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A Taste of Brazil

South American import and Southaven resident Maria Hensley shares the secrets of spicy latin cooking.
Story by natalie Troutt photos by michael hensley


Southaven resident Maria Hensley knows good food. Raised in Brazil with a mother who cooked all the time, Hensley has had a passion for cooking since she was a young girl.
Hensley is from Salvador, the capital city of the state of Bahia. After marrying her American husband, William Hensley, who she dated for only a month and a half before realizing he was “The One,” she committed to a life of travel. Her husband was the president of an oil company and Hensley says that she moved over 30 times throughout the course of his career. She lived in many different places, such as Africa, where she taught kindergarten, and the United Arab Emirates, before moving to the United States in 1974. She and her husband were married for 32 years and he passed away only a few years ago.
Now a proud American citizen, Hensley enjoys her life in Mississippi. While she loves to cook, she lives alone and mostly cooks for special events only. Her big passion these days is dancing. She takes ballroom dance classes in Memphis and Southaven several times a week, and looks forward to showing off her acquired dance skills when she returns to Brazil for a visit in May. Hensley is very much looking forward to the trip, as she will reunite with many family members and friends. She also looks forward to eating at the restaurant that is owned by one of her four sisters in her hometown. Her last trip to her home country was three years ago, when she stayed for two months. This time around, Hensley is hoping to extend her trip to four or five months. She acknowledged that she is getting older and does not know how many more times she will be able to return to Brazil.
When Hensley is not cooking or dancing, she is spending time with family. Hensley has one son, Michael, who is married to Rosie. She also has two grandchildren, Catalina and Cecilia, who sometimes assist her when she cooks and who she is teaching to speak Portuguese. One of Hensley’s sisters also resides in Mississippi and she has a niece in Texas, as well. Hensley says that the people of Brazil are extremely family-oriented and she works to stay connected to her family, no matter where they are, through telephone, email and Skype.
As far as her cooking goes, she cannot name a favorite dish to prepare. She says simply, “If I don’t like it, I don’t cook it.” She also says that cooking is something she pretty much taught herself to do. While her mother cooked often, she and her siblings were not allowed to cook in the home. In Brazil, especially at that time, the female head of the house would feel the need to do everything in the home with no assistance. Hensley said that everything that her mother cooked was her favorite.
Typical Brazilian dishes focus largely on meat, with rice and beans as a staple in many meals.  Hensley says that it can be difficult to prepare certain Brazilian foods here, as some of the ingredients cannot be found in the area, or can only be obtained through stores such as the International Food Market in Memphis. Even so, Hensley is able to make incredibly tasty dishes such as the moqueca de camarao that is featured in this issue.

Moqueca de Camarao
(shrimp stew)
Serves 4

Juice of 1 lemon
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 to 2 T white vinegar
½ t salt
1 pound fresh shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 t fresh cilantro, chopped
2 T tomato paste
Black pepper to taste
1 cup thin coconut milk
2 to 3 T dende (palm) oil

Make a marinade with lemon, onion, garlic, vinegar, and salt. Marinate the shrimp for 30 minutes. Put mixture into a sauce pan and add cilantro, tomato paste, and black pepper to taste. Add thin coconut milk and cook over low heat until the shrimp are cooked. Add the thick coconut milk and dende (palm) oil. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Serve with rice.

Musse de Coco
(Coconut Mousse)


1 can mocha milk
1 can regular milk
1 can coconut milk
1 packet shredded coconut
1 box of cream
2 envelopes colorless gelatin
5 T water

Mix together and refrigerate.

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2445 Hwy 51  |  Hernando, MS 38632  |  662-429-6397  |  fax: 662-429-5229​

Ivory Closet
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