Sunday, November 7, 2010

RECIPE - Vatapá (Version 2- for Acarajé)

Unlike yesterday's recipe for vatapá, which was an all-purpose, all-meal side dish that can be served in any number of social situations, this version is meant for one specific purpose. One of the essential components of the Afro-Brazilian street food acarajé is a dollop of thick and creamy vatapá, and the recipe below is a close approximation of the recipe used by beautifully-dressed baianas (women in traditional Bahian dress) in public squares and on street corners throughout Salvador, Bahia and elsewhere in Brazil.

Acarajé is a baseball-sized fritter made from ground and mashed black-eyed-peas fried in dendê palm oil. Traditionally, when her hot fritter comes out of the brilliant orange palm oil a baiana will first cut it open through middle without separating the two halves entirely. Then, depending on the customer's desires and tolerance, she will use a small spoon to spread some VERY hot pepper sauce on the warm inner surface of the acarajé. Next a generous smear of vatapá, some optional dried shrimps, and finally something which she (by tradition, all sellers of acarajé are women) calls "salada" but which is in fact chopped tomatoes and onions. Only then is it handed to the customer in a small paper napkin to be eaten on the spot. Acarajé is a dish that definitely does not improve with age, and a cold acarajé is heavy and stodgy. A hot one, strong with the flavors of dendê oil. hot pepper, dried shrimp and vatapá, is street-food heaven.

Here's a recipe, then, for vatapá baiano perfect for acarajé. For a recipe for acarajé itself, click here.
RECIPE - Vatapá (Version 2- for Acarajé)

1/2 lb (250 gr) dried shrimp*
1 qt (1 liter) canned coconut milk
1/2 cup (75 gr) peanuts, unsalted, roasted, peeled
1/2 cup (75 gr) cashew nuts, unsalted, roasted
3 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. cilanto, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup dendê oil**
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt to taste
1 Tbsp. grated ginger

*can be purchased at most Asian, African and Latin American markets
**can be purchased at African and Brazilian markets
In a food processor, process the dried shrimp, peanuts and cashew nuts until you have a homogenous, finely-ground mixture. Dissolve the flour in half of the coconut milk, and stir to completely mix, making sure there are no lumps. In a blender, combine the parsley, cilantro, chopped tomato and onions, and blend completely.

Put the remaining half of the coconut oil in a large, heavy saucepan, and heat over medium heat. When the coconut milk is hot, but not boiling, slowly add the dissolved flour, stirring constantly. Then add the herb/tomato/onion mix and finally the ground shrimp and nuts while still stirring constantly. Cook for a few minutes then add the dendê and olive oils, the remaining half of the dried shrimp, salt to taste and the grated ginger. Increase heat and bring to a boil, continuing to stir to make sure the mixture doesn't lump. Reduce heat and cook, constantly stirring, until the mixture is thickened, smooth and creamy. If the mixture is too thick add additional coconut milk to thin it out; if it's too thin, add a small amount of flour, dissolved in water or coconut milk.

Let cool completely, the use as filling for acarajé.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Brazileira by Ana Paula Oliveira.


  1. hey james, im studying gastronomy in Rio de Janeiro, and i was searching for articles about vatapá, and i found your blog. Your blog is just amazing, i simply love it! why dont you create a page on facebook, that is all that is missing haha :p thanks for sharing your knowledge

  2. for how many acarajes is that? for instance, 5 or more?

    1. Anja - this recipe makes enough vatapá for at least a dozen acarajés, at least if they're not supersized!

    2. thanks, i˙m going to prepare it tomorrow - time to refresh summer memories of salvador and acarajes de tanya :)