Vaca Atolada - Beef ribs with Cassava Root

This is a delicious rich stew from the South West of Brazil. It's a typical dish of the 'Caipira' cuisine - the cuisine of the countryside of the State of São Paulo. This is a very rural corner of Brazil and this recipe comes from the Carreteiros, the cattle drivers who took cattle from farms to markets all over the state and across the border to the neighbouring Minas Gerais. This is a great way of having beef ribs because it makes the best of the marbleised meat and the extra taste stored in the bones. Cassava is the ideal companion for this dish as it is one of the most starchy of the root vegetables, and all that starch will ooze out into the sauce and turn it into a real mud.


  • 1kg cassava root - peeled, chopped and quartered. Use potatoes if you can't find cassava.
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1kg beef ribs
  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp  salt
  • 2 cubs fresh tomatoes - chopped (skin, seeds and all)
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 4 cups water


  1. Trim the 2 ends of a cassava root, then peel it. Then cut the root in large chunks and chop them down in quarters. Cut away the stringy stuff that runs through the very heart of the root. Set your cassava aside in a bowl of water.
  2. Place your knife in between the bones and cut the ribs down into separate chunks. Trim away any excess fat if you want.
  3. Heat up around 3 tbsp of vegetable oil in a large heavy pan, like a Dutch Oven or Casserole Dish and brown the pieces of ribs until they are quite dark.
  4. Make a space in the centre of the pan and chuck in 2 cups of diced onions and 3 or 4 cloves of roughly chopped garlic. Stir it all around until the onion and the garlic have become a deep caramel colour.
  5. Add the paprika, black pepper, salt and the bay leaves. Stir it all around, then cover with the stock and water.
  6. Finally, add the cassava chunks and make sure they are covered by the juice.
  7. Lower the heat to a simmer and leave it bubbling there till the cows come home. Or 3 hours, whichever comes first. Of course you’ll want to visit it every now and again give is a quick stir and taunt your hunger.
  8. After 3 hours of gentle cooking the cassava should be nearly dissolved and the beef should be soft and nearly falling off the bones - I said nearly. If you overcook this you’ll end up with a thick soup with some prehistoric looking bones at the bottom.
  9. Serve a couple of rib chunks per plate and cover with some large chunks of cassava an the a good ladleful of the muddy sauce.


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