Food & Drink

Learn to make escondidinho, a Brazilian spin on shepherd's pie

The mandioca root often takes the place of the potato in Brazilian cooking. (Alexandra Olsen)
The mandioca root often takes the place of the potato in Brazilian cooking. (Alexandra Olsen)
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By Alexandra Olsen, A Bite of Brazil

The main ingredient in this decadent recipe goes by many names — cassava, yuca, tapioca, manioc — reflecting its importance in countless culinary cultures.

In Brazil, where this root is thought to have been domesticated nearly 10,000 years ago, we call this versatile ingredient the “mandioca.”

Known for its changing texture, depending on the cooking method, and its mild flavor, the mandioca root often takes the place of the potato in Brazilian cooking.

Fried, baked or mashed, I grew up with mandioca on the menu.

One of my favorite ways to eat it was in a dish my grandmother made called “escondidinho.”

Directly translating to “little hidden one,” this dish hides delicious stewed ground beef and veggies in mounds of decadent mashed mandioca. It is similar to a shepherd’s pie and just as much of a comfort meal.

Although mandioca can be difficult to come across at grocery stores in Iowa, it can be easily found in the freezer section of African, Mexican or Asian markets.

“Carne seca,” which is a dried and aged beef that is traditionally used in the dish, is another story and trickier still to find. So, this has been replaced with ground beef in my recipe, which is still accurate to how my grandmother made escondidinho.

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Using the Brazilian “mirepoix” of sorts — onions, carrots and green bell pepper — this recipe, like so many others in Brazilian cuisine, thrives with its simplicity.

The flavors develop through stewing the basic ingredients, not through adding extra spices. Salt and pepper are all you need to elevate the flavors.

This is no light summer meal, but it will fill the void next time you need some comfort food.

Escondidinho

1 pound ground beef

3 diced carrots

2 diced yellow onions

2 diced green pepper

2 large diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

Mashed mandioca

1 pound mandioca (a.k.a. cassava root)

1/2 cup butter

1 cup heavy cream

Shredded parmesan and romano cheese for the top

Chopped parsley to taste

First, fill a large stock pot with water and add the peeled mandioca. Place on high heat until boiling. Then, allow to boil until mandioca is soft and easily pierced with a fork, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Saute ground beef until browned. Drain excess fat and set aside.

In the same pan, saute carrots, onions and peppers. Add the tomatoes last.

Add your beef back into the pan and simmer with the lid on low/medium heat until all the vegetables are cooked through and the tomatoes have created a light sauce, around 10 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Set this mixture aside as you prepare the mashed mandioca.

Pick out some of the more fibrous pieces of the mandioca before adding the butter and heavy cream to the pot and using an immersion blender to combine the ingredients. Splash water into the pot if you’d like to adjust the consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the bottom of a medium-sized baking pan with the mashed mandioca. Then, spread your ground beef mixture liberally on top of the mashed mandioca. Add more of the mashed mandioca to completely cover the ground beef.

Top with as much cheese as you’d like. Then, place into a 350 degree oven for around 10 minutes or until the cheese is browned.

Serve with chopped parsley on top.

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Follow Alexandra on Instagram, @FeedMeIowa, for more recipes and restaurant recommendations.

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