I love learning about the history of certain foods and meals. Where did something so unique come from? How did it start? Who cooked it first? What was happening at that specific country at this time in history? I could smell the sweet coconut and corn scent at my house tonight and went down to my mother's kitchen. It wasn't a surprise to me that she was cooking a big batch of canjica. Canjica is a very old and classic Brazilian dish usually made during the month of June for the Festa Junina, or "June festival," which celebrates the nativity of St. John the Baptist. Festa Junina is celebrated in the beginning of winter back in Brazil. This is a huge festival during the month that celebrates rural life, and was first introduced by the Portuguese during the colonial period (1500- 1822).
This dish (canjica, or also known as mugunza), is very popular during this June festival and it is sort of like a porridge made with de-germed white corn kernels, cooked with coconut milk, milk, coconut shavings, sugar, and spices until tender and thick. The kernels are tender to the bite but the milk liquid is not thin or too thick like a pudding, but more in between, making this the perfectly nostalgic dish to eat during the winter. As I tasted my mom's canjica on this rainy night, it felt comforting and warm; it tasted to me like home and family. But where has this popular Brazilian dish come from? Canjica is celebrated during the rural festivities, but why was it started in the rural areas? And how? I decided to investigate.
It turns out this dish is of none other than of African influence! Just like the famous feijoada, canjica also has thick African roots, firstly created by slaves during colonial times, and brought by them straight from various countries in Africa.
There is lots of controversy of where the term "canjica" came from. There is strong suggestion that it is derived from the term "kandjica" from the African language Quimbundo, spoken in Angola. This term in Angola is actually the name for a thick corn cooked porridge, so it makes pretty much a lot of sense it would be derived from here. Others say it could have come from Asia as well...
Whether from Asia or Africa, this famous June festival dish has become very famous in Brazilian rural areas and now all over the country, and nobody can deny the comfort level of this dish in freezing New England winter days. If you are a coconut fan, you should give it a shot!
So if you want to try it at home, the rough recipe is as follows:
Two 15-ounce cans/bags whole dried white hominy (or sweet corn)
3-4 cups whole/ skim milk (don't be shy with the milk, it gets absorbed with time)
1 cup sugar, or to taste (canjica should not be overly sweet)
1 cup thick coconut milk
1-1/2 cups of fresh grated coconut
Toppings (optional): Ground roasted peanuts, cinnamon, and condensed milk
Wash and drain hominy. Soak kernels for a few hours (preferably overnight). Drain. Add milk and cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until hominy is soft, stirring occasionally. Add coconut milk, sugar, and coconut flakes. Simmer for about one hour until thick, stirring occasionally. Transfer mixture into a serving bowl or several small ramekins. Add cinnamon and cloves for flavor and optional toppings. Enjoy warm or chilled.
Keeps well in a fridge for 1 week or freezer for 3 months