Since Mr Lemur was born in Brazil, he has a particular soft spot for Brazilian foods. It’s probably impossible to feed him black beans too often – we even have a local butcher from Brazil who offered to save us pig’s ears for feijoada – and my experiments in pão de queijo (little cheese breads) have been enthusiastically received. We even buy guaraná soda, which reminds him of his childhood in Rio and reminds me, weirdly, of Scottish Irn Bru, so everyone’s happy there. My favourite Brazilian dishes to cook, though, are the Afro-Brazilian flavours typical of Bahia: deep seafood stews like moqueca and vatapá, thickened with nuts and dried shrimp, and based on the rich foundation of palm oil or dendê. I love West African food (I was thrilled to find great Senegalese food in Paris recently) and so it makes sense that the Afro-Brazilian combination of West African nut-based stews with New World chilies, tomatoes and fruits would hit my food buttons. Xinxim de galinha is a classic Bahian dish, combining chicken and shrimp into an earthy stew that feels warm and reassuring even if you didn’t grow up with it.

The main things that you might not have to hand to make xinxim de galinha are dendê and dried shrimp. The shrimp are easily found in any Chinese or Asian store. Look for fairly big shrimp that are nice and pink in colour – brownish and dull shrimp are probably older and the small ones are cheaper and less flavourful. Dendê oil can also be found in many ethnic markets and maybe even the supermarket if you live in a diverse neighbourhood. It tends to separate in the jar but don’t worry, that’s normal. This bright orange oil makes all the difference to the colour and flavour of the dish.

Xinxim de galinha (Bahian chicken stew)

  • 4 chicken thighs
  • 1 onion
  • 4 spring onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 inches of ginger
  • 1/2 cup of cilantro (i.e. a very generous handful)
  • 1/4 cup of peanuts
  • 1/4 cup of cashews
  • 1/4 cup of dried shrimp
  • 1 small can of coconut milk (165ml size)
  • 3 small green chilies (serranos or similar)
  • hot sauce
  • 2-3 tbsp dendê oil

Roughly chop the garlic, ginger, spring onions and cilantro, place in a food processor with the lime juice, and process till fairly smooth. Pour this mixture over the chicken and marinade for an hour or till you are hungry.

Meanwhile, toast the nuts on a cast iron skillet till golden and process to fine meal. Next process the dried shrimp in the same way until fluffy.

Dice the onion and fry in a heavy-based pan in a generous amount of dendê. Scrape the marinade off the chicken and pat it dry, then brown chicken pieces in the same pan. When the chicken is browning nicely, add the marinade, nuts, shrimp paste and coconut milk and stir well. Add a little water to loosen. Cut the chilies in half and add them, along with hot sauce to taste. (The dish isn’t really spicy but you want to give a little green chili flavour.)

Cover and cook for 30 minutes, turning and stirring often. The sauce will stick easily so you need to keep quite a close eye on it.

Serves 4.

Recipe adapted from The South American Table by Maria Baez Kijac.

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