I’ve been recently thinking about our adventures in Brasil. I read my journal from our trips and immediately was transported back to those wonderful places. How I wish we could go back to see our friends in Bahia, see how the cacao plantations are progressing, and eat some amazing seafood on the beach!
On my notes I found a scribbled recipe for moqueca, one of the most traditional seafood dishes in the cuisine of Bahia. It was given to me by Márcia, one of the owners of Hotel Lagoa e Mar, where we stayed in Jauá during out first visit to Bahia. She graciously agreed to let me watch and take notes one evening when she made it for us.
Moqueca is a fish stew, flavored with coconut milk and dendé, which contributes to its intense red color. This dish can also be made with shrimp or crab, but fish is the most common. I have made it here in Austin a number of times, and it always turns out great. In Brasil they use a special clay casserole dish (I brought one back with me, of course), but here you can use a cast iron skillet or dutch over with lid. Although I must say, the smell of salt in the air and the sound of the waves are definitely missing.
Márcia’s moqueca de peixe (serves 4)
4 slices of firm-fleshed white fish (redfish, snapper, sea bass, grouper are good choices)
2 garlic cloves
3 tsp. salt
1 small bunch fresh cilantro
Juice of one lime
2 small white onions
2 medium tomatoes
2 small green bell peppers
200ml (a scant cup) coconut milk
1 Tbs. dendé (palm oil)*
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic with 1 tsp. salt and a sprig of cilantro (chopped) to form a paste. Wash the fish with the lime juice, then rub thoroughly with the garlic paste. Place fish in a cast iron skillet or dutch oven.
Slice one onion, one tomato, and one bell pepper, and place slices on top of fish.
Cut the remaining tomato, onion, and pepper, add the rest of the cilantro and blend with a little water, then pour mixture over the fish. Add the coconut milk, tomato paste, 2 tsps. salt (or to taste), and dendé (*if you can’t find it or don’t like the flavor, substitute for olive oil. The dish is then called ensopado de peixe). Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower heat and cover, and cook for about 20 minutes until fish is done. Do not stir or the fish will break.
In Brasil, moqueca is served with plain white rice and a simple salad with lettuce, tomato, onion, cooked peas (these are usually canned but I prefer frozen), and shredded carrot, sprinkled with olive oil and vinegar.