Archive for March, 2011

Coconut Milk: Brazilian Fish Stew – Moqueca de Peixe

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Moqueca de Peixe Bahia Fish Soup

Although I have yet to visit Brazil, I am enamored with its culture, food and drink. Brazilian cookery has a unique Latin American flavor, influenced by the country’s inhabitants – Native Indians, Africans, and Portuguese.

In this dish – moqueca de peixe, Brazilian fish stew – the African influence dominantes.

From region to region, there are various versions of moqueca de peixe. The Bahian version, which includes coconut milk and palm oil, is generally considered “the” favorite.

The state of Bahia sits in the northeastern part of Brazil. It is also home to the Coconut Coast, 120 miles of coconut groves, and is the largest producer of coconuts in the country. Today, more than 75% of Bahia’s inhabitants are of African descent, reflecting its historical past. During 16th century colonization of Brazil, the Portuguese used the region as an entry point, bringing with them vast numbers of African slaves to work the sugar plantations.

Malagueta chile peppers and dende oil were ingredients introduced into the region by Africans. Both, are used to make moqueca de peixe.

Malagueta chiles are on the hotter end of the spectrum and can be substituted with serrano chiles, which are more readily available in the United States. Dende oil, also known as palm oil, is less readily available but can be located in Brazilian or Latin American markets. Although you won’t find a traditional version of moqueca de peixe in Bahia without dende oil, in our house we make it without it frequently.

This fish stew is actually lighter than you’d think but it’s loaded with flavor. Although it has coconut milk, lime and a fish/sea food-base, it does not taste similar to Asian curries.

Give it a try and add it to your repertoire of coconut milk dishes. Most Brazilians eat moqueca de peixe with a side of rice and some farofa, seasoned toasted manioc flour.

Bom apetite!

While you cook up this dish, check out the tunes and bio of one of Brazil’s famous singers Jorge Ben Jor on Afropop Worldwide.


Coconut Milk: Vietnamese Waffles – Banh Kep La Dua

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Banh kep la dua

Sunday is my day to chill out. It’s a leisurely day where I let the pace be what it maywhether it’s sleeping in, reading curled up on the sofa or taking my time folding laundry. Some Sundays I am eager to cook up a feast, never mind that it takes 1 or 4 hours. Other times, laziness sneaks in and I want someone else to break out their pots and pans.

Frequently that someone is New Saigon, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Denver.

One of the perks of going there on the weekend is that they now serve waffles. These are not the kind of waffles you’d drench in butter and syrup. They are Vietnamese waffles, banh kep la dua – a sweet treat that is served up by Vietnamese homecooks and street food vendors. It’s eaten naked, like a pastry, and is the perfect dessert after my usual meal of spicy lemongrass chicken and vegetables.

Banh kep la dua are made with coconut milk and pandan. The coconut milk is why the recipe is featured with this series and the reason these waffles are so special.

Pandan is a tropical plant frequently used in Southeast Asian cookery and makes its way into many desserts. You can tell by the signature bright green hue (which is a combination of natural color and added food coloring). Pandan tastes and smells sweet and floral.

Last Sunday was a lazy one. My husband and I had lunch at New Saigon. This time, however, I skipped my regular waffle for the first time in months. Because of you, I’ve been tinkering with recipes for several weeks and am waffled out. I’ve created a recipe for Vietnamese waffles that’s crispy and light like the version I’ve come accustomed to on Sunday afternoons.

Re the recipe:  Nearly all the other Vietnamese waffle recipes online use only AP flour (all-purpose) and attempt to get that crispy, light texture by using cornstarch and baking powder or cream of tartar.  I found some references to Vietnamese cooks using only rice flour, but that made waffles that were too light and airy. I prefer a combination of the two for a lighter but more structured waffle.

How to eat a Vietnamese Waffle?

The first time I ate banh kep la dua, it was served hot on a plate. I was sharing it with freinds at the table and wasn’t sure how I was going to split it with my chopsticks from lunch.  The waitress brought us one fork and, because I still looked perplexed, she quickly quartered the waffle and gave everyone at the table a piece in-hand.

It was and still is the best naked waffle whether you eat it with . . . a fork, fingers or chopsticks.