A Samba for Sherlock: Dining in the Brazilian Belle Epoque

A Samba for Sherlock is a detective novel by Brazilian cultural figure Jô Soares. It imagines a lost adventure of Sherlock Holmes, lured to Rio for a fascinating case in 1886. I read it because I have been seeking out fiction set in other countries and I far prefer mysteries and thrillers to love stories or ‘wrenching’ family dramas. However, what surprised and delighted me most in this extensively-researched historical novel were the food references!

The first item to catch my eye was a cornmeal cake. A sweet that seems to be somewhere between a cornbread and a pound cake. The same page listed sweet hominy, fresh corn pudding, coconut custard, and shrimp patties.  I’m not sure why, but the mention of coconut custard and sweet hominy made me wonder if there is a coconut hominy pudding concept out there. Lo and behold! The linked one is sweet, but I can imagine it taking more of a Thai spin (lime juice, ginger, lemon grass) and having more of a savory feel. Recipe will be posted if my experiments yield something yummy.

Later there is a lovely scene featuring feijoada, which I am familiar with, and vatapá which I was not. “…slices of fish, shrimp, cornmeal mush, peanuts and coconut milk and seasoned with coriander, parsley, bay leaf, nutmeg, ginger, scallions, garlic, onion, tomato and lots of red pepper. It’s cooked in dendê oil.” (p. 84). Dendê is the oil of a specific type of palm. I have yet to find a recipe online that seems like it would match up with how I imagine this recipe.

There was mention of sweet potato candies, genipap liqueur, chocolate with ambergris and finally a recipe for cooking snake with a sauce that intrigued me because I’ve never tried beating eggs into the wine (see below). Sweet potato candies seem to be merely glacéed mashed sweet potatoes. Genipap is a fruit only used when it is overripe when it has a flavor like ‘dried apples or quince.’ It was infrequently eaten, but used for flavoring beverages. Ambergris is the aged, resinous regurgitation of a secretion from the sperm whale’s digestive tract (Sounds just nummy huh?). Supposedly it has a unique, haunting and somewhat sweet flavor and was used as a flavorant/odorant in liqueurs, hot chocolate and coffee, and perfumes.

Likely to work with most proteins: “…divided into pieces, simmered with two spoonfuls of fat and a diced onion; …sprinkled with a spoonful of flour, and a cup of water, salt, parsley, peppers, and a bit of grated nutmeg. Allow it to cook close to the flame until done, having added to the sauce two egg yolks stirred into a glass of wine.” (p.242). This is somewhere between a Béarnaise and a simple white sauce, no?

Finally, there is a short scene in which Dr. Watson invents the caipirinha. Priceless.

Whether you read it or cook it A Samba for Sherlock is a flavorful taste of Brazil.

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