Caruru, a classic Brazilian shrimp and okra dish is comforting, filling and absolutely delicious! It’s made with salted dried shrimp, palm oil, ginger, coconut milk and other easy to find ingredients. While this recipe can be seen as laborious, it is not difficult to put together and the results are totally worth it. Your família will love it!
Welcome to February, and Happy Black History Month to all!
In 2023, the theme of Black History Month is Black Resistance.
Eat the Culture is recognizing the remarkable, and frankly, underrated resistance of our ancestors in bringing culinary traditions across the Atlantic to shape the vibrance of Black cuisine that we know and love today.
They physically and mentally carried African foodways across the deadly Middle Passage to pass down through generations.
This year’s Black History Month Virtual Potluck traces popular dishes of the Diaspora from their West African roots to North America and beyond.
Share these recipes with your friends and loved ones and follow each participant by using the hashtag #BHMVP2023 on Instagram.
You can grab the full list of recipes from this year’s collaboration at Eat the Culture.
Today, I’m going to teach you how to make a Caruru Baiano. This recipe is a descendant of Okro Soup, which is originally found in Nigeria in West Africa.
Okro Soup is a savory main dish that combines okra, meat, fish, and spices. The ingredients are cooked in palm oil.
This recipe traveled with our ancestors from Nigeria across the Atlantic and has been adapted in South America and the American South.
Today, I’m sharing how to make Caruru from Brazil and encourage you to follow the story through Okra Seafood Stew from Nigeria and Okra Gumbo, from the American South who share roots with this Brazilian recipe.
And if okra and its slime intimidates you, keep on reading because I have all the tips you need to handle that with ease!
What is caruru?
Caruru is a classic Brazilian dish, popular in northeastern Brazil and beloved by many.
Like Bobó de Camarão – Brazilian Shrimp Stew, it is a dish that has roots in Africa that has evolved to include local indigenous resources.
Believed to be descendent from Nigerian Okra Soup, the Caruru is typically made with dried shrimp, okra, coconut milk, palm oil, cilantro and more.
It is typically served with Acarajé (a black eyed pea fritter) or with proteins like shrimp and fish.
Caruru Ingredients and Tools
- Okra – this is the main ingredient for our dish, so we need to make sure they’re good and fresh. See below for tips on how to find and purchase the best okra.
- Salted dried shrimp – this makes the dish and will define what your caruru tastes (or doesn’t taste) like. I found mine at a Latin market in Dallas, but you can also try African markets.
- Palm oil – this is another main ingredient, known in Portuguese as Azeite de Dendê. In big cities, it can be found in health food stores like Whole Foods, Central Market, etc. or in Brazilian markets, African markets, Latin markets, Asian markets or online, like this one. This ingredient offers beautiful color to the dish, but please be careful not to exceed the amount the recipe calls for. Too much can cause indigestion.
- Onion – yellow or white work. You’ll need two: one peeled that remains whole because it will be used to make a flavoring stock, the other diced. We need about 1/2 cup of diced onions to saute with the okra.
- Garlic – these provide more background flavor.
- Cilantro – one bunch.
- Scallions – also known as green onions.
- Nuts – we’re using a combination of toasted cashews and toasted peanuts to add nuttiness and more protein to this stew.
- Ginger – fresh ginger is necessary to this recipe to provide a little spicy, gingery pop.
- Coconut milk – canned coconut milk works just fine here! You won’t need a whole can, so be prepared to save some for another recipe.
- Freshly squeezed lime juice – this helps our okra become less slimy! Scroll on down to learn how it works.
- Smoked paprika – this is one of my favorite spices, and it adds a lovely smokiness without overpowering the other ingredients. It’s not original to a caruru recipe, but I like adding it because the shrimp I get here in Texas was not already smoked.
You’ll also need some kitchen tools to make this caruru recipe:
- High-speed blender
- Liquid measuring cup
- Sharp knife and cutting board
- Dutch oven or another heavy bottom pan
- Citrus juicer
How to choose fresh okra
Picking okra is easy.
Just hold it in your hand. With your thumb, fold the tip of the okra.
If the tip breaks, the okra is fresh and great to use. If it bends and does not snap open, its not as fresh.
Please note that while this okra is not not bad to use, it’s just not the best. And freshness matters when it comes to making a Caruru.
How to make Caruru
While Caruru isn’t exactly hard to make it’s definitely a bit… consuming. It requires dicing the okra in small dices, which, if it wasn’t for the slime, wouldn’t be challenging at all, but because of that sticky slime, this task becomes a labor of love.
I’ll be honest: This step alone took me, an experienced chef, about 30 minutes to get through, and it’s annoying AF dealing with sticky hands, sticky knife, etc. If anyone knows a better way, do tell! LOL.
That said, this is definitely the hardest part. Once you get through this, you’re pretty good.
Once your okra pods are chopped, we’ll make our flavoring stock next. This is very important because it is what imparts flavor into the caruru.
Toss the salted dried shrimp—shrimp shells and all—into the blender with some water.
Once it’s smooth, we strain the shrimp blend into a clean measuring cup and set aside.
We’ll use the blender again, so rinse it to remove all remaining particles of shrimp.
Next, add all veggies, nuts and favoring ingredients to blend into a paste.
Then we add the strained shrimp liquid to this paste and set aside.
Now that the flavoring stock is ready, it’s time to start cooking our caruru.
We heat the dende oil in the pan and saute the diced onions in it.
We then add the okra and cook off the slime.
We do this by adding the lime juice to the okra. Its acidity helps cut through all that goo.
Then we just cook, stirring frequently and watching that the bottom of our pan becomes thicker and thicker with residue. This residue is the slime catching on to the pan and caramelizing and turning into flavor… all the while the okra is turning slime-free!!
This whole ‘cooking the goo off’ process should take about 15 or so minutes, but you’ll know exactly when the okra is ready.
As you cook, it’ll first turn slimier and slimier… you’ll initially see strands of clear glue-looking stuff and when it’s done there will be none!
The okra will be soft and slime-free.
That’s when you know you can move on to the next step.
And the next step is way easier. Just add the smoked paprika, which isn’t an original ingredient in Caruru.
I add it here because the dried shrimp I find isn’t smoky, while the ones in Brazil can be and it imparts that smokiness flavor onto the dish.
Next, add the stock mixture and let it cook, stirring often to make sure the flavors that got stuck to the pan meld into the dish, and to cook off all the deliciousness we have in that stock and to cook down all that liquid, too.
Some say your carruru is ready when the okra seeds start to turn pink, but mine never do when I make this dish…
Just know it’s ready when it thickens into a nice mush, chunky puree of sorts—uma papa, is what we call it in Portuguese.
Serve your caruru a good farofa de dendê and proteins like fish or shrimp.
You can also serve it with a great hot sauce of your preference!
Other Delicious Recipes from the Brazilian Northeast:
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Caruru – Brazilian Shrimp Okra Stew
- 1 pound okra
- 2 medium onions (1 peeled and quartered, the other diced – we need about 1/2 cup of diced onions)
- 3 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 bunch of cilantro
- 5 scalions
- 2 teaspoons palm oil Azeite de Dendê
- 2 ounces of salted dried shrimp
- 1/4 cup toasted cashew nuts heaping cup
- 1/4 cup toasted peanuts heaping cup
- 1/2 inch ginger
- 7 ounces coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon of lime juice freshly squeezed
- 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
- salt to taste
- Remove the top stems of the okra, and discard. Then, cut the okra into small dice pieces and set aside.
- Add the salted shrimp to a cup of a blender, and add two cups of water to it. Blend until smooth.
- Strain the shrimp blend into a clean measuring cup and set aside.
- To this blend, add the strained shrimp juice, blend to combine and set aside.
- In a medium heavy bottom, or cast iron pot over high heat, heat the palm oil and add the diced onions. Saute until soft.
- Add in the okra and the lime juice and saute stirring frequently until all the sticky slime gets cooked off – this will take about 15 minutes and you'll know you're done when you no longer see slime dripping from the okra. You'll also notice a buildup on the bottom of the pan – that's basically the slime sticking there – make sure that buildup stays a brown color and doesn't burn to a black color. Lower the heat if you need.
- After the slime gets cooked off, add in the smoked paprika and stir.
- Add in the mixture from the blender into the pan and stir to combine and cook on medium heat scraping the bottom of the pan. The slime stuck to the pan will not impart a slimy texture to the dish at this point. Continue to cook and stir for about 30 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed and the mixture resembles a chunky puree.
- Taste and correct the salt accordingly – depending on the dry salted shrimp you use, you may not need any additional salt at all.