A taste of Brazil

Several years back, long before I became domesticated, I took the trip of a lifetime to visit a dear friend of mine who was working at a law firm in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Our small but rambunctious crew of four former college roommates spent New Year’s Eve on the beaches of Rio wearing white dresses, eating copious amounts of street corn, and dodging errant fireworks. It was a glorious week marked by adventure! I vividly remember the desolate bus station where we missed the last bus back to Sao Paulo and the sleezy motel room we stayed overnight.  We played geography on a long ferry ride to a beautiful island, learned tropical fruit names in Portuguese, watched our friend get a sweet goodbye kiss at sunset, danced at an impromptu forro performance and swam naked in the ocean way past midnight.

Sunset in Ilha Grande

Sunset in Ilha Grande

During our time in Ilha Grande (translation: Big Island) off the coast of Rio, a tiny slice of  paradise filled with  pristine beaches, we truly got a sense of Brazilian hospitality. Upon our arrival, a gorgeous local porter met us at the shore of the island, loaded a wheelbarrow with our oversized American luggage and pushed our belongings up a long and winding hill. If this scene sounds like the perfect setting for the next chick lit bestseller, you are picturing it correctly.

Monica's House!

We made our way up the hill and found Monica’s House, a colorful residence with a lush tropical garden,  many cats and a hammock in the suite we were lucky to call home.  After a few days of mediocre urban street food in Rio, and an unfortunate lunch of fried ‘tiny fish’ which came with their heads and tails intact, I was thrilled when we finally agreed on what appeared to be a decent restaurant for dinner. And so it was that I found myself for the very first time, dining on Moqueca, a delicious, traditional Brazilian seafood stew on a moonlit beach in Ilha Grande.

Moqueca or as I like to call it, Brazillian fish stew is made with fish, (seafood really, but I stay away from crustaceans!), onions, garlic, tomatoes and cilantro carefully simmered over a low flame.  My friend Chef Monsta, posted this recipe a long time ago, but after getting rave reviews from the Mr. upon my 3rd time preparing it, this dish has entered the official Dumbo Domestic roster.  I know, fish stew may have an unpleasant ring to it, but I dare you to try it! I assure you, you will be blown away by the simplicity of the preparation and the boldness of the flavors.  If you’re feeling the pescatrian spirit, in the mood for an exotic meal but tired of thai takeout, trust DD, put on some Sergio Mendes and make Moqueca!

Recipe (adopted from Simply Recipes)

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs of fillets of firm white fish such as halibut, swordfish, or cod; you can also use salmon,  rinsed in cold water, deboned, cut into large but bite sized pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 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

To prepare:

1. Place fish pieces 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.

Some of the veggies you'll need...

2. In a large covered pan (somewhat deep as you will add liquid), coat the bottom with about 2 Tbsp of olive 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 onion greens. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, uncovered. Stir in the chopped cilantro.

The colorful stew in its first round of simmering...

3. Use a large spoon to push aside about half of the vegetables (or remove momentarily if pan is crowding). Spread the remaining vegetables over the bottom of the pan to create a bed for the fish. Arrange the fish pieces on the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.   (** If you prefer more citrus in your dish, or to water down the coconut flavor, don’t discard the reaminder of the marinade, add it to the stew).  Then add back the previously removed vegetables, covering the fish. Pour coconut milk over the fish and vegetables.

After you add in the coconut milk...

4.Bring soup to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes or longer if desired. 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.

5. Serve with crusty bread or rice (for even more flavor, mix lime juice and chopped cilantro into your prepared rice).

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