shrimp paste

When I was in Brazil recently my niece took me to a fun restaurant in São Paulo that offered dishes from South East Asia, Peru, Japan and northern Brazil. The flavors were very exciting. We ordered a lot so we could taste everything. For my main course I had a white fleshed Brazilian fish served in a thick green curry with coconut broth that was divine! The fish was ultra fresh and the curry well balanced. It came with a bowl of perfectly cooked fragrant jasmine rice.

fresh Pacific cod in Thai green curry

fresh Pacific cod in Thai green curry

This eating out experience reminded me of the green curry we made while in Chiang Mai several years ago in a traditional Thai cooking class. I realized that I had never actually made it home, despite my vows to the contrary throughout our glorious trip to that lovely country, until now.

I prepared the green curry from scratch. You can refrigerate the leftovers for later use.

fresh Pacific cod in Thai green curry

for the curry paste:

dried spices:

1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ pepper corns

fresh ingredients:

1 inch piece of galangal root, peeled and roughly chopped
1 bunch cilantro, stems, leaves and roots
3 tbsp minced lemon grass (white and tender part)
4 kaffir lemon leaves, cut thinly, center stem removed
5 small shallots
10 to 15 Thai green chilies
1 cup Thai basil
10 cloves garlic
1 tbsp salt

preserved ingredients:

1 tbsp shrimp paste

Place dry ingredients in shallow pan and toast until aromatic. Let cool. Grind in a coffee mill.

Add all fresh spices plus shrimp paste to food processor and whiz until mix turns into a paste. Use a spatula to push down spices so it blends uniformly. Add dry spices and blend again. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside.

Steven and I at Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai--in 2005

Steven and I at Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai–in 2005

for the dish proper:

2 cups coconut milk
1 lb fresh cod, cut into chunks
A few leaves of Thai basil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 chili pepper cut into small rounds
1 kaffir lime leaf
3-4 spoons green curry paste (prepared above)
1 tbsp canola oil
2-3 tbsp fish sauce

Heat up canola oil in a pan, add green curry paste and cook for a couple of minutes without burning. Add coconut milk, sugar, kaffir leaf and bring to a quick boil. Reduce temperature to low, add fish sauce. Taste it, adding more fish sauce if needed. Lay cod fish over sauce and let it simmer for a couple of minutes. Add basil leaves and chili pepper. Remove from heat and serve with Thai rice.

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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.


I was in the mood for some flavorful fiery Southeast Asian food the other day. Normally when that happens I go for Thai or Vietnamese but this time I decided to “travel” further south, closer to the waters of the Mallaca Strait, Java Sea, Sulu Sea and so on. That’s where Sambal originates.

calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

Sambal is a spicy sauce basically made with crushed chili peppers, garlic, ginger, sugar, onions, shallots, some sour agent such as tamarind or lime juice, anchovies, shrimp paste (belacan), etc. Enfin, this sauce is bold.

I’ve never used belacan before. It is famous for being quite stinky, so I was a bit nervous about it. Steven always complains that my nose is too sensitive. Would this kill me to smell? Well, I survived. Surprisingly, I can’t decide which stinks the most: fish sauce or belacan. And I didn’t think that fish sauce is really that bad. What do you think? All I can say with certainty is that these ancient condiments impart a wonderful and unique umami flavor to food. They’re really quite popular and are widely used in Southeast Asia, and with good reason. Never be discouraged by their smell in the “fresh” state. Once cooked, they are the best!

The recipe is quite easy to make, but you need a food processor to grind the paste conveniently.

key ingredients for calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

key ingredients for calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

1 lb calamari bodies, cleaned and cut into ¼ inch thick rings
6 medium tiger prawns, tail on, shelled and deveined
1 inch cube dried tamarind, soaked in 1¼ cup warm water for 45 minutes
½ medium white or Vidalia onion, cut into thin slivers
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp shrimp paste (belacan)
4 ripe Roma tomatoes
1 tbsp sugar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro leaves

Sambal paste:

1 inch thick piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
8 dried chili peppers (I used chile de arbol)
3 shallots
2 cloves of garlic

Place Sambal ingredients in a food processor and process into a paste. Use a spatula to push down bits that stick to the edges.

Squish tamarind with your fingers until dissolved. Juice will be a bit thick. Pass it through a strainer. Discard solid parts.

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottom pan. Add Sambal paste and stir until raw aromas are gone and you see paste separating from oil. Add calamari and shrimp and cook for just a minute. Remove shellfish to a warm bowl and reserve, leaving as much Sambal sauce in the pan as possible. Add tomato, salt, onion and belacan and cook until onion has softened. Add tamarind juice, sugar, black pepper and salt, then simmer for about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, add calamari and prawns back to pan and allow them to warm through for a couple of minutes. Adjust salt. Serve over fragrant jasmine rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.

This recipe has been adapted from here

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