Citizens, the mighty country of Brazil is known for producing the best football players on Earth, some of the most beautiful women in the world (and some distressingly good looking men as well!) and of course, Samba!
Brazilian cuisine is not as well known abroad, which is a great pity, as it is delicious! Vatapá is just one excellent example recipe as to why!
Vatapá is a Brazilian dish made from bread, shrimp, salt cod, coconut milk, finely ground nuts and palm oil mashed into a creamy and well-seasoned paste.
Alternatively, the shrimp in the recipe can be replaced with ground tuna, chicken or cod among other options.
This dish is very popular in the North and Northeast of the country, but it is most typical in the northeastern state of Bahia, where many of the dishes have African origins.
As noted on the blog theamazingflavoursofbrazil:
“Extremely exotic, this Afro-Brazilian icon is another creamy and rich dish from Bahia made with xerem (a mixture of ground peanuts and cashew nuts), coconut milk and red palm oil (dende).
This dish is so popular in Brazil that even the great composer and singer Dorival Caymmi cleverly turned into tribute song with the same name. He provides the recipe ingredients and some cooking tips and sets the tone that a good Vatapa must be stirred regularly, so it doesn’t go lumpy or burn.
Dorival is absolutely right: Vatapa is so delicious that a song is more than deserved. You will also agree with him when you cook it and the irresistible aromas of palm oil, nuts and coconut milk start to float in your kitchen!”
My version of the recipe is firmly rooted in tradition, with two changes. I substitute Brazil nuts for peanuts as I find they add a richer and more balanced flavor and I’ve added in some minced tarragon as I find the herb complements the recipe. Leave it out for the traditional version.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
6 oz. dried salt cod
½ cup small dried shrimp
¼ cup cashews
¼ cup Brazil nuts (TFD change – original recipe used peanuts)
3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 dried chiles de arbol, stemmed
3 garlic cloves
1 1″-piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
5 oz. white country bread, thinly sliced
1 14-oz. can coconut milk
½ cup dendê (palm oil) – dendê oil can be purchased at most African or Brazilian markets or on Amazon. If unavailable, add enough turmeric powder to the recipe to turn the dish a goodly shade of yellow.
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 canned whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
⅛ tsp of freshly-grated nutmeg
3 cups shrimp stock (preferred) or fish stock
8 oz. raw medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tsp. finely minced tarragon (TFD addition, not in original recipe – omit for classic version)
Thinly sliced red bell pepper for garnish
Parsley or Cilantro, as you prefer, for garnish
A few pitted black olives for garnish
Cooked rice, for serving
Place cod in a 2-qt. saucepan; cover by 2″ with cold water. Boil for 20 minutes; drain. Repeat process twice more; finely shred and set aside.
Purée dried shrimp, cashews, Brazil nuts, nutmeg, scallions, chiles, garlic and ginger in a food processor; set shrimp paste aside. Combine bread and coconut milk in a food processor; let sit for 20 minutes. Purée; set bread paste aside.
Heat dendê oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat (or use peanut oil with a few teaspoons of turmeric mixed in). Add onion; cook until soft, about 13 minutes. Add shrimp paste; cook for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes; cook until broken down, about 6 minutes. Add cod, bread paste, and stock; boil.
Reduce heat to medium; cook until reduced by one quarter, about 30 minutes. Add shrimp and minced tarragon; cook until shrimp are pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; add garnishes and serve with rice.