Feijão (Brazilian Beans)

I’m currently reading Heliopolis by James Scudamore. One interesting fact is that right before we went to Charleston a few weeks ago, I was reading The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt (and by “right before”, I mean I read the last sentence as Mark pulled into the airport parking garage), and the main character’s name in that book is Ludo. Well, we’re gearing up to go to Charleston again in a couple of days – I may well be finishing this book at the airport – and the main character in this book is named Ludo. Okay, maybe not that interesting, but I thought it was a funny coincidence.

Another, perhaps more interesting, thing about Heliopolis, which takes place in São Paulo, is this Ludo and his mother were rescued from a favela by a very wealthy family after his mother served the wife a humble but delicious meal of feijão. The wealthy woman asked how Ludo’s mother could possibly have made the beans taste so good when she could not afford to buy anything to season them with. Ludo later believes this impressive feat is what caused Rebecca to hire her as a cook, and subsequently the family to adopt Ludo. So basically Ludo’s life was saved (he firmly believes he would have died young, like so many others, had they stayed in the favela) by a bowl of beans. Beans, and other food, play a predominate role in the book: Ludo has inherited his mother’s love of cooking, and the types of food characters eat and enjoy is often used as a way to judge their character.

So of course I had to make feijão, right? Feijão just means beans. And after doing some research, I’ve found there really is no particular way you have to make or flavor them to make them particularly Brazilian, nor are there even particular beans you have to use. Really, you just pretty much cook some beans however you want and that’s feijão. I imagine it’s akin to saying, “I’m making some beans” in English. So I really don’t have an exact recipe for you, but that’s totally in keeping with the book: before she moved to the Carnicelli weekend farm – and even afterwards, when her access to ingredients was vastly improved – Ludo’s mother makes beans just however she can.

Pintos and black beans seem to be especially common, but any bean is okay. Pintos are my absolute favorite bean, but I decided to make black beans for a change. Here’s what I did, but definitely don’t copy me: do whatever you want with your beans!


1 cup dried black beans, soaked over night in cold water or speed soaked for one hour in hot water
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1-2 Tbsp bacon salt (Bryanna’s is not very salty; this would probably be way, way too much commercial bacon salt)
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp smoked pepper
1 Tbsp vegan “bacon” bits
vegan broth to cover the beans
smoked salt, to taste
hot sauce, to taste
lime wedges, for garnish

Heat some oil in a heavy pot, then add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are beginning to brown. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the beans are soft (an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how old your beans are). Remove the bay leaf.

Serve with rice, drizzled with lime juice. If desired, top with hot sauce and/or vegan bacon bits. I also made some turnip greens and corn on the cob. I think Mark was worried when he saw the turnip greens (which I knew he would refuse to eat), thinking he wouldn’t get enough to eat. However, after his first bowl of rice and beans, a propos of nothing, he announced, “this rice and beans is so simple but so f’ing awesome!” He didn’t realize it, but that was the perfect thing to say. Then he excused himself to retrieve a second bowl.

To elaborate, Mark would like me to tell you that “Bac-o-Bitzzzz is the shitzzzz and Tabasco Sauzzzz is the bozzzz.” Also, he had some wine. He adds, “wine makes me shine!”

Mark has just instructed me to reverse engineer bacon bits, because I will then rule the world. He wants me to call them “Smark-o-bits”. He sure loves bacon bits.


  1. Jes Said,

    May 26, 2011 @ 10:19 am

    I love how there’s no real right way to make the beans–but I bet someone who grew up with them would say that their way is the only way! 🙂 Your beans look awesome and I like the idea of smark-o-bits. Do it!

  2. Josiane Said,

    May 28, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

    That sounds so good! And yes, another vote for you reverse engineering bacon bits – I’ve tried a recipe for them once, and the TVP bits totally stuck to my pan instead of drying out. I suppose I should try again, but I think I’d feel more comfortable trying it with a different recipe. 🙂
    Also, I’m totally envious of your turnip greens. The varieties of greens I can find here feels quite limited compared to all of the varieties we could eat. I hope this will change with time… or I’ll have to start growing them myself!

  3. AikoVenus Said,

    June 1, 2011 @ 1:45 am

    Your photos are always so beautiful! I’ve been wanting to have this dish for a while, but I plan on using some veggie sausage (possibly home-made).

  4. Kathryn Said,

    June 5, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

    I have been missing Feijao for weeks now. Glad you used black beans because where I lived in Brazil those were typically used. I am going to have to give your recipe a shot. They sound delicious.

  5. Liana Cavalcanti Said,

    December 31, 2011 @ 7:54 am

    Heya! I’m a Brazilian living in the UK and I became vegan in the past 2 months after being ovo-lacto-vegetarian for some time. I was browsing around about the tofutti better than ricotta and I found your page with the review of it, then browsing your recipes I got here on the beans recipe. Nice to see you are using the black beans, they are the stronger taste ones and the ones Brazilian people uses to make “Feijoada”. I personally prefer the brown beans because of its buttery taste, but as I was grew up eating the black beans sometimes my body “asks” for it so I always have some of them on my cupboard too. Of course my preparation of Feijao (sorry the UK keyboard doesn’t support the Brazilian accents), is different, and I believe everyone does it different in Brazil too, its kinda personal and regional stuff, I’m from Rio de Janeiro, but with Grandparents from Minas Gerais and I know that the Feijao they do in Minas Gerais is different from the one they do in Rio de Janeiro (Different seasonings). One thing we normally do with beans in Brazil after they are cooked, we get a bit of the beans out of the pressure pan and then we smash them in a bowl (or just blend them on a food processor) until we get a creamy texture sauce, and then we add that “creamy” sauce back into the pressure pan and mix together with the rest of the beans and water. This is made to thicken the Feijao, so when you put it on your plate its not runny and tastes more creamy. 🙂 Very nice your webpage, I will be browsing more around and stealing some of your recipes to try myself as I love to cook too! 🙂

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