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Dispel winter's chill with hot peppers, black beans winter white-outs

Feijoda is a Brazilian favorite.

Does anybody else crave chili peppers during blizzards?

I don't know why, but when the snow blanket descends I want flavors incongruous with the weather, tropical things like lime, salt, pineapple and the heat of chili. At the same time, the shut-in reality of the accumulating snow naturally calls for something big and meaty. Makes for a bit of a hunger puzzle.

My baby boy loves beans, so I considered a pot of baked beans with smoked pork- but couldn't muster much enthusiasm for it. But the beans got me thinking about South America, more to my cravings.

I remembered that when I asked Bruno, last year's exchange student from Brazil, which foods he missed most from his home country, his list was short. One dish, offered up without hesitation: Feijoda, he said, drawing a short word out into a rope of soft consonants. (Fay-SH-WAH-da . . . )

I have never had the pleasure, but I'd heard of it. Composed of black beans and many kinds of meat, Feijoda is one of the world's mythical dishes. Up there with French cassoulet, bouillabaisse (wait - do the French have any dishes that aren't famed or mythical?) Spain's paella, and Germany's choucroute garni (meat-lover's sauerkraut), this is a project that requires a panoply of different meats or fish, some forethought, and usually, the better part of the afternoon.

Feijoda is definitely the kind of dish that people mention together with its cook-possessive: it's their grandmother's feijoda, their mother's, or their famed Aunt Alice's. Multi-layered one-pot recipes like this are reputation-making; if you don't coddle them they can fall flat, but they also have serious deliciousness potential.

At its simplest, this is a just pot of black beans with onion, garlic and bit of smoked pork poking out of it. But a dream feijoda might contain spicy sausage, fresh pork, carne seca (salted Brazilian beef), maybe a few chunks of bacon or a split pig's foot. Use whatever you have on hand; if you cook it long and slow enough it will emerge from the oven looking the same, like it has come through a tar pit: pure black, with barely discernable pebble-shaped beans and little hills of meat.

The one I made sat somewhere in the middle between plain and fancy. (It definitely did not include salted Brazilian beef, which I could not procure in these parts. However, my research did turn up a consistent suggestion to substitute corned beef for the carne seca, which I will try next time.) The feijoda was surprisingly quick to make. I popped it in the oven and turned my back to it. After 30 minutes I started to get some pleasant drifts of garlic aroma, which reeled my attention back in. I was poking and prodding and nibbling for the duration of its cooking time.

With three kinds of meats, the feijoda was mildly decorated - for a pot of beans - but not so much that main ingredient got lost in the mix. Because as Bruno said, after listing off the various piggy parts that his mother put into feijoda, "the beans are the best part." I remember thinking, "really?"

But they really are.

Serve the feijoda ladled over plain steamed white rice and with something green on the side. Collard greens are traditional.


Serves 6

1 pound (I bag) black beans, soaked in water at least 6 hours

1 teaspoon canola oil

1 3/4 pounds pork spareribs

4 links smoked country sausage

8 ounces slab bacon, cut into 6 cubes (or use bacon ends)

2 sweet yellow onions, diced

8 cloves garlic, peeled and thickly sliced

2 bay leaves

2 1/2 cups chicken stock, plus more if needed

3/4 teaspoon salt + more to taste

15 turns freshly ground black pepper

1-inch long strip of orange peel

8 small red dried chili peppers (or ½ fresh hot chili pepper)

Drain the beans and transfer to a 2-quart pot. Cover with 4 cups of cold, fresh water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, or until the water is level with the surface of the beans and the beans are half-cooked.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and heat a large pot or roaster over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of canola oil to the pot and then add the bacon. Brown on two sides and remove. Season the spareribs with a bit of salt and pepper and add to the hot fat. Brown on each side and remove. Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the pan and add the butter and chopped onions. Season with a bit of the salt and cook until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic slices and cook one more minute.

Make a sachet out of cheesecloth for the dried (or fresh) chili peppers and the bit of orange peel, to make sure that no one accidentally eats a chili. If at any time during the cooking it tastes too spicy, just pull the sachet.

Add the beans and their cooking liquid to the pan. Add the browned ribs and bacon, the bay leaf, sachet and chicken stock as needed to come level with the beans and meat. Bring to a simmer, cover and put in the oven to bake slowly.

Check its progress after one hour: if the liquid is boiling, turn down the oven. Remove the lid and add the sausages. Continue baking for another 1 and ½ hours, or until the meat tests tender when poked with a fork. Total baking time will be 2 ½ to 3 hours.

Mash some of the beans against the side of the pot to thicken the broth.

Skim the excess fat from the surface of the pot and let rest 10 minutes before serving over white rice.