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To spend time in the kitchen with Ana Lee Collares is to feel enkindled by the purpose behind cooking and feeding others: To connect. I should know. For four months during NTI’s Natural Foods Chef program, I got to do exactly that.
“Food as a passion comes from within, and that passion has been growing since I was very young,” she says.
“Every day during the NFC program, I worked between two very accomplished cooks with very different backgrounds and culinary styles. We learned from each other, and I could see clearly that my style was Brazilian. This experience strengthened my identity with Brazilian foods.”
She gives an example of the first day of class when we learned how to make vinaigrettes.
“Our instructor assumed that everyone had made vinaigrette before. But I hadn’t.”
This moment was one of the turning points for Collares, nudging her to think about the foods she’d grown up with, what she could cook in her sleep, the staple dishes on her family’s table, what she’d eat on trips back to Brazil.
During the second half of the NFC program, each student is tasked with planning a day’s lesson and menu based on a certain health condition. Collares chose Brazilian recipes for blood sugar regularity. She introduced us to Lagarto, a dry-rubbed, pressure-cooked piece of beef that we shredded with forks and wrapped in tender lettuce leaves. We seasoned collard greens and baked them into chips. And as the first snow of the season fell onto Denver, she fired up the stove’s burners and taught us about Moqueca.
Pronounced Mo-keh-kah, Moqueca de Peixe Baiana is a fish stew made in Northeastern coastal state of Bahia, and it is the version Collares indulges in most often. Southern Brazilians make a different style of moqueca without palm oil, with yuca paste, and that’s always cooked in a terracotta pot.
Collares plans to return to Brazil early this year to continue studying food and cooking. First, she gifts us with her family recipe. Thanks, Ana Lee. May you continue to be inspired and inspire others along the way.
Moqueca (Brazilian Fish Stew)
4 fillets of sea bass or cod
Salt to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 T gin
1½ cups (360 ml) water
3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T fair trade palm oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 can full fat coconut milk
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into rings
1 red bell pepper, sliced into rings
2 tomatoes, sliced into rings
1 red Fresno chili pepper, diced (remove seeds for milder flavor)
1 T chopped cilantro
1 T chopped green onion
1) Season fish with salt, garlic, and gin and marinate for 30 minutes.
2) In a separate pot or kettle, heat up the water. This is to thin out your moqueca if it becomes too thick as it cooks.
3) Heat a large soup pot to medium and add olive and palm oils.
4) Start layering your Moqueca: First onion, then yellow pepper, red pepper, and tomatoes, each in a single layer. Repeat until all vegetables have been added to the pot.
5) Add coconut milk and season with salt. Stir gently. Bring to simmer and cook for one minute.
6) Now, add a bit of hot water if stew is too thick.
7) Add fish fillets. Flip each fillet after about one minute. Cover pot and cook for 10 minutes.
8) Add Fresno chili, cilantro, and green onion. Cook for another minute, then ladle into bowls and eat.
More NTI Stew Recipes:
Jacqui Gabel is a writer and recent Natural Foods Chef graduate continuing her nutrition education with NTI. Follow her @live_vividly_ on Instagram for more recipes, kitchen tips, and vivid words for life.
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