Trash: Brazilian Black Bean Stew Recipe

Year Released: 2015
Directed by: Stephen Daldry, Christian Duurvoort
Starring: Martin Sheen, Rooney Mara
(R, 114 min.)
Action and Adventure, Drama, Mystery and Suspense

“Because it is right.”  Gardo

Three slum dwellers in Rio de Janeiro find a wallet in the mountain of trash they dig through daily.  It is a Pandora’s box, belching up a rancid mess of evil and corruption, but they cling to one remaining ingredient – hope.

The three street urchins live in squalor most of cannot believe, but they have  a vitality and joie de vie that is infectious.  Hollywood icon Martin Sheen does a reasonable job as the well-meaning American missionary/priest, but he pales before their authenticity.  Maybe that’s because these three, Raphael (Rickson Tevez), who finds the wallet, and his two friends Gardo  (Eduardo Luis), and Rato (Gabriel Weinstein), the canny sewer dweller, are all first time actors, recruits of the slum itself. 

They resonate with the same earthy innocence and innate goodness of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. 

And like Huck, they also have a sense of adventure, these 14-year-olds on the cusp of manhood.  And a healthy fear of the almost uniformly corrupt police who question them about their possible find.  They even turn down his 1000 real reward and opt to see what makes this wallet so important. 

Their quest is as colorful as it is dangerous and swift.  The first part a trip to the cavernous home of sewer dweller Rato, who is as savvy as he is smelly.  He recognizes they key they have and leads them to the post office box it unlocks.  Of course, all the while, the police, suspicious when the boys they had questioned don’t show up for their “job” at the trash yard the next day, are on their tail.

It’s almost like a treasure hunt; in fact, it is one, they eventually find out.  But the pirates looking for the treasure are such a nasty bunch they put any pirates of the Caribbean to shame.  Torture and death are not only their trade; they take a perverse joy in it, such as the corrupt police asking Raphael if he likes roller coasters, just before he takes his tied up captive on a bone crunching rough ride through the dark  and deserted streets.

But it is not solely a sense of adventure and adolescent rebellion that keeps the threesome evading bullets, jumping from rooftops, and walking the gauntlet in a crowded prison.

They do it because “It is right thing,” as Gardo tells Olivia (Rooney Mara), the American aid worker  who questions him.  What a break from the deep cynicism usually baked into our cinema.  Another shock is that the basis for this virtue owes quite a bit to Father Julliard (Martin Sheen), the weary priest whose core faith remains despite sipping a bit extra communion wine from time to time.

Some critics do not like this optimism.  They chide at the cinematography that finds a kaleidoscope of colors in mountains of trash, snarl at the swift adventure that keeps poverty and corruption a backdrop instead of a moralizing harange.

But then most critics have forgotten how to enjoy life, wouldn’t you say?  Let them stay behind, glowering at their keyboards.

You can bathe yourselves in an adventure that rises above the dullness of their mindset.

–Kathy Borich



Film-Loving Foodie:

Black beans are a staple in South America, providing an inexpensive source of protein.  A leaner version of this dish is something Raphael, Gardo, and Rat probably eat at home or in the nearby mission run by Father Julliard. 

The ham and bacon make it something special, a meal to celebrate the boys’ trash heap find and the daring adventure that follows.

Brazilian Black Bean Stew

"This is my version of a traditional Brazilian black bean stew that maintains the rich smoky, flavors famous in Brazil. Additional meats, including sausage, may be added if desired. This is excellent served over brown rice."  L. Ireland


         1 (12 ounce) package dry black beans, soaked overnight

         1 1/2 cups chopped onion, divided

         1/2 cup green onions, chopped

         1 clove garlic, chopped

         2 smoked ham hocks

         8 ounces diced ham

         1/2 pound thickly sliced bacon, diced

         1 tablespoon olive oil

         2 bay leaves, crushed

         1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

         salt and pepper to taste

         1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

         1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)


         Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add 3/4 cup of chopped onion, green onions, and garlic; cook and stir until softened, about 4 minutes. Pour in the soaked beans and fill with enough water to cover beans by 3 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer uncovered for 2 hours, or until tender.

         While beans are cooking, place ham hocks in smaller pot with 1/4 cup of the chopped onion. Cover with water and simmer, until meat pulls off of the bone easily, about 1 hour. Drain and add to the beans.

         Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Place ham, bacon, and remaining onion in a baking dish. Bake 15 minutes or until mixture is crispy.

         Drain the bacon and ham mixture, and add to the beans. Season with bay leaves, coriander, salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered 30 minutes more. Stir in chopped cilantro and parsley just before serving.