If there are two ingredients that you will find in every Brazilian home it is onions and garlic. Almost every dish in Brazilian cooking has some form of onions and garlic in it and you can guess how every dish will start, com cebola e alho (with onions and garlic). Kitchens in Brazil are usually fully stocked with onions and garlic and at least once a day the beautiful aromas of frying onions and garlic in olive oil waft through the air.
Before I first came to Brazil I didn’t cook much with onions and garlic. Most of my food lacked the beautiful flavors of onions and garlic and I didn’t think to add them to my food. You could take a look around my kitchen and it was often difficult to find an onion or garlic in sight. But, when I went to Brazil for the first time I quickly learned how important onions and garlic were to Brazilian food. The first time I made rice for my husband he was not too impressed, it tasted bland and lacked that rich flavor that the onions and garlic add. He was quick to teach me that every dish NEEDED to start with onions, garlic, and olive oil. My lack of use of onions and garlic showed pretty quickly as I didn’t even know how to cut them the proper way. The first time I chopped an onion I fumbled through it and I had large onion pieces, small pieces, and some that came somewhere in-between. All-in-all my onion and garlic skills were terrible and my husband, the avid cook, taught me how to properly chop and cook with onions and garlic. So, it is because of my husbands patience that I can credit my ability to properly cut and cook with onions and garlic now.
Onions have been cultivated for approximately 5000 years or more and were likely used as a staple food in the prehistoric diet. Onions are an excellent vegetable to use, in large part because they are not highly perishable. Today it is estimated that approximately 105 billion pounds of onions are produced each year and on average a person consumes 13.67 pounds of onions each year.
It is thought that garlic originated from central asia and was a wild plant; today garlic is only found in cultivation. It is believed that garlic has been used since the neolithic times as a food flavoring and seasoning. When we think of asian food we generally think of ginger, onion, and garlic.
Preparing the Onions and Garlic
When I think about onions and cooking I always ask myself whether I want large or small onions and white or red. Not much more needs to go into the selection of onions at the grocery store. My go to onions are the white medium sized one. I prefer the white onions in cooking as they do not leave traces of color, and especially when cooking rice I want the rice to stay a beautiful white. When selecting your onions at the grocery store make sure that the skin is not broken, they are firm, and have little to no scent. Follow the same steps for selecting garlic.
To cut the onion peel off the outer layers of skin and cut the onion in half. Leave the root end on as this will help you with getting nice small onion pieces. Begin by cutting the onion length ways. Then starting at the opposite end from the roots, cut width ways. Make sure to keep all pieces tightly together and cut as small as possible until you reach the roots. Cut off the roots and discard.
To chop the garlic place the garlic clove on the chopping board and with the flat side of the knife squash the clove hard until it breaks. Remove the skin and chop the garlic finely.
If you don’t get everything the first time, don’t worry, it took me a while before I had this routine down! For some tips on selecting, cutting, and storing onions take a look at this site.
Now for the easy and quick way to cook with onions and garlic everyday. Because Brazilians use onions and garlic so much in their foods they have created an onion and garlic base to help them save time. Cutting onions and garlic everyday can get pretty tiring and takes up precious time in the kitchen. This base, called tempero caseiro in Brazil, is a simple mix of onions, garlic, olive oil, and salt that can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you need your onions and garlic all you need to do is simply open your jar of tempero caseiro and you are ready to cook!
Making the tempero caseiro is wonderfully simple and will not take you more than 10 minutes.
1 large onion or three small
4 garlic cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp salt
Peel and chop the onion into quarters. Peel the garlic cloves. Place all ingredients into a small food processor and blend until you have a fine paste. If you want a more chunky paste, blend less. Pour the paste into an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to one week.
SIMPLE, SIMPLE, SIMPLE. This recipe is not science and you can make as many changes to it as you want. If there is too much or too little oil, change it. If you want more salt, change it! For a great variation of this recipe take a look at the tempero with herbs.
Happy cooking and I look forward to hearing about your variations of this essential Brazilian kitchen ingredient.
For a PDF of this Recipe CLICK HERE!