A Twist on Tradition: Celebrate Carnival with Caipirinhas

Happy Carnival!  You are, no doubt, familiar with this huge Brazilian event—samba, rhythm, elaborate and/or ridiculously skimpy costumes, and if you’re lucky enough to be in Brazil for the festivities, public urination in the streets.  My friends know me as the biggest nerd when it comes to Brazilian music, food, and culture, so what better opportunity than now to share a caipirinha recipe?

Caipirinhas, Brazil’s national drink, are delicious concoctions of lime, sugar, cachaça, and ice.  I have to give fair warning that it’s really easy to go from ‘happy drunk’ to lots of “I love you, man” sloppiness when you drink roughly three caipirinhas.  Trust me, I’ve overindulged before.  Yes, the ‘I love you, man’ declarations occurred with my friends and me after we shared a few pitchers.  Heavens.  Good times.

But let us not neglect Brazilian food, for which I hold a deep love.  Churrascarias, the steakhouses where meat comes out on skewers and is sliced at the table, are the most common type of Brazilian restaurants in the U.S.  Yet, there is so much more diversity and richness to Brazilian cuisine.  “Brazilian culture is a mixture of three different influences: The Portuguese, the African, and the native Indian. In different parts of the country, you see one influence stronger than others. For example, in the south, especially in Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, you will see a great Portuguese presence. If you travel a little further north, to Bahia, you will a stronger presence of African culture, and then as you travel north to the Amazon region, you will see a strong influence of the native Indian. Like the US, Brazil is a melting pot”, Rio de Janeiro-born chef Leticia Moreinos Schwartz explains.  I recently took a cooking class with Chef Leticia and was thrilled to make some of my favorite traditional dishes—acarajé (black eyed peas formed into balls and deep-fried in dendê oil), vatapá (a mashed paste made from bread, shrimp, ground peanuts, and coconut milk), and pão de queijo (roll-like cheese bread–gluten-sensitive readers, rejoice–you can eat pão de queijo, too).  And, of course, we also made caipirinhas.  Here is a version I love with a bit of a twist.


1 lime, cut into wedges

¼ grapefruit, cut into wedges

2 heaping teaspoons sucanat (see notes)

4- 6 tablespoons cachaça

ice cubes

1.  Cut off both ends of the lime, and then cut down center of the lime, lengthwise.  Remove white pith from center of the lime.  Cut the lime into small wedges.  Cut the grapefruit to similar size.

2.  Divide half of the lime and half of the grapefruit into two sturdy short tumbler glasses.   Using a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon, mash the lime and grapefruit with 1 teaspoon sucanat in each glass, making sure to squeeze all the juices from the citrus and dissolving the sucanat.


3.  Top off both glasses with ice.  Pour about 2-3 tablespoons of cachaça into each glass.   An easy way to measure is to count off the pour to three or four.

4.  Tightly place a metal shaker over the glass, turn upside down and shake well (about 8 to 10 times) and pour the mixture and ice back into each glass.

5.  Sip and samba your cares away.  Saúde.


Sucanat is unrefined sugar.  A contraction of the phrase, ‘sugar cane natural’, it is dried sugar cane juice with minimal processing that retains its molasses, vitamin, and mineral content.  While traditional caipirinhas use white sugar, I like the molasses-y depth of flavor that sucanat adds.

Experiment with your favorite fruit– raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, passion fruit, kiwi are all delicious in caipirinhas.

If you can’t find cachaça, you can replace the cachaça with vodka.  This drink is called a caipiroska or caipivodka.

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