Monday, March 21, 2011

RECIPE - Sopa Paraguaia

This non-soup soup from Brazil's state of Mato Grosso do Sul - a recipe the local inhabitants learned from their neighbors across the line in Paraguay - is a close relative of American cornbread or johnnycake. And of the firmer varieties of Italian polenta. It is a savory cake made from cornmeal and is typically served as a side dish as part of a meal focused on some sort of stewed meat. The sopa is used to sop up the juices from the main dish and provide some carbohydrate balance to the meal.

Sopa paraguaia is real campfire food, and traces its origins back to the early days of exploration in this once-remote corner of South America. The explorers carried dried cornmeal with them on their expeditions as reliable sources of fresh food were scarce. Mixed with water and cooked in a Dutch oven over a campfire, the cornmeal became sopa paraguaia. Today it is enjoyed for its flavor quality rather than being a food of necessity and has been enriched with the additional of milk and cheese. A simple dish from simpler times - Brazilian/Paraguayan comfort food.
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RECIPE - Sopa Paraguaia
Serves 10

2 Tbsp butter
3 small onions, thinly sliced
4 cups whole milk
2 cups water
salt to taste
1 lb (500 gr) coarsely grated white cheese - mozzarella or Jack
4 cups yellow cornmeal (polenta)
4 eggs, separated
1 Tbsp baking soda
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Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

In a large saucepan, melt the butter then add the onion slices and fry until they are just lightly golden. Add the milk and water. Season for salt. Bring to a boil and cook until the onion is completely softened. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl combine the cornmeal and the grated cheese. Add the milk/water mixture and, using a wooden spoon, mix completely to form a batter. Add the egg yolks and baking soda and mix completely.

Beat the egg whites into soft peaks and then fold them gently into the cornmeal mixture. Do not over-mix. Spread the batter in a casserole or lasagne pan, place it in the preheated oven, and cook for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpic inserted into the center of the sopa comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let let cool slightly before cutting into serving squares.

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