09 May 2015

Josephine's Spicy Fish (Samke Harra)

Ah-he-he-hem. Hello there. Did the month of April just pass by completely unobserved on this blog? Well, let's not dwell on that shall we? Hopefully later we can catch up about trips to Vienna and lost luggage and stomach bugs and trekking in England and the five days of nice weather in Cairo before it turned hot. But for now, let's talk about delicious spicy fish, okay? Deal? Deal.

I have had this recipe for Lebanese spicy fish, which was published in Lucky Peach back in 2013, and comes from the renowned Lebanese establishment Tawlet, tacked up on our fridge since, um, 2013. It's 2015 (sometimes I need a reminder). That means this recipe was stuck up on our fridge in Algiers, and then stuck on our fridge in Chicago, and then stuck on our fridge...... you get the idea.

Back in December I had the great pleasure of eating at Tawlet, which is a food cooperative in Beirut aimed at preserving and sharing Lebanon's food traditions, and I can tell you it lived up to expectations. There was natef! arak! a tasting of local wines! If you go, I can recommend the Armenian menu and any day they serve kibbe nayyeh, which is raw minced beef.

But, I still needed to make the spicy fish recipe, which comes from Tawlet cook Josephine Ghaleb, a Tripoli native, a town famous for their seafood recipes. I've made samke harra many times, and almost all recipes call for roasting or grilling some fish, and then topping the fillet with the tahini-chili sauce and toasted nuts. What intrigued me about this recipe was that Jospehine, breaks up the fish and mixes it with the cilantro-lemon-onion sauce before the tahini topping. This, my friends, is the genius of this recipe. Each bit of fish is coated with lemon and cilantro, spicy chile, and sweet onion. There's no "fishy-ness" to the dish at all, and I imagine it would be a good dish for even the most fish averse. The creamy tahini and crunchy nuts, lots of them, add just the right amount of texture. Worth the wait? You bet. (But I promise to be back with more before the month of July!)

Josephine's Spicy Fish (Samke Harra)
Adapted from Tawlet via Lucky Peach.

2 fillets sea bass or similar white fish (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
1 cup finely diced yellow onion
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeno chile, seeds removed and finely diced
2 whole bunches cilantro, washed and dried
1/4 cup olive oil
2 lemons
1/2 cup tahini
1 cup mixed pine nuts and chopped walnuts
salt, white pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place the fish fillets on a baking sheet lined with foil. Rub a bit of olive oil over the fillets and sprinkle liberally with salt and with a pinch of white pepper. Bake the fish fillets for about 15 minutes, or until firm and cooked through. Set aside the fish but turn the oven up to broil.
2. Meanwhile, juice the lemons, removing any seeds. Slice the cilantro leaves (it's okay to get some of the stems in there) into a big pile. Place the tahini in a bowl with one tablespoon lemon juice and two pinches of salt and stir together. Add enough water (1-3 tablespoons) to the tahini to make it a thick pourable consistency.
3. Heat the 1/4 cup olive oil in a saute pan. Add the onions, bell pepper, and jalapeno and cook gently until the onions are translucent and everything is soft. Remove from the heat.
4. Add the remaining lemon juice to the onion mixture, then gently fold in the cilantro. Gently break up the fish fillets into large pieces, discarding any skin or bones, then place the fish fillets into the pan with the onion-lemon mixture, and fold everything very gently to coat the fish with the sauce.
5. Pile the fish mixture onto a serving platter. Pour the tahini over the whole thing. Place the walnuts and pine nuts on a baking and slide under the broiler, watching closely, for only about a minute until well toasted. Top the fish mixture with the nuts and serve immediately.