Paleo Brazilian Moqueca

The latest and greatest news for our little family of two is that we are moving to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, this coming January.  It is the beginning of many adventures in Latin America for the rest of my husband’s career.  I add this bit of info because hopefully it is the first of many recipes to come that will reflect the various regions and their associated flavors that we will encounter during our time in Latin America.  As you may have noticed in my previous recipe write-ups, I am all about creating dishes from a variety of cuisines.  I hope that our experiences will not only improve our lives (in the way of nourishment and culture), but also yours as well!

This recipe was actually a recommendation from one of Taylor’s Portuguese language professors for a traditional Brazilian fish stew dish known as “moqueca.”  There is nothing like a recommendation from a Brazilian about Brazilian cuisine, so we had to try it!  When I googled “moqueca” for recipe ideas, I came across one from Emeril Lagasse that looked promising.  I am embarrassed to admit that I had no idea he had Portuguese roots.  With all of the hours spent watching Food Network, I only gleaned that he was from Louisiana and known for Cajun-style cuisine.  I look forward to researching more of his recipes to see if I can find more inspiration!

I used a mortar and pestle to smash the garlic (as shown in the pictures above).  Before you leave this page and forget this recipe, this tool is (1) certainly not mandatory, (2) super cheap (and I’ll be honest, I was super excited to use it).  You could use a handheld garlic press, or simply mince it by hand.  The garlic will get a quick saute in the pan then be blended with oil, so it’s original form is not as important as using fresh cloves.  I normally save time and money by keeping a gigantic minced garlic jar in my fridge, but it was worth it to buy fresh garlic for this recipe.  However, if you somehow find yourself with all the ingredients except for fresh garlic, let me know if it is still delicious.  After all, sometimes a little improvising is necessary.

Emeril’s original recipe required very few alterations to make this dish easy and Paleo.  Traditional moqueca is already made with coconut milk!  Most alterations made to the recipe were a matter of convenience.  I not only have coconut oil in large supply, but it is an oil that I prefer to cook with rather than olive oil.  I ended up using canned diced and whole tomatoes instead of fresh for quality control and also to utilize my pantry.  For similar reasons, I used dried cilantro for part of the dish.

You could absolutely use either fresh or dried cilantro in this recipe.  I only chose to use both because the fresh cilantro that I am growing in my backyard has not yielded quite enough for this recipe.  Therefore, I chose to use a tablespoon of fresh cilantro for the marinade.  Have fresh cilantro in the rest of the dish was not necessary.  The flavor still came through beautifully.

This dish is traditionally served with rice.  If you are gluten free but not strict Paleo, grab a bag of Uncle Ben’s 90 second rice or take 15 minutes to boil some quinoa, and enjoy!  Otherwise, eating this with some cauliflower rice or “plain” is just as tasty and satisfying.  We ate this dish for several days, and it just kept getting better and better.  Bom Apetito!


  • 2.5-3 lbs boneless, skinless, white-fleshed fish (cod, sole, grouper, red snapper etc.) *I used sole*
  • For marinade:
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic (1 tsp minced)
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can organic diced tomatoes
  • 1 tbs fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • Piri Piri: ***USE only 1/4 cup***
  • 1 tbs + 1/2 cup coconut oil (slightly heated to melt it) or organic olive oil
  • 5-6 cloves of fresh garlic, smashed
  • 1/2-1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • To finish the sauce:
  • 2 tbs coconut oil
  • 1 cup onion, julienned
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can full-fat unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tbs dried cilantro
  • 1 tbs minced garlic (feel free to used jarred minced garlic)
  • optional: 2 tomatoes, sliced OR canned whole tomatoes, sliced


  • 1. Place the fish in a large bowl
  • 2. In a Vitamix or blender, add the chopped onion, diced tomatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, 1 teaspoon sea salt, and 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 3. Blend until mixture is smooth and ingredients are distributed evenly
  • 4. Pour mixture over fish, and gently separate pieces of fish so they are all coated in the marinade
  • 5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour
  • 6. To create Piri Piri:
  • 7. Heat a small saute pan over medium/med-high heat with a tablespoon of coconut oil
  • 8. Smash garlic with a mortar and pestle, or dice garlic into small pieces
  • 9. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and stir frequently until garlic is aromatic and only slightly brown
  • 10. When garlic is ready, add the lemon juice and remove from heat
  • 11. Let mixture stand for a few minutes until it is cool enough to place into a blender
  • 12. Place the contents of the pan into a Vitamix or blender, then add 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 13. Blend until smooth, then lower speed, adding the 1/2 cup of coconut or olive oil (until emulsified)
  • 14. Reserve 1/4 cup of Piri Piri to use for this recipe, and save the 1/2 cup leftover in the fridge to use in the future
  • 15. After fish has marinated for an hour, heat a large pan or dutch oven on medium/med-high heat with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 16. Add the julienned onions, and saute until translucent
  • 17. Pour fish and all of marinade into pan, then add the coconut milk, 1/4 cup Piri Piri, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 18. Gently stir until ingredients are well-incorporated
  • 19. If adding slices or canned tomatoes (without juice), place them on top of the mixture, then cover
  • 20. Simmer for 10-15 minutes (until fish flakes apart, stirring occasionally
  • 21. Enjoy!