Recipe courtesy of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger

Vatapa Fish Soup with Coconut Milk

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  • Yield: 6 to 8 servings
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3 tablespoons dende oil (see Note 1), or safflower oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

4 small jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped

6 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped

Juice of 2 limes

1/3 cup dried shrimp (see Note 2), ground to a powder

1/3 cup cashew or peanut butter

2 cups chicken stock, homemade or best-quality canned

2 cups coconut milk

1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

Dash Tabasco, or to taste

2 pounds fish fillets, bones and skin removed, cut into 1inch cubes

1 pound large cooked shrimp, cut into 1/2 inch chunks

6 to 8 sprigs cilantro, for garnish (optional)

2 limes, cut into wedges


  1. In a large stock pot, heat the dende oil over medium low heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, and chiles. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are well softened. Add the tomatoes, lime juice, ground shrimp, and cashew butter and stir together for 1 minute more. Begin adding the chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring all the time to keep the mixture smooth. Add the coconut milk, cilantro, salt, and Tabasco.
  2. When ready to serve, brush a very large, deep skillet or saucepan with a little oil and place in the fish in a single layer. Place the pan over medium low heat and, when it just begins to sizzle, pour in the broth mixture and slowly bring up to a simmer. Cook for about 8 minutes, or until the fish is opaque, adding the shrimp for the last 2 minutes of simmering time. Distribute the fish evenly among 6 or 8 bowls. Taste the broth for seasoning and pour over the fish. Squeeze a wedge of lime over each bowl and drop it in. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, if desired, and serve.

Cook’s Note

Dende oil is Brazilian palm oil, available in Latin American markets. Be sure to get the Brazilian rather than the West African product, which is much heavier. Or use half the amount of the West African palm oil and substitute vegetable oil for the other half. The ground dried shrimp that are used in Brazilian dishes can occasionally be found in WestAfrican markets, but the variety that is widely available in Chinese markets will do nicely. The easiest way to grind them is in a coffee grinder, if you have one which is reserved for grinding spices.