If you were to use one of those "Where Have You Visited" maps on Facebook to chart out my 50 Countries project, it would look like I've 'been to' far fewer than 39 countries. That's because, for no apparent reason, I keep picking the tiny countries. But now....look out, everyone: I've gone to Brazil! Woohoo! Land mass, bitches!
Moqueca is a traditional seafood stew. Brazilians have been making versions of Moqueca for at least 300 years. The base of the stew includes fish, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and cilantro. Of course, there are many varieties of the stew, and as it happens, this one (which includes coconut milk, shrimp, and palm oil*) is Bahian.
I was interested to try Moqueca, but I wasn't totally excited about it. I'm never really excited about the idea of fish chunks in my soup (shrimp aside). But, I am excited about garlic, bell peppers, shrimp and coconut oil, so I gave it a go. And I am so glad that I did.
Moqueca Baiana (from Simply Recipes)
-1 lb of fillets of firm white fish such as halibut, swordfish, or cod, rinsed in cold water, pin bones removed, cut into large portions
-1 lb shrimp, ready to cook (shelled, de-veined, etc)
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-4 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
-Freshly ground black pepper
-1 cup chopped spring onion, or 1 medium yellow onion, chopped or sliced
-1/4 cup green onion greens, chopped
-1/2 yellow and 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded, de-stemmed, chopped (or sliced)
-2 cups chopped (or sliced) tomatoes
-1 Tbsp paprika (Hungarian sweet)
-Pinch red pepper flakes
-1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped with some set aside for garnish
-1 14-ounce can coconut milk
-1 Tbsp peanut oil
-1/2 onion, chopped
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 cup white rice
-1 3/4 cups boiling water (check your rice package for the appropriate ratio of liquid to rice for the type of rice you are using)
-1 teaspoon salt
*Palm oil (also called dende) is traditionally used in Brazilian food--and specifically, in Moqueca. Unfortunately, palm oil can be a rare find in the U.S. Given that I have trouble finding normal ingredients on a semi-regular basis, it was a good bet that I wouldn't be finding palm oil here. I substituted peanut oil, which, while probably not giving the authentic flavor to Moqueca, did a great job.
1. Place fish pieces and shrimp in a bowl, add the minced garlic and lime juice so that the pieces are well coated. Sprinkle generously all over with salt and pepper. Keep chilled while preparing the rest of the soup. (**Note: I just kept mine out on the counter, since it wasn't too long before they were cooked. No big deal.**)
2. If you are planning on serving the soup with rice, start on the rice. Bring a couple cups of water to a boil. Heat one tablespoon of peanut oil in a medium saucepan on medium high heat. Add the chopped 1/2 onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the raw white rice and stir to coat completely with the oil, onions, and garlic. Add the boiling water. (The amount depends on your brand of rice, check the package. If no amounts are given, add 1 3/4 cup of water for every cup of rice.) Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat, cover, and let cook for 15 minutes, after which, remove from heat until ready to serve with the soup.
3. Back to the soup. In a large covered pan (such as a Dutch oven), coat the bottom with about 2 Tbsp of peanut oil and heat on medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook a few minutes until softened. Add the bell pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. (At least a teaspoon of salt.) Cook for a few minutes longer, until the bell pepper begins to soften. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and green onions. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, uncovered. Stir in the chopped cilantro.
4. Use a large spoon to remove about half of the vegetables. Spread the remaining vegetables over the bottom of the pan to create a bed for the seafood. Arrange the fish and shrimp on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then add back the previously removed vegetables, covering the seafood. Pour coconut milk over the seafood and vegetables.
5. Bring soup to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. You may need to add more salt (likely), lime or lemon juice, paprika, pepper, or chili flakes to get the soup to the desired seasoning for your taste.
Garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice or with crusty bread.
Verdict: This is everything I want out of a seafood stew. It's incredibly flavorful, rich without being overbearingly fatty, and has lots of interesting textures. The rice is incredible and adds a lot to the soup--I would not recommend using bread instead (use bread in addition, if anything!). In fact, I will make all of my rice like this from here on out.
Oh yeah--AND, it's easy to make. I mean, save for the part where I bought fish fillets with the skin still on, because I was all, "Oh, I can slice that off, that won't be a problem," because apparently I think I'm naturally endowed with ninja knife skills. Turns out, not so much. I stabbed myself with the boning knife, bled some (not on the fish, though), and swore to buy pre-skinned fish from here on out.