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Jenny is in perpetual search for easy, weeknight recipes to attempt to feed her family. When they balk, she just eats more.
When I brought my leftovers to work one day and told my colleague H, who inquired about what I would be re-heating, that I had made Salmon Moqueca she immediately announced, “Oh it won’t be any good.”
Another person might have decided to be insulted -- especially the likes of us for whom lunch is the best part of the day and are not particularly pleased to have their quiet ritual with a white bowl and a salt shaker marred by actual conversations with their colleagues, particularly ones in which the food in question is denounced -- but with H, I take such comments in stride.
I knew what she was really doing was asking for a hearty spoonful for her own bowl, because you can see just by looking at this dish, a Brazilian seafood stew, that it is divine. You know how there are weeknight dishes that you make that are perfectly, pleasingly good? That’s fine, right? And then there are those that are restaurant-quality delicious, so inspired, so flavorful, that your entire family sort of stares at you with a bit of awe, unaware of how simple it all was?
First, start with good salmon. I know you knew that. Then puree up your marinade, which is going to work just fine sitting for 30 minutes while you cook up your stew. (I used a cayenne pepper from my freezer from last summer FYI. Do as you like.)
Don’t get mad because I am asking you to use sweet potatoes in July. You can find some. The mix of sweet potatoes with salmon is going to be uncanny and then you will stop cursing me and go back later to your mulberries or whatever seasonal thing you want. I did not include bell peppers because they make me very angry. I used more potatoes and zucchini instead. To each cook her own.
Do you see how this is all simmering very quietly and carefully as you continue to add things one by one? (I did not have fish stock so I used water.)
Now it is time to add the fish, which you cut up into bite sized chunks as you toss it into the stew. If you have no green onion, who cares?, but you do want the cilantro. Unless you hate it. There is something really complex and rich and exciting about all these flavors – the sweet coconut and the potatoes with the slap in the face of cilantro and a bit of hot pepper, all dancing around your fish – that you are going to love. Put it over rice for a one-bowl meal. Reheat at work, first taking the fish out (so it won’t overcook and to not create the odor of fish in the office, if there is anyone there whose opinion you care about) and stirring it in after you have nuked.
As it turns out, moqueca is also common in Liberia, where H grew up, where it is cooked with palm oil. She told me once when she landed in Brazil, she could smell this dish cooking and it reminded her of home. She dissed my version before tasting it, because she assumed, as most of us do concerning childhood dishes, that an outsider’s version will disappoint. Mine didn’t take her to Africa, perhaps, as only mom’s can. But H conceded, it was really damn good. She wanted more. Too bad. I ate it all.
Fish and Marinade:
1 1/2 pound wild salmon fillets
28 oz. can of peeled whole tomatoes, undrained
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup cilantro, chopped
2 garlic cloves, cut in half
1 Serrano chile pepper, stemmed and cut in half (use the seeds, too, if you want your stew to be pretty spicy)
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
For the Stew:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 zucchini, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup water (or fish stock)
3/4 cup organic whole coconut milk
1/2 cup minced green onion (bottom parts only), for garnish
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped, for garnish
Photo by James Ransom