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Holy Week: culinary traditions

One of the commandments of the Catholic Church is to abstain from [red] meat and observe fasting on the days established by it [Ash Wednesday and Good Friday]

Holy Week: culinary traditions

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 17/03/2022

By: Virgina Barbosa - Librarian at Fundação Joaquim Nabuco - Specialist in Librarianship and History

One of the commandments of the Catholic Church is to abstain from [red] meat and observe fasting on the days established by it [Ash Wednesday and Good Friday]. This convention dates back to the 11th century when Pope Urban II determined it as a penance practice. The fish, a profound symbol in the Christian tradition, thus became an option for meat consumption in Holy Week. The Greek word for fish – ichtys – aided Christs’ followers to identify each other during their persecution. They are the initial letters of the following sentence in Greek: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”


Fish feature in almost all Brazilian regions in numerous culinary recipes prepared especially for the Holy Week. The variety of fish typical of the Brazilian coast stimulates the most diverse preparations. Local ingredients and heritage of ethnic cultures – Portuguese, Hispanic, African, and Amerindian – adapt the foods at Easter to the palate of each region. To them are added seasonings, delicacies, and African and Indigenous peoples’ condiments, many of which stem from the adaptation of Brazilians to Portuguese customs – olive oil, wines, and cod. 


In addition to this gastronomic syncretism, dishes made with coconut, such as bredo (green amaranth) – a herb whose leaves make the full-bodied vegetable broths and stews that accompany seafood; beans and pumpkin puree, known as quibebe (word originating from one of the African dialects in Brazil). Quibebe can be prepared in many ways: it can be seasoned with onion and chopped parsley or, in some states of the Brazilian Northeast, with shredded dried meat, garlic, onion, parsley, and black pepper if, of course, those tasting it do not follow any religious recommendation regarding meat consumption.


Cod on Brazilian tables dates back to the first decades of Portuguese colonization and its origin is basically from the Norwegian Sea. Cod is the “generic” name of four fish: Saithe, Ling, Zarbo, and the noblest of them, Cod. Cod dishes often follow the way Portuguese recipes to the letter, but adaptations or additions, which don’t compromise any flavor, are also common.


At Easter, lamb is also eaten in Portugal. According to the Old Testament, at the Jewish Passover, a lamb was sacrificed and enjoyed at supper. The animal should be a one-year-old male, without defects to be roasted whole without breaking any bones, accompanied by bitter herbs and unleavened bread. In Brazil, only a few of the faithful would adopt this dish. Most prefer cod, shrimp, lobster, crustaceans, and fish of all kinds.


The presence of eggs at Easter dates back to ancient Persia, which used chicken eggs to evoke life at the end of winter. 


Eastern peoples used to cook them with beetroot and, after infusing them with herbs such as turmeric, wrap them in onion peels. In early spring, the Egyptians, Persians, and Chinese distributed eggs, which, after peeled, displayed mottled designs. For them, the egg means, above all, the origin of life. Centuries later, Christians adopted the habit as the official symbol of Easter, representing Humanity’s resurrection.


Natural eggs were used for a few centuries by Catholics, but over the years they were replaced by chocolate.


It arrived in Brazil from Paris in the second decade of the 1900s and few had access to the treat. After the advance of industrial processes, which allowed greater production and cost reduction, the chocolate egg carved its space on the table of almost all families.


Here is a traditional recipe of the Pernambuco cuisine for Easter Sunday:





2 kg of cod
2 grated coconuts
olive oil 
1 onion 
1 red pepper
2 cloves of garlic 
3 tomatoes
Green onion and cilantro
Black pepper
Baked potatoes

How to make:
Soak the cod a day in advance and leave it in the fridge. Change the soaking water several times. Remove skin and bones. Cut the cod into large pieces, pat it dry, flour it, lightly fry it, and set aside.
For the coconut sauce: in a pan add olive oil, the onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, green onion, and cilantro. Lightly sauté. Add the coconut milk and bring it to a boil, stirring from time to time. Remove the green onion and cilantro, blend the sauce, sieve and put it back in the heat.
Add the cod and bring it to a boil. Add the baked potatoes.
Season with pepper and salt, if necessary.


For the beans in coconut


1 kg of pinto beans
2 coconuts
olive oil
1 onion
Green onion and cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

How to make:

Cook the beans in water and salt and set aside.
Grate the coconuts and blend the flakes with 2 cups of the bean broth
Sauté all the aromatics in olive oil. Blend the beans and sieve.
Add the stew to the bean cream, coconut milk, and cook it, stirring constantly until thick. Season with salt and pepper.

For the quibebe


1 kg of pumpkin
1 finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves crushed
Olive oil, salt, and pepper
250 ml of coconut milk


How to make:

Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil. Add the pumpkin and cook until soft. Gradually add water, if necessary, so the pumpkin does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Either crush, process or pass the mixture through a potato masher. Return it to the fire, add the coconut milk, and bring everything to a boil, stirring until thick. Serve hot as a side dish to go with fish and crustacean dishes.


For the bredo


2 bunches of bredo (green amaranth)
250 ml of coconut milk
4 tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 crushed garlic cloves
Chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste


How to make:

Separate the bredo leaves, wash them, and sauté them to remove their slime. Drain and set aside. Start the sauce by frying the onion and garlic in olive oil. Add the tomatoes and cook until thickened. Add the cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Add the bredo and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk and, as soon as it boils, turn off the heat.



Recife, March 25, 2013.

sources consulted

CAVALCANTI, Maria Lectícia Monteiro. A Páscoa do Cordeiro de Deus. Continente Multicultural, Recife, ano 1, n. 4, p. 52-53, abr. 2001.


LEÃO, Carolina. Culinária e tradição das refeições da Semana Santa no Nordeste. Suplemento Cultural [do] Diário Oficial do Estado de Pernambuco, Recife, ano 15, p. 10-11, abr. 2001.

how to quote this text

BARBOSA, Virgínia. Holy Week: culinary traditions. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2013. Available at: Accessed on: month day year. (Ex.: Aug. 6 2009.)