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eat the cup 2014, part one :: moqueca madness!

let the games begin! wait- they've already begun. they're in full swing! empires have crumbled! heroes have emerged! and i'm only now posting the first edition of this year's eat the cup? the first few days are always more of a challenge than later on, because there is just so much action happening. one has to be careful to balance game watching, grocery shopping, man ogling, food preparing, blog writing and beverage consuming very carefully.

the first day of the tournament gave me an easy decision, because i'd pretty much decided that i wanted to kick things off by honouring the world cup hosts, who i was pretty sure would cruise to victory over their nevertheless stalwart croatian opponents in the opening match. in my opening round bracket, i'd predicted a 3-1 brazil victory and believe me, no one was more surprised than i when the result was a 3-1 brazilian victory. [i haven't been so dead-on with my other predictions, but more on that later.]

but honestly, i was going to go brazilian [in cooking, not grooming] even in the unlikely event that the hosts had lost, because of my shocking "oversight" in the 2010 cup. it wasn't an oversight, really, just a bit of overconfidence that i'd have lots of time to indulge in delicious brazilian cuisine throughout the tournament. i even joked about it in my pre-tourny post. so i shuffled forward, never rushing to include brazil, because i wanted to get to all those other countries who would likely be eliminated early on.

and the next thing i knew, brazil had been eliminated.

dafuq?

the perennial favourites, the kings of the football pitch were just gone and i had never made moqueca.

moqueca, in case you're curious, is quite possibly the best food ever. it has some competition, but it is really, really hard to dismiss something that combines the powers of fresh fish and seafood, coconut milk and comfort food. it's one of those dishes that strictly amateur cooks love to make, because there's not really any hard and fast rules about its preparations. ocean fish, coconut milk and green onions seem to be your basics and beyond that... it's kind of up to you.

the dish is traditionally associated with the province of bahia , a province in the northeastern part of the country that was once the locus of the african slave trade. as a result, bahia has been influenced greatly by the cultures of west africa, notably the yoruba people, whose religious practices marked the syncretic spirituality of brazilian candomblé, similar in development to haitian voudoun.

however, i opted to make a variant of moqueca that is more typical of the tiny province of espìrito santo, just to the south of bahia, wedged between it and rio de janeiro. the difference? i used olive oil rather than palm oil. palm oil is considered as crucial a part of bahian moqueca as coconut milk, but it presents a problem for a north american cook. for starters, it can be difficult to find, but even if you're in a metropolis with a diversity of ingredients readily available, palm oil can be problematic. finding ethically, sustainably sourced palm oil on short notice is a tall order. luckily, moqueca tastes equally delicious with olive oil. [i suspect it would also taste delicious with peanut oil, which would be an interesting link back to its african roots.]

for my moqueca, this is what i used:

1.5lbs cod filets
1lb raw shrimp
4-5 green onions
2 tbsps sweet paprika
3-4 cloves garlic
olive oil
1 can organic tomatoes
5-6 stems basil
small bunch of cilantro
2 cans coconut milk
3 small sweet peppers [red, orange, yellow]
1 cup water
1 cup rice
salt and pepper to taste

conventional wisdom would suggest that you should prepare the rice separately and serve it as a side. i say to hell with convention. dom and i are both fans of hearty, healthy stews you can eat with a fork and i love the texture that rice develops when it's cooked in coconut milk.

my technique involves sautéeing the fish in about half the garlic and the olive oil [use a little more than you strictly need]. i like to use frozen fish and add in the juice that's leftover from the thawing process. [i also add some salt and pepper at this point.] i then remove the fish, add more olive oil, garlic and the paprika, then start frying up the onions, peppers and any other vegetables i might want to add even though they're not strictly speaking necessary. then i toss in the basil and the tomatoes and let everything get to know each other. then it's coconut milk time.

if you're me, when the coconut milk heats through, you add some water and the rice. if you're you, you do what you feel like. either way, partially cover the mix and bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer for fifteen minutes or so. then add back the fish/ seafood and the cilantro, reserving a little for a garnish, please. simmer another ten minutes or so and moqueca!!!!

please enjoy responsibly. it's only the beginning of the tournament and we have a lot of eating to do.

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