by Ernest Barteldes
When I lived in Brazil, I never really cooked for the Holidays. After all, there was always someone’s home to go to (in Fortaleza, I remember the huge gatherings held by my oldest aunt as the most memorable), but once I relocated to New York – where the nearest family member is 800 miles away – I began cooking to celebrate Christmas.
Brazilians eat a variety of meals during Christmas depending on which region you are from. Though at most gatherings you will roast turkey, you will find tables with the American-esque glazed ham, rabanada (bread dipped in eggs fried and then and covered with sugar and cinnamon) or even roast pork.
I have zero recollection, however, of any Christmases spent with my American side of the family except for one year my uncle and grandparents flew to Brazil (I think it was in 1982), and that I was particularly annoyed because they insisted that the presents could only be opened on the morning of the 25th instead of the 24th at night as it is done in Brazil.
After I met Renata, I learned that Poles are way more particular about Christmas food than Americans or Brazilians are. They have a number of rules there involving what you can and cannot eat during the Christmas vigil (Wigilia), the breaking of the traditional bread and very Holiday-specific dishes such as barszcz (sour beetroot soup), uszka (mushroom dumplings) and a cold dish made from layered herring, egg and vegetables – which someday I will write about in detail.
Over the years we have blended our culinary traditions – from the very first year Renata has made her herring dish while I have played around various traditions; one year we spent the evening with friends and I contributed an Italian-inspired soup made with lentils and sausages (I used meatless sausages back then because of Renata’s rules).
This year we will be mixing things up again. Renata has been contributing with a friend to make some of those Polish dishes mentioned above while I will be making and my personal favorite, Portuguese-style baked codfish with potatoes, onions and black olives , which I last made when my mother visited us in New York a couple years back.
Recipe source www.bacalhau.com.br, (my translation)
2 lb salted codfish
4 lb. Potatoes, halved
4 medium onions sliced (about ½ inch slices)
4 oz. Black pitted olives, sliced
5 large eggs, boiled and sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
Place the salted codfish in a pot of fresh water 24 hours before cooking, and change the water frequently to eliminate as much salt as possible. Boil the potatoes until al dente and add the fish, and continue boiling until potatoes are tender. Drain the potatoes and fish. Shred the fish and slice the potatoes. Mash a third of the potatoes and reserve.
Layer the ingredients in an ovenproof dish starting with the fish, following with potatoes, onions and olives, and repeat the process. Cover the layered ingredients with the mashed potatoes and cover with the mashed potatoes. Pour the olive oil evenly over the potatoes and place 350 F for 20 minutes until heated through. Serve with optional raw olive oil and a green salad.