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Fish | Vatapa Image

(Brazilian seafood stew with coconut milk)

Vatapá is one of the classic dishes of Brazilian cuisine. It hails from Bahia state on the northeast coast where many of the dishes have African origins. A thick version is often served as a filling for acarajé patties.

Image Creative Commons by Wikipedia: Elingunnur

4 to 6 servings


  • Onion, chopped -- 2
  • Dried shrimp (see notes) -- 1/2 cup
  • Garlic, chopped -- 2 to 3 cloves
  • Malagueta or jalapeño chile peppers, chopped -- 1-4
  • Oil -- 3 tablespoons
  • Stock or water -- 1 1/2 cups
  • Natural peanut or cashew butter -- 1/2 cup
  • Breadcrumbs -- 1 cup
  • Salt and pepper -- to taste
  • Shrimp, peeled and deveined -- 1 pound
  • Coconut milk -- 2 cups
  • Dendê oil (optional) -- 1/4 cup


  1. Place the onion, dried shrimp, garlic and chilies in a food processor or blender and puree well. Add a little water if necessary.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion-shrimp mixture and sauté until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Stir in the stock or water and whisk in the peanut or cashew butter until smooth. Then stir in the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5-8 minutes to meld the flavors.
  4. Stir in the shrimp and coconut milk and simmer another 5-6 minutes, or until shrimp is almost cooked through.
  5. Remove from heat, stir in the dendê oil and serve.

Vatapá Variations

  • Vatapá de Galinha: Substitute 1 1/2 pounds of cooked, shredded chicken for the shrimp.
  • Vatapá de Peixe: Substitute 1 1/2 pounds of firm white-fleshed fish, cut into chunks, for the shrimp.
  • If you can't find dried shrimp, you can puree about 1 cup of fresh raw shrimp in a blender and substitute it for the dried.
  • A truly authentic dish would use dendê, or palm oil, which gives the dish a bright yellow-orange tint. But dendê can be hard to find outside Brazil. Try adding 1 1/2 teaspoons of turmeric to the onion-shrimp paste instead.
  • Some recipes call for the addition of 1 tablespoon of fresh, minced ginger. Others for 1-2 cups of chopped tomatoes.
  • The breadcrumbs act as a thickener for the vatapá. Some recipes use cornmeal instead. Others thicken it like a gravy with flour.


  • While often called a stew or even a soup, vatapá has an interesting creamy puree texture. It is often served over rice or alongside the bean fritters called acarajé.


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