When I visited my daughter Daniela in Rio de Janeiro during her junior year abroad, like every visiting parent, I asked where she wanted to eat. She did not hesitate: a seafood restaurant specializing in food from the coastal state of Bahia. And that’s where we tasted moqueca de peixe for the first time.
Bahia, like many parts of Brazil, has a very old Jewish community that started with conversos who came over with the early explorers in the 1500s, only to be often delivered into the hands of the Inquisition and sent back to Portugal to face an auto da fe. Secret Jews remained in the region—often eating pork to deflect suspicion—although most moved to the city of Recife, then under Dutch control, in the 1600s. When the Portuguese took Recife, the Jews left; 23 of them sailed to America, establishing the first Jewish community in New York in 1654.
Today, in a population of 13 million people, there are fewer than a thousand Jews in Bahia, most of them in the city of Salvador. But Jewish cooks continue to draw inspiration from the area’s cuisine. This recipe for fish stew, a Brazilian favorite, was inspired by Brazilian-American cookbook writer Letitia Moreinos Schwartz and Jewish Brazilian social entrepreneur David Hertz, who started an organization called Gastronomiva, where he encourages impoverished young adults from Brazil’s poorest neighborhoods to enter the hospitality field. It’s a perfect recipe for a summer meal—perhaps something to enjoy while you’re watching the Rio Olympics.
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