‘Vatapa’ Bahia’s Nut Puree with Prawns

‘Vatapa’ Bahia’s Nut Puree with Prawns

Extremely exotic, this Afro-Brazilian icon is another creamy and rich dish from Bahia made with xerem (a mixture of ground peanuts and cashew nuts), coconut milk and red palm oil (dende). This dish is so popular in Brazil that even the great composer and singer Dorival Caymmi cleverly turned into tribute song with the same name. He provides the recipe ingredients and some cooking tips and sets the tone that a good Vatapa must be stirred regularly, so it doesn’t go lumpy or burn. Dorival is absolutely right: Vatapa is so delicious that a song is more than deserved. You will also agree with him when you cook it and the irresistible aromas of palm oil, nuts and coconut milk start to float in your kitchen. Commonly used as a filling to the Acarajé fritters (recipe coming soon) or eaten with seafood or chicken, it can also be served as an exotic dip.



1kg prawns, peeled and deveined, tails intact

1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 long red chilli, finely chopped

1 cup coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Vatapa Puree:

250ml of coconut milk

100ml hot water

8 slices white block, crusts removed

1 cup toasted and unsalted peanuts

1 cup toasted and unsalted cashew nuts

2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 long red chillies

4 large tomatoes, skinless and roughly chopped

50g dried Thai shrimp*

80ml red palm (dende) oil**

1 piece ginger (3 cm), grated

Pinch of nutmeg

Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

1 red chilli (extra), sliced, to garnish

Lime wedges, to serve

Brazilian-style rice (recipe here) or steamed rice, to serve

*Available from Asian grocers

**Available from South American grocers or online


1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, fan-forced. Toast the dried shrimp in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until they change colour. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool. Process in the food processor to crumbs and pass them through a sieve to obtain a powder.

2. Place the bread in a bowl, pour the warm water, coconut milk and set aside to soak. Grind the nuts in the food processor.

3. Heat 2tbs of the olive oil in a medium frying pan and fry the onion. Add the chillies, tomatoes, dried prawns, nuts, ginger and nutmeg and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the tomato mixture into the bowl of the food processor and process with the nuts. Add the coconut milk mixture and blend until smooth.

4. Bring the mixture back to the pan over medium heat and slowly pour the dende oil. Cook, stirring for 3-5 minutes or until thick and warm. Season with salt and pepper.

5. For the prawns, in a large frying pan heat the olive oil over high heat. Season the prawns with salt and pepper and fry, stirring for 3 minutes or until prawns are almost cooked through. Add the garlic and chilli and stir for a further minute. Stir in the coriander.

6. Pour Vatapa into a serving dish, garnish with chilli slices and serve with prawns, lime wedges and rice

Serves: 6