Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Vatapá (Fish and Shrimp Stew)
One of the things on my “to eat” list when I went to Brazil was my aunt Marcia’s vatapá. Vatapá is a traditional dish from Bahia and can take two forms: a thicker paste that is served as a filling for acarajé (black-eyed pea fritters) or a more stew-like version that is served as a main dish, which is what my aunt makes.
My aunt’s version is a bit different than most recipes you will find in that it doesn’t include traditional ingredients such as peanuts and dried shrimp, which works perfect for my family since my boys are allergic to peanuts. I watched her make and tweaked the recipe slightly when making it at home. Here is my version of this amazing dish.
My version is a bit thicker than my aunt's as she adds water while I try to limit mine to a bare minimum. My aunt also makes a more filling dish by also adding steaks of firm white-fleshed fish so that each person gets one with their portion of the stew. I prefer my stew fishier and creamier, but you can adjust yours to be more like hers if you prefer. Just add some water when soaking the bread, and after cooking the flakier fish and shrimp, add the firm fish steaks, one per person. I didn’t make my vatapa too hot because the twins don’t eat spicy food, but make sure to spice yours a bit more.
About 3 cups of day-old French bread, cut into chunks
1 ½ cups coconut milk
1 cup milk
1 ½ cup green bell peppers, chopped small
1 ½ cup red bell peppers, chopped small
About 3 cups of onion, diced
About 2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 lb small shrimp, peeled and deveined
About 1 ½ lb Tilapia fillets, or other that will also flake and fall apart when cooking to thicken your stew
1 6oz can tomato paste dissolved in 1 can of water
Salt and black pepper to taste
Ground ginger to taste, I used about 1 ½ tsp, use fresh if you prefer
Cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, Sriracha hot chili sauce or any other of your preference, to taste - optional
1 Tbsp Dende Oil (Red Palm Oil) –optional
Soak chunks of stale bread in coconut milk and milk while you chop the vegetables. Then put everything in a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
Heat a large pot over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Saute the onions, stirring often, until they start to soften. Add the garlic, cook for a minute or so then add the bell peppers and cilantro. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring frequently until the peppers soften and start to break apart. Add salt, black pepper, cayenne and ginger to taste.
Add the fish and tomato paste with water. Simmer until the fish is almost cooked through, helping to flake it apart as it cooks with a wooden spoon. Add the shrimp and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes.
Pour bread/coconut milk stock and simmer, stirring frequently. Taste for seasoning and fix if needed.
After it has cooked for a few minutes and it is bubbling up, mix in dende oil if using.
Serve with plain white rice. You can top the vatapa with ground cashew nuts if you like.