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Expert recipe -Cuscuz Paulista

Experts from around the world share their thoughts on umami and original recipes where umami is brought to life.

Recently, Brazil has seen a rising interest in elaborate cooking and innovative new ingredients and techniques, as a result of the growing popularity of gourmet food and progress in the technical skills of leading chefs at work today. According to Mara Salles, a chef who specializes in Brazilian cuisine, gastronomy in Brazil is evolving steadily and there is now great huge interest in diverse cuisines. "Gastronomy is not just about satisfying hunger," she explains. "It's also very much about discovering and exploring of new sensations". Listening to Mara, it is clear that, for her, the umami taste has a vital role to play in bringing otherwise unlike combinations of ingredients together, resulting in even more delicious dishes.

Mara began her research into umami after attending an Umami Symposium in 2006. "It made me understand that some foods are a rich natural source of umami", she explains. Umami has great potential in Brazilian food which, as Mara tells us, has one very distinct characteristic: "While French cuisine appreciates the aroma above all else, Arabian the strength, and Japanese the healthfulness, the first priority in Brazilian cuisine is the taste. We value food with bold flavors more than aesthetically pleasing dishes". Whilst each country's cuisine has its own defining feature, together they share one common trait: each has traditionally used umami to differentiate itself from other national cuisines. Although research on this significant culinary resource has only begun recently, umami today continues to be used by chefs who combine umami-rich ingredients according to their individual perception.

As far as Mara is concerned, familiarity with and use of umami is the mark of a knowledgeable chef. "Umami is a new issue that has caught the attention of culinary professionals", she says. At her lectures on umami, too, she is careful to point out to attendees just how important it is to understand umami properly. "I try to show people how they can make foods that are rich with the umami taste," she concludes.

Mara Salles
Mara Salles
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Mara Salles's profile
Mara Salles is partner and chef of the Tordesilhas restaurant in São Paulo. Tordesilhas is a constant feature in Brazil's top 50 best restaurant rankings, and has been rated as Brazil's top restaurant for authentic Brazilian cuisine for several years by specialist magazines. However, she does more than just oversee the cooking at her restaurant. She has been researching Brazilian cuisine for over 20 years, and today teaches gastronomy at university level. Mara travels throughout the country to explore traditions, ingredients and dishes, and brings back what she finds to incorporate into her dishes at Tordesilhas. At her restaurant with its cosy and rustic atmosphere, she proves that it is possible to combine both tradition and current gastronomic trends to great effect. Mara also attends gastronomy events and is a regular presence on the lecture circuit.

Experts Recipe
Mara Salles's
Cuscuz Paulista

Cuscuz Paulista

serves 10

500g fish fillet (any sea fish)

250g medium shrimps, peeled and deveined

* ½ green bell pepper, chopped

* ½ red bell pepper, chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

* 3 ripe tomatoes (peeled and seeded),
 chopped (sliced for decoration)

* 3 boiled eggs

* 150g heart of palm, diced

* 200g sardines in oil (tinned)

150g preserved peas

2 tsp scallion, chopped

50g green olives

Lemon juice to season fish and shrimp

1 tsp coriander, chopped

Salt and black pepper to taste

3 tbsp olive oil

250g corn flour

100g cassava or tapioca flour

3 cloves garlic, chopped

400ml fish stock



First, grease a pudding mold with olive oil. This should then be decorated, using some tomato slices and some of the egg, green bell and red bell pepper, heart of palm, sardine fillets and shrimp when cooked, as suggested below.

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Season the fish and shrimp with salt, lemon juice, coriander and blackpepper. Stir fry them in olive oil (separately) and set aside.

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Mix the corn and cassava (tapioca) flours, moisten the mixture with wet hands and set aside.

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Cook the garlic in olive oil. Add green and red bell peppers, onion and chopped tomatoes. Stew for 10 minutes.

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Add the fish stock, stir-fried fish and shrimps, reserving one or two for decoration.

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When the mixture comes to the boil, add the eggs, heart of palm, sardine, peas, scallions and olives.

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When it comes back to the boil again, season to taste. Gradually add the corn and tapioca flours and stir until firm.

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Immediately place the mixture in the decorated mold. Press in with a spoon to make it compact.

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Let the mold stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours before serving.

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