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Vatapá – Coconut Milk and Dried Shrimp Stew from Bahia, Brazil

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vatapa-shrimp-stew-acaraje-bahia-salvador-brazil

Vatapá can be served as a main dish over rice or as a filling in the also famous and exotic acarajé. This delight is typical from the Northern region of Brazil, especially popular in the state of Bahia. The unique flavors in this stew come from coconut milk, red palm oil, dried and fresh shrimp, cashews, peanuts, herbs and ginger. It might sound really different but it is actually pretty simple to make.

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dried shrimp (or 2 ½ cups pre-processed dried shrimp)
  • ½ cup unsalted cashews
  • ½ cup unsalted peanuts
  • 3 cups day-old French bread or Italian bread, torn (scrow down for picture)
  • 3 ½ cups unsweetened coconut milk, divided
  • 1 large tomato, whole, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup cilantro, packed
  • 1 cup scallions, roughly chopped
  • 1 large jalapeno pepper, cored
  • 1 ½ cup red palm oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 pound large shrimp, cleaned and deveined

Directions:

Clean dried shrimp by removing head and tails with a sharp knife (see pictures below). Place dried shrimp in a food processor and pulse a few times until it turns into powder (skip this step if using pre-processed dried shrimp). Add cashews and peanuts to food processor and process for 2 minutes, until incorporated. Remove from food processor and set aside.

Place bread in a bowl and pour 1 ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk. Mix and allow soaking for a few minutes. Place bread and coconut milk mixture in a food processor and process for 40 seconds, until it turns into a paste. Remove from food processor and set aside.
Place tomato, onion, ginger, cilantro, scallions and jalapeno in food processor. Process until incorporated, 40 seconds. Remove from food processor and set aside.

In a large sauce pan over medium-high heat, add remaining coconut milk, tomato and spices mixture, and dried shrimp mixture. Bring to a light boil and turn heat down to medium. Add red palm oil and bread mixture, stirring constantly until sauce thickens. Cook for 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring constantly.

In a large skillet over high heat, add canola oil. When oil is smoking hot, add shrimp and sauté for 1 ½ minutes, until shrimp turns pink and start to curl. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer coconut stew to a large serving bowl and cover with shrimp. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve immediately over rice or as a filling for acarajé.

vatapa-dryed-shrimp-stew

Cook’s Notes:

Dried shrimp can be found at Latin Markets or at international grocery stores. Buy pre-processed, if available. Otherwise you will have to bring home some not so attractive little dried creatures. They might be ugly, but they are certainly tasty!

Red palm oil can be found at Latin or African markets. Many international grocery stores also carry red palm oil.

Vatapá is yet another famous dish from Brazil, and it is especially popular in the state of Bahia. The baianas (ladies who have mastered the cooking method of this stew) often serve them as a filling in the also famous acarajé. Click here for acarajé recipe. In other parts of Brazil, especially in the North, this recipe is usually served over a bed of white rice.

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The bread is torn into small pieces to better absorb the coconut milk.

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Dried shrimp is not very attractive, but it can be delicious!

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This is what the dried shrimp should look like after the head and tail are removed.

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Eat over a bed of rice or with acarajé.

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