As I write these words from my home in Tel Aviv, my 22-year-old daughter, Zohar, was making her way to Salvador, Bahia, in Brazil for the Carnival, or “Carnaval,” as the Brazilians say. Celebrated in towns and villages throughout Brazil and other Catholic countries, it is, I am told, quite a wild and steamy event (held during the hottest month in the southern hemisphere), considered an act of farewell to the pleasures of the flesh before the start of Lent in what is an overwhelmingly Catholic country. There are close to 500,000 foreign visitors to Rio to celebrate Carnival each year, and each city, town and village has its own dances, rhythms and cultural traditions, a sure draw for my trumpet-playing daughter.

My Brazilian friends tell me that there are no special foods for Carnival, just copious amounts, primarily accompanied by beer (consumption of beer during Carnival accounts for 80 percent of the country’s annual consumption), but I do know that for most Brazilians, Feijoada (black beans with sausages, beef or pork, served with rice and other accompaniments) is a must on Saturdays, while delicate cheese puffs called Pau de Quejo are a national nosh.

I’ll probably be holding my breath until Carnival is over and I receive my daughter’s “all clear” over Skype, but until then I’ll make Pau de Queijo and Feijoada in solidarity. Be warned, these warm, light cheese puffs are addictive. Made with tapioca flour (found in health food stores in Israel and abroad), they are served with beer or soft drinks all over Brazil. Best served hot, they may also be prepared in advance and reheated.

Pao de Queijo (makes 18 mini muffins)

  • ¼ cup olive or canola oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ cup yogurt
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese +½ cup grated mozzarella cheese, or 1 cup finely grated kashkaval cheese

1. Preheat oven to 230°C (450°F). Grease one and a half mini-muffin pans with butter or oil.

2. Mix salt and tapioca flour together in a medium bowl.

3. In a small saucepan, whisk oil, water and salt together and bring to a boil. Pour into the tapioca mixture and mix with a wooden spoon.

4. Beat in egg, yogurt and cheese and use a tablespoon to transfer the mixture to the mini-muffin pans, filling each about three-quarters.

4. Reduce heat to 180°C (350°F) until golden, about 25-30 minutes. Serve warm or reheat before serving.

Adapted from Phyllis Glazer’s “Gluten-Free Sugar Free” (Korim Publishers).

Culinary notes: Brazilians living in Israel and missing a taste of home, as well as Brazilian food lovers, can now find Brazilian products at http://www.produtosbrasileirosemisrael.com