Thursday 1 June 2017

Moqueca - a dish close to my heart

The complete moqueca meal (with rice, pirão and chilli oil)

Last Friday, we invited our friends Az, Mich and their kids over for dinner to thank them for helping us solve loads of problems with our building works while we were in Brazil for Christmas. Unfortunately, it was a very sad Christmas, as my mum passed away in November. Every time we went back home, mum used to greet us with a local dish called Moqueca (mo-ke-ka). A traditional dish from indigenous tribes on the Brazilian coast, It’s great as an everyday meal but also perfect for special occasions. It’s a healthy and light meal with simple ingredients but exciting flavours. I chose it to welcome and thank our friends.

We cook the ingredients in a clay pot which adds extra flavour to the food. These pots are hand-made by a co-op of women, “as paneleiras” (the pot making ladies), with clay from the area, fired in open air and finished with mangrove tree sap. Everyone in our family has a collection of such pots in various shapes and sizes, but you don’t have to own one to enjoy a nice moqueca.

A paneleira shaping the pots.
The pots ready to be fired. 
Here they burn the pots before dying them with the mangrove sap.
Sap is applied sealing the pots, giving them the black colour and a distinctive flavour to the meals.
The finished product: pots of all sizes.

The dish resembles a stew and is made with seafood (fish, prawns, mussels or crab), onions, garlic, coriander and tomatoes. There are some variations, such as the plantain moqueca, that can be used as a side dish.

In the region of Espírito Santo (where my family comes from), we use olive oil and the dish is called Moqueca Capixaba (Mo-ke-ka Ca-pee-sha-ba). In Bahia, further up North on the coast, they use palm oil (dendê) and coconut milk, and it’s called Moqueca Bahiana (Mo-Ke-ka bae-an-na).  

The traditional Moqueca Capixaba is served with rice and pirão (broth and cassava root flour made into a thick sauce), or with plantain moqueca, and brought to the table in the same clay pot in which it was cooked.

One of the most valuable things I inherited from my mum was her recipe book. Moqueca is a dish that I have a very strong and emotional connection to. It’s a form of celebration and a way of bringing people together. Like my mum, I love to share it with the people I love.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Fish moqueca. Delicious flavours.

Prawn moqueca

Moqueca Capixaba (Mo-ke-ka Ca-pee-sha-ba)
serves 4-5 people


4-5 chunky fresh fish fillets or steaks (approx 200g each of sustainable cod, haddock, hake or other firm, white-fleshed fish)
5 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 medium size onions, chopped
1 pack of fresh coriander, chopped
3 spring onions (chopped)
1 tablespoon of **Annatto seeds oil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the marinade
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
Sea salt

** Annatto oil – How to make it

If you live outside Brasil you can find annatto seeds in specialty shops. Here in London you can but them at Spice mountain in Borough market and The Spice Shop in Portobello Rd. 

1 ½ tablespoons of annatto seeds
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil

In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil and annatto seeds. Turn the heat on to medium. Stir until the oil takes on a reddish tinge. When it reaches a pre-boiling stage, turn off the heat and let it cool. Do not overcook the seeds as they become bitter and can pop, making a big mess.

Using a sieve, transfer the oil to a container.
Your annatto oil is now ready to be used.


Pat-dry the fish fillets and put in a bowl.
Crush the garlic with the salt and add the lemon juice then pour over the fish and toss to combine.
Cover and leave it to marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
In a big clay pot or casserole, put the olive oil and annatto oil together, layer it, in order, with chopped tomatoes, chopped onions, coriander and spring onions. Place the fish or seafood of your choice on top.
DO NOT add any water.
Bring to a simmer, add a few drops of lemon, then cover the pot. Adjust the heat to gently simmer until the vegetables are softened and have released liquid, and the fish is just cooked through - about 20-25 minutes. Season and sprinkle fresh coriander on top.

Serve immediately with rice.

A healthy note:  Moqueca is a powerhouse of healthy ingredients. Fish is a great source of omega 3 (the beneficial fat that is good for your heart), protein, calcium, phosphorus, iodine, vitamins A, B and D. Tomatoes are very rich in antioxidants. When they are cooked with olive oil, they become a rich source of the carotenoide lycopene. Also, rich in potassium and vitamin C. Onions are a good source of quercetin (a flavonoid that is a natural anti-inflammatory), which may help relieve allergies and prevent complications of diabetes. 

Till next week!


  1. Margot, fiquei com água na boca! Beijo!

  2. Marilia querida, obrigada! Quem resiste a uma moqueca, certo? Ainda mais com esse nosso sangue capixaba. Bjs


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