While I possess many wonderful qualities, I’m not the gal you want at your glitzy New Year’s Eve party. I start my day at 5:30 am, so the countdown to midnight takes place long after my regular bedtime, which makes me kind of grumpy on December 31st -- like "I start realizing that all the champagne gives me a headache" kind of grumpy. Like "I don’t like Times Square and what is that silly ball made of anyway" kind of grumpy. Like "these shiny pointy shoes make my feet hurt” kind of grumpy. I’m ridiculous. It’s better for all my family and friends if I just throw on flannel pajamas, stay home, work on my lengthy list of resolutions, go to bed early, and bake something wonderful for hangover recovery the next morning.
So it’s rather ironic that one of my most magical memories from my childhood in Brazil is a New Year’s Eve spent in Rio when I was a mere 'tween and thought it thrilling to stay up all night. In Brazil, New Year’s Eve reigns as the second most important holiday (only to Carnival). It falls during the middle of their summer and, according to tradition, everyone in the city dresses completely in white. This symbolizes peace and renewal, a certain kind of hope that the New Year will be better than the one that has just passed. The white dresses and linen shirts and pants set a lovely and hopeful mood in the city.
As I remember, we spent the evening at a seafood restaurant near Copacabana Beach, watching the spectacular fireworks from our table. I believe this was the first time I sampled moqueca - a seafood stew made with shrimp, tomatoes, coconut milk, and lime served over rice. I adore this dish to this day, as it always takes me back to that moment.
After dinner, my parents took my brother and me down to the beach in the moonlight, where we tip-toed between the thousands of little white candles the Cariocas (Rio locals) place in the sand, and we joined the locals in throwing flowers into the sea, a New Year's tradition brought by African slaves in the 1500s. If the flowers are carried away on the current, it’s a sign that the goddess Iemanja' is pleased. If they return, the prayers will not be answered.
Ours were swept away.
Today, nearly two million people flood Copacabana Beach for the fireworks and an accompanying music festival on New Years Eve. Seems my quiet somewhat mystical memory can’t be recreated on Rio’s beaches anymore. But I did recreate a quiet candlelight Brazilian feast featuring moqueca. Though it’s admittedly not entirely authentic, as I had a tough time sourcing Brazilian ingredients locally (I’m talking about you, dende oil and malagueta peppers). I’ve created a recipe that’s a snap to pull together using ingredients you can source at your local grocery store.
So after a couple of caipirinhas and a steaming bowl of moqueca, I can go to bed by 10:00 p.m. and bake something lovely for breakfast in the morning.
Happy New Year All,
Shrimp Moqueca (Brazilian Coconut Shrimp Stew)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (or dende oil, if you can find it)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 2 jalapeño peppers, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
- 1/4 cup sherry
- 4 tablespoons peri-peri sauce (I used Nando’s brand medium, but you could use hot depending on your taste)
- 1 14 ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
- 1 14 ounce can coconut milk
- 2 limes, juiced and zested
- salt to taste.
- 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp
- Green onion, thin slices for garnish (optional)
- Cilantro, chopped for garnish (optional)
- Cashews, chopped for garnish (optional)
- Dende oil (optional)
- White rice, for serving
- Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven.
- Saute the onions and peppers until the onions are translucent and the peppers tender - about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for another minute or two.
- Add the tomatoes and cook until all their liquid has been incorporated, then add the sherry and peri peri sauce.
- Allow to simmer for 5 minutes then add the coconut milk, lime juice and zest, ginger, and salt and simmer for another minute or two.
- Add the shrimp, and simmer on low heat until cooked through, about 7 - 10 minutes.
- Serve over white rice, garnish with a healthy handful of cashews, green onion and cilantro as well as a drizzle of dende oil.