Actress Morena Baccarin cooks a Brazilian stew

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Actress Morena Baccarin cooks a Brazilian stew
The actress Morena Baccarin fixes moqueca, a Brazilian fish stew, for her three children, at her home in New York, Feb. 4, 2022. As a working actress, she learned to cook for herself and her friends. “It feels like the most like caretaking and loving stuff you can do,” she said. Shina Peng/The New York Times

by Alexis Soloski

NEW YORK, NY.- “If I take these home to my kids and they don’t like them, I’m going to kill them,” actress Morena Baccarin said.

This was on a sopping morning at Rio Supermarket, a Brazilian grocery in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens. Baccarin, an Emmy-nominated actress, moved from Rio de Janeiro to New York City at 10. She still craves the foods of her childhood, like coxinhas, chicken and potato croquettes, formed into a golden-brown kiss. She placed two orders — one for her, one for her children — in rapid Portuguese and then bit into a croquette, somehow managing not to smear her lipstick.

“It’s not part of my diet, but I can’t not eat these,” she said. “It’s deep fried and it’s heaven.”

Baccarin, 42, had come to Rio Market on a recent Friday at the suggestion of two of her cousins, the same cousins who had given her the flamingo pink earrings she wore. She had an afternoon shoot for “The Endgame,” the thriller series that recently premiered on NBC. But she hoped to have just enough time to shop for ingredients and then rush home to make moqueca, a Brazilian fish stew, for her three children: an 8-year-old son, whom she co-parents with her first husband, producer Austin Chick, and a 5-year-old daughter and 11-month-old son with her current husband, her “Gotham” co-star Ben McKenzie.

She grabbed a basket and began to fill it with frozen cheese bread, bay leaves, herbal tea and a carton of brigadeiros, Brazilian sweets made from condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter.

“The kids will forgive me for working all day if I bring that home,” she said, striding through the aisles in a camel-hair coat. Her manner was energetic, efficient, self-effacing. Her hair hung like a skein of silk, immune to humidity.

Baccarin started acting early — her mother had been an actress in Rio, her father a journalist at Globo. “I love hiding in character,” she said. “I mean, obviously, it’s me, but I like to pretend that it’s not. I tell myself that I’m creating this whole new person.”

So even as she struggled to assimilate to Manhattan life, she kept at it, honing her craft first at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and then at the Juilliard School. She never felt that she fit in there.

“I was not a favorite,” she said. “I had a lot of attitude.” Juilliard taught her technique, stamina, survival, but not how to embrace her strengths or her ethnicity. After graduating, she thought she would do classical theater; Hollywood called instead. “I felt like I was letting everybody down,” she said.

She had a breakout role as a courtesan in Joss Whedon’s short-lived space Western “Firefly.” (She did not experience abuse from Whedon, but she does not dispute that others may have.) On set she discovered that her training helped her to handle elevated, stylized text and make it sound natural, which probably explains why she has found her way to so many superhero projects including “Gotham,” “Deadpool” and “Justice League Unlimited.” Her work on the Showtime thriller “Homeland” earned her an Emmy nomination.

Her character in “The Endgame,” an arms dealer and criminal mastermind named Elena Federova, has no superpowers. She doesn’t need them. “What’s really fun about this character is I just get to mess with people constantly and poke at their weak spots,” Baccarin said. She also gets to do stunts. In heels.

That day she wore sensible ankle boots, which clacked against the ground as she added palm oil to her basket, then hot sauce for her husband. She spotted a 12-pack of soda flavored with guaraná berries. “It’s the best. So sweet,” she said. She upgraded her basket to a cart.

After adding coconut milk, herbal tea, hearts of palm, biscuits, juice, cheese and a pair of Havaianas flip-flops for her nanny, she paid, toting her haul to a waiting SUV. Half an hour later it delivered her to her South Brooklyn kitchen, in the basement of a brownstone.

Growing up, Baccarin rarely cooked. “My mom always swore that I would never cook for any man,” she said. But as a working actress, she learned to cook for herself and her friends. “It feels like the most like caretaking and loving stuff you can do,” she said.

She learned some Brazilian dishes from her cousins, some from cookbooks. Her husband, despite having grown up in Texas, taught her a few more.

After removing her coat, she laid out the ingredients and then snapped on a pair of swimming goggles as she briskly chopped an onion, which she slid into bubbling palm oil. Minced garlic followed, then sliced bell peppers, then leeks, a last-minute substitute for lemon grass. “I’m doing it a little bit differently,” she said.

From the refrigerator she took a packet of fish and another of shrimp, which her husband had bought that morning. The shells were still on the shrimp. “Guys never get it right, but he’s so sweet I can’t complain,” she said. The shrimp, still unshelled, went in too, along with a bottle of coconut milk, a squeezed lemon, cilantro and salt.

“And bay leaves,” she said. “I’m a rebel.”

She stirred the soup, blew on it, tasted it. She added more salt and more cilantro and tasted it again. Then she took a sip from a freshly chilled guaraná soda.

“I’m such the quintessential Brazilian right now,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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