It’s already been quite a week and there is still more to come. We ended Sunday with the Superbowl, today we celebrated Chinese New Year, and tomorrow it’s Fat Tuesday or in French Mardi Gras. It’s what many parts of the world also call Shrove Tuesday or Carnival.
Here in the United States, New Orleans hosts Mardi Gras and in other parts of the word it is Carnival season. Carnival is celebrated in countries mainly with large Roman Catholic populations on the day before the religious season of Lent begins – the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I see it as one last chance to party hard and indulge before starting a solemn religious observance of prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.
Brazil and Venice play host to some of the holiday’s most famous public festivities, drawing thousands of tourists and revelers every year. Stemming from pagan celebrations of the coming of Spring, the excess and debauchery of the Carnival season became a prelude to Lent. Along with Christianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and England.
Fiesta de Carnival is Belize’s version of Carnival or Mardi Gras, and it’s celebrated all over the island starting a week before lent. Carnival in Belize is an engaging experience in music, dance, and costumes. It is about letting go of your inhibitions. The masqueraders dance themselves into a high that feeds on itself like an insatiable cycle, keeping fatigue at bay in a move to outbid itself.
Along with a frenzy of colors spurred to movement, a revelry of brightly colored costumes moving with the gyrating seemingly possessed bodies that inhabit them comes a climax of massive revelry with the Fiesta de Carnival where gluttony is not spared, as the day after this Shrove Tuesday the partakers will go into 40 days of penance, fast and abstinence from meat.
This means that fatty and tasty food is an all-consuming entity of the Brazilian Fiesta de Carnival. Customarily a Brazilian Black Bean and Beef Stew called Feijoada is made during this time and usually served with sliced oranges for a traditional presentation. Feijoada can take days to make. I have simplified it to a Brazilian Beef and Tomato Stew that you can make with or without the beans.
Brazilian Beef and Tomato Stew
3 lbs. beef chuck, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil
6 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 (13 1/2 ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 (19 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
1⁄3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Orange slices for serving
Sprinkle salt and pepper on the beef.
In a large cast iron skillet or Dutch Oven over medium high heat brown beef. Remove the beef and set aside.
In the same skillet sauté onions and garlic on medium heat until softened, then add the tomatoes and ginger.
Stir in the coconut milk.
Sprinkle with oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper if needed.
Add the beef back in and stir well.
When mixture comes to a boil reduce heat to medium low.
Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beef is tender, around 1 and 1/2 hours.
If using beans, stir in beans, cooking for an additional 15 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasonings.
Stir in cilantro.
Serve with orange slices on the side.
Tip: You can plate this dish over egg noodles or rice if you wish, or enjoy it in a bowl with warm tortilla.