red chili pepper

Moqueca is a delicious fish stew traditional to the beautiful and sunny state of Bahia in Brazil. Seafood there is of excellent quality. In Bahia this dish is named moqueca but outside we call it moqueca baiana. I think I’ve actually been biased toward moqueca capixaba, a lighter version popular in the neighboring state of Espírito Santo, just to the south. Perhaps the reason is simply because I have a couple of dear friends who live in ES. In Bahia, one only eats moqueca Baiana; and in Espírito Santo, moqueca capixaba. Truly, both are delicious.

moqueca baiana AKA Bahian fish stew

moqueca baiana AKA Bahian fish stew

Traditional moqueca baiana is made without paprika or shrimp paste. I decided to use these two alien ingredients for enhanced flavors and more color vibrancy. But this doesn’t make this a lesser a moqueca in any way. At times, Bahian foods remind me of South East Asian dishes or even things made in Louisiana. See here and here.

I purchased the dendê oil (palm oil) from the outrageously expensive Rainbow Foods Supermarket in San Francisco. It was Colombian, not Brazilian, but has an identical flavor. Actually, I had to go to several shops before I could locate it, so thank heavens for Rainbow. It was their last jar of the stuff.

I’ve had moqueca baiana many times but never actually made it at home, so this was a very exiting experience for me. I hope that you enjoy it as well.

some key ingredients for moqueca baiana AKA Bahian fish stew

some key ingredients for moqueca baiana AKA Bahian fish stew

my organic palm oil

my organic palm oil

moqueca baiana AKA Bahian fish stew

2½ lbs skinless thick pieces of wild caught ling cod, cut in ~6 inch steaks
½ lb medium sized wild caught shrimp; shelled, deveined and chopped
1 lb ripe heirloom tomatoes, skin removed, cut into chunks
½ bunch cilantro
4 scallions, green and white parts chopped
¼ cup coconut milk
2 tbsp dendê oil (palm oil)
¾ tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp shrimp paste (belakan)
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin rings
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin rings
1 white onion, diced small
2 limes
5 cloves garlic, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 red chili pepper, seeds and ribs removed, sliced thinly

Rinse fish in cold water; pat dry with paper towel. Place in a dish. Squeeze juice of 1 lime over it. Add equivalent of 3 cloves of garlic, followed by salt and a sprinkle of black pepper. Let it marinate for about ½ hour, in the fridge if too hot. In blustery San Francisco, I just let it chill on my kitchen counter.

Rinse shrimp in cold water; pat dry with paper towel. Place in a small bowl. Squeeze juice of second lime, add salt, black pepper, equivalent of one garlic clove, cover and let it marinate next to the cod fish.

Using a large and wide cooking pan, add dendê oil and onion. Bring temperature to high and cook for a few minutes just to sweat the onion, add remaining garlic, peppers, belakan, paprika, sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir everything together. Cover the pan and cook for about 3 minutes on high heat. Stir to avoid burning. Add tomatoes and cook until they collapse. Remove 1/3 of partially stewed vegetables to a bowl. Add fish steaks with juices to pan. Top with reserved stewed veggies. Cover and continue cooking vigorously on high heat for another 10 minutes. Carefully flip the fish half way through.

Uncover and scatter spring onion and ½ of the cilantro over fish followed by the shrimp with juices. Cook for another minute. Carefully mix in coconut milk and remaining cilantro. Adjust flavors with more salt and pepper if needed. Serve with white jasmine rice and extra wedges of lime.


And here’s another dish from the-Y-O, that’s Yotam Ottolenghi to you and me. This adaptation from “Plenty” was a huge success. The dish is South East Asian inspired, since it uses sambal sauce.

sambal okra over coconut rice

sambal okra over coconut rice

Sambal is a fiery sauce made with chili peppers, shallots, tamarind and other spices. The-Y-O claims that a dish like this is served in Malaysia for breakfast. “Wow” is all I can say, people and their cuisines sure can be different. This is spicy! I can’t imagine having it for breakfast. It reminds me of our trip to Thailand and Cambodia a few years ago. When we first arrived, the brutal jet lag had me hungry for spicy foods loaded with fish sauce in the morning. That’s standard fare there, so it worked out really well, at least at the beginning. Fried rice and fish soup at 7AM, no problem! I ate with gusto and it was all simply delicious! After a week or two, as I adjusted to the Thai clock, I began to have trouble with that kind of breakie.

I’ve made sambal before with calamari and shrimp, but didn’t think breakfast-time. We had this sambal okra for dinner, which is just fine by me. Really, it was so tasty that I’d be willing to have it anytime, including for breakfast… I bet this would be a super remedy for a hangover…

sambal okra over coconut rice

for the coconut rice:

1 cup basmati rice rinsed
½ cup coconut milk
1½ cups water
2 rinds of lemon
4 thin slices of fresh ginger
Kosher salt to taste

for the okra:

1 lb frozen baby okra
Lemon or lime wedges
Cilantro leaves for decoration

for the sambal sauce:

3 fresh Jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs partially removed (leave some for heat)
5 dried red chili peppers, seeds discarded
8 baby shallots
2 garlic cloves
1tsp paprika
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp sugar
Kosher salt to taste

Add chilies fresh and dried, shallots, garlic, paprika, tamarind, sugar, 2 tablespoons of oil and another 2 of water to the food processor and spin until it turns into paste.

Place remaining oil in a large skillet on high. Pour paste in and sauté for a minute or so. Turn temperature down and cook it for about 10 minutes. The sambal sauce will be ready when it becomes dark brownish red in color and oil starts to separate from the paste. Set aside.

Place all rice ingredients in a saucepan on high heat. Give it a good stir. Bring to a boil. Stir again, reduce temperature to low, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, keeping covered, and let rest for 8-10 minutes.

Have a pan ready with boiling water within the last 8-10 minutes rice is finishing cooking. Drop frozen okra into the water and cook 3-4 minutes to scald the little pods. Transfer okra to a colander and run some cold water over to stop cooking process.

Heat up sambal, fold in okra and let it warm through.

Transfer rice to a serving platter, top with sambal okra & decorate with cilantro leaves and wedges of lemon.

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