it.”
What? Had I been misled? The cafe owner in Santarém shared this insight with me with such certainty. So, I asked Slow Food Brazil’s Georges Schnyder. He assured me that yes, indeed, the sandwich is popular and important in Brazil, but that I must remember: “The Amazon and Brasilia are worlds apart physically and spiritually.” He went on to remind me that this is precisely why we must all attend Terra Madre Brasil, from June 11-14, 2020, in the Salvadoran coastal town in Baille. The festival will showcase the rich cultural and biodiversity of Brazil.
Banana com Queijo
Brazil’s grilled banana and cheese sandwich may hail from the North of Brazil, but it can be enjoyed everywhere.
2 ripe bananas
½ loaf or more of Pumpernickel bread, sliced for 4 sandwiches
4 thick slices of a white/yellow cheese
4 tsp of unsalted butter
Hot sauce to taste
Slice the 2 ripe bananas in coins and place them upon 4 of the slices of bread, blanketing the slice. You can use whichever bread you like, but Pumpernickel provides a great tribute to the German immigrants whose baking and dairy traditions have helped to shape Brazil’s multi-cultural cuisine. As for the bananas, sadly, the monocrop variety that rules the world is Cavendish. Please seek out other varieties, preferably one that is sweet and custardy, rather than the starchy varieties. The Brazilian Manteiga do Norte is a passenger on the Ark of Taste. Sweet yet endangered, eat it to save it.
Atop the banana slices, place a thick slice of cheese. If you can find queijo coalho, it will make your sandwich authentic. I have seen coalho referred to as Brazil’s brown beauty. Widely available, it earns this nickname because it is often grilled on sticks. A rubbery curd cheese, it is much like Quebec’s squeeky cheese — fromage en grains (the key ingredient to Poutine). Before closing the sandwich for grilling, why not put a splash of hot sauce? While Tabasco would provide a clean shock of heat, I prefer one that has more vinegar than heat, so as to mimic Brazil’s favored hot sauce, tucupi. It is made from the juice of the manioc root (also known as cassava). Poisonous when raw, it must be cooked for days in order for it to be edible. It is produced when the roots are squeezed of their moisture, in order to create farofa, the flour that serves as the base for many nationally beloved dishes, like Pão de Queijo (an amazing cheese bread baked into bite-sized mounds and available at cafes and from street vendors). Hot peppers and vinegar are added to the tucupi and bottled.
With a tsp of butter for each sandwich, grill in a shallow pan until brown. Serve hot.