I had been hearing a lot about the Brazilian Chef Yara Castro Roberts and her extraordinary cookbook ‘The Brazilian Table,’ but only recently did I have honor of meeting her in person.
I was invited to an event for professional chefs at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA)- San Antonio this past Tuesday, August the 7th, featuring the signing of her book, followed by a presentation about her work.
Then on Saturday the 11th, I had the opportunity to attend a dinner at NAO, CIA’s new restaurant, located at the Pearl Brewery. The menu was entirely Brazilian, highlighting recipes which can be found in Chef Roberts’ cookbook. The completely packed house had the pleasure of tasting a six-course meal as follows:
Every single dish, without exception, was an absolute delight to the senses, although I do have to confess that there was one that impressed me most of all: the Okra Tomato Salad. Why?
Professional chefs know that it is much easier to impress with a sophisticated dish than with a simple one. That’s right! As incredible as it might sound, the simplest dishes are often the most difficult ones to present. This is due to the amount of thought and skill needed to bring out their outstanding qualities in spite of their simplicity.
Well, I can say that at table after table, the diners that evening were highly impressed with the Okra Tomato Salad, including myself.
Forget any preconceived idea that you may have about okra…
This one was cooked al dente and perfectly seasoned. It was interesting to experience the balance between its acidic and alkaline elements and the contrast of textures (the softness of the tomatoes and the crunchiness of the okra).
The best thing of all: I can enjoy this and the many other dishes served there again and again, since the recipes for them are all in her cookbook. Oh, I am telling you, this is a must-have cookbook for its ultra-delicious recipes, for the culinary history and personal stories that fill its pages, and of course for the stunning pictures. Page after page, I felt as though I was being transported back home, with the advantage of not having to take an airplane.
The hardest moment of all was pulling myself away from gazing at her vibrant book– a book that made me smile wide, but also filled me with nostalgia…
I don’t have words enough to thank Chef Yara Roberts for putting together such a masterpiece, for presenting and representing Brazil with such dignity and sensibility, and for being the friendly and fascinating person that she seems to be. After this memorable experience, she became more to me than an icon of the culinary world, she earned my respect and admiration.
Well, this is not all. I got a taste for more! So, see you next year at your school in Brazil, Chef Roberts!
And you, my dear reader, see you real soon in order for us to prepare together the best-tasting okra dish ever.
Okra Tomato Salad
Segment: Brazilian Cuisine
4 cups water
4-1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 tablespoons vinegar
3 ripe tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
1. Clean the okra with a paper towel and set aside. In a large saucepan, bring water, 1-1/2 teaspoon salt, and vinegar to a boil. Blanch 1/2 of the okra for 3 minutes, strain, and immerse in a bowl with ice and water. Strain well and set aside. Do remaining batch in same water.**
2. Quarter the tomatoes. Seed and remove the center parts. Cut the tomatoes lengthwise into 8 pieces, similar to the size of the okra. You should have about 1-1/2 cups.
3. Place the cut tomatoes in a strainer and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt. Let drain for 15 minutes.
4. In a small bowl, place 1 teaspoon salt, sugar, and black pepper. Whisk in the balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
5. Toss the okra with the tomatoes and 2/3 of the dressing. Spread the rest of the dressing in the center of a decorative plate. Make a mound with the vegetables and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds.
** This technique (step 1) will avoid okra getting mushy after cooked. Recipe from ‘The Brazilian Table’ cookbook, page 90.
Receita em Português:
Salada de Quiabo com Tomate
3 xícaras de chá de quiabo, médio a pequeno
4 xícaras de chá de água
4 1/2 colheres de chá de sal, divididas
2 colheres de sopa de vinagre
3 tomates maduros
1/2 colher de chá de açúcar
Pimenta Preta moída, a gosto
2 colheres de sopa de vinagre balsâmico
3 colheres de sopa de azeite de oliva
1/4 xícara de chá de gergelim torrado
1. Limpe o quiabo com toalha de papel e reserve. Numa panela grande, ferva a água com 1- 1/2 colher de chá de sal e vinagre. Cozinhe o quiabo por 3 minutos, escorra e submerja em uma tigela com água e gelo. Escorra bem e reserve. Repita este procedimento com a outra metade do quiabo.
2. Parta as tomates em quatro. Retire as sementes e as partes centrais. Corte as tomates em 8, na horizontal, em tamanho similar ao do quiabo. Renderá aproximadamente 1-1/2 xícaras de chá.
3. Ponha as tomates cortadas em um escorredor e salpique 2 colheres de chá de sal. Deixe escorrer por 15 minutos.
4. Numa tigela pequena, junte 1 colher de chá de sal, o açúcar e a pimenta. Misture bem com o vinagre balsâmico e o azeite de oliva.
5. Misture o quiabo e os tomates com 2/3 do molho vinagrete. Ponha o restante do molho no centro de um prato decorativo. Ponha os vegetais em cima e despeje o gergelim torrado por cima.
** Receita traduzida do livro ‘The Brazilian Table’, página 90.
Note: A special thanks to Claudio and Juliana Martins for several of the pictures shown here, and for their friendship. I love you, guys!