Before we begin, a note: this dish takes a fair bit of time to prepare and involves a lot of chopping. It may not be something to attempt on a weeknight.
That said, it is so delicious that once you try it, you'll know that all that work was totally worth it. (Unless you are a cilantro hater, like my sister, in which case you can stop reading right about now.)
I have many fond memories of meals eaten in Brazil as a teenager. The churrascarias are memorable for the vast amounts of meat and the dramatic presentation (waiters walk around with huge hunks of grilled meat on swords, and slice some off onto your plate as desired). At the beach, we devoured silver platters of lula a dore (breaded calamari) with fresh lime squeezed over it. My sister and I always ordered misto quente (grilled ham and cheese sandwiches) at the snack bar in the park near our house; the Cristal pizzeria in the Jardim Sul shopping mall had the best wood-fired, thin-crusted pizzas ever.
And in the northeast state of Bahia, we had moqueca.
This fish or shellfish stew comes served in a black, cast-iron pot at the table, and is a deep orange colour from the peppers and the dende (West African palm) oil. It's an unforgettable taste, and one I haven't had since I was sixteen. So when I went searching for recipes to use some of the frozen shrimp in my freezer, and found a Cooking Light moqueca de peixe, I was thrilled, and could not wait to try it. I wanted Chris to taste what I tasted all those years ago.Obviously, it doesn't call for dende oil because it's unavailable here, but I think it maintains enough of the original flavours to still work well. It's spicy, but not ridiculously so, and chock-full of healthy veggies and shellfish.
I will admit to tinkering with the recipe a tiny bit; I'm not a big fan of green peppers so I left them out, and I reduced the amount of liquid because I wanted it to be closer to stew than soup. I used tilapia instead of halibut, and I also cut the yield by a third, to make four servings instead of six. So I'm posting my version of the recipe here, and I hope you'll try it and enjoy a fairly authentic taste of Brazil. Me, I'm looking forward to the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Yum.
Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueca de Peixe) - adapted from Cooking Light
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound of tilapia fillet, cut into 1/2-inch wide strips
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 and 1/3 tablespoons olive oil
1 and 3/4 cups finely chopped onion
1 and 1/2 cups finely chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup minced green onions
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1.5 cups chopped tomato (I used canned)
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro, divided
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
2/3 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2/3 cup light coconut milk
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
Combine the lime juice, minced garlic, salt, pepper, fish and shrimp in a large bowl; toss to coat and leave to marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, bell peppers, green onions, garlic, and bay leaf, and cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat to medium-high; add the tomatoes and cook 2 more minutes. Add 1/4 cup of the cilantro, the clam juice and the chicken broth. Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Puree the vegetable mixture carefully with an immersion blender.
Add the coconut milk and ground red pepper to the pureed vegetable mixture. Bring the puree to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 3 minutes. Add the fish mixture; cook for 3 minutes or until the fish and shrimp are done. Add the remaining 1/4 cup cilantro. Devour.