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Caribbean-inspired seafood stew brings warm island vibes to the table

Bright with lime, fragrant with thyme and spicy with Scotch bonnet pepper, this colorful, healthful stew, which is prepared quickly enough to make it weeknight-friendly, is brimming with Caribbean flavor.  (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
Bright with lime, fragrant with thyme and spicy with Scotch bonnet pepper, this colorful, healthful stew, which is prepared quickly enough to make it weeknight-friendly, is brimming with Caribbean flavor. (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
By Ellie Krieger Special To The Washington Post

Marooned at home all winter and with no spring break travel in the cards this year, I figured at least I can get a taste of the warm Caribbean waters by way of my kitchen. This seafood stew is my way of transporting myself there. It has a broth-like base packed with island flavor – bright with lime, fragrant with thyme, and spicy with Scotch bonnet pepper.

That base, which colorfully features yellow bell pepper and tomatoes as well, comes together quickly and easily, but it’s nice that it can be made ahead so it is ready when you are. And when that time comes, just add large chunks of fish fillet and shrimp to the pot, and simmer for a few minutes until they are just cooked through.

In keeping with the island vibes, I suggest using warm water fish such as red snapper or mahi mahi, but any firm white fish fillet will work. You could also substitute additional fish or scallops for the shrimp, if you prefer.

The half Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper called for gives the stew a medium-spicy heat that’s prominent but not overwhelming – feel free to use more or less to taste (a little goes a long way), or substitute a milder chile such as jalapeño.

Served over rice with a fresh spray of cilantro leaves, it’s a healthful meal that has a sunny excitement to it, and if I close my eyes I swear I can hear the palm trees rustling in the breeze.

Caribbean-Style Seafood Stew

2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola, grapeseed or avocado oil

1 medium yellow onion (about 8 ounces), diced

1 medium yellow or orange bell pepper (about 8 ounces), diced

1 celery stalk, sliced

½ Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated

1½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup canned no-salt-added diced tomatoes with juices, or 1 cup fresh diced tomatoes with juices

1 cup seafood stock or water

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus more to taste

1½ pounds skinless red snapper, mahi mahi or other white fish fillet, cut into 1½-inch pieces

8 ounces large shrimp (about 12 shrimp), peeled and deveined

¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves

Cooked rice, for serving (optional)

In a large Dutch oven or a large, deep skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, Scotch bonnet or habanero and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened somewhat but have not browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the tomatoes, seafood stock or water and the lime juice, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the sauce thickens a bit and the flavors are melded, about 10 minutes. (If not planning to eat right away, you can let the stew cool completely, then cover and refrigerate until needed.)

Gently stir in the fish and shrimp, raise the heat to medium, cover and cook, stirring gently occasionally, until the seafood is just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Taste, and season with additional salt and lime juice, if desired. Divide the stew among bowls, garnish with cilantro, and serve with rice, if desired.

Yield: 4 servings

Make ahead: The stew may be made up to the point of adding seafood, then refrigerated for up to 5 days.

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