08 January 2008

So Much To Say

I have so many things to say today. About the new and last season of The Wire, about the awful piece by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the Times recently, about Michael Pollan's new book. Unfortunately, I have nothing to say about this fish dish I want to tell you about, other than that it was delicious. Nothing, nada.

This blog is supposed to share recipes with you all and reflect on life both inside and outside the kitchen, but sometimes it seems like that's not enough.It's the same reason I decided a dancing career wasn't for me: I love, love dancing, but I just had so many other things to say, and I couldn't say them with tendus. As Claudia LaRocco wrote in a line that struck a special chord with me: "modern dance can easily and intensely capture fleeting emotions and atmospheres, but it runs into difficulties when addressing complex social realities; its delicacy and precision don’t lend themselves to topics like women’s lives in fundamentalist Islamic societies."

Sometimes I feel the same way when writing about food: how many ways can I tell you that something is delicious or that I really liked it without being trite or (worse) preachy. Twice now I have sat down to write about this fish recipe: first writing about the great sweet-sour flavors of Iranian cuisine. The second time I set out to tell you about verjus, the sour juice of unripe grapes, a traditional by-product of any grape-growing region from France to Iran. Haaa-shhooo.... Oh, sorry, I'm even putting myself to sleep, blah-blah-boring, besides I couldn't even find verjus in stores.

So here you have it: a completely delicious dish of fish baked in a sweet-sour sauce flavored with pomegranate, orange, and lime. Sometimes food just needs to be eaten, not analyzed. Instead, if you want to talk about political primaries, sustainable development, a great new novel, or the best movie you saw recently, then I've got a lot to say.

Fish in Persian Sweet-and-Sour Sauce
This was inspired by a recipe by Najmieh Batmanglij which called for verjus (the sour juice of unripe grapes, not the alcoholic beverage) and Seville orange juice. Not having access to those ingredients, I came up with this version which has become a favorite in our kitchen. Serves 4.

olive oil
1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup pomegranate juice or 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses with 3/4 cup water
juice from 1 large orange plus 1 teaspoon orange zest
1 cup tomato juice
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
4 thick fish fillets (about 2 lb) like orange roughy, trout, or sea bass
1/4 cup flour

1. Combine pomegranate juice, tomato juice, orange juice and zest, lime juice, salt, spices, and honey in a bowl.
2. In a saucepan heat a few tablepoons of olive oil. Add the scallions and garlic and saute over medium heat until softened, a few minutes. Add the juice mixture and bring to a boil. Taste the sauce: it should be both sweet and sour, add more honey if necessary. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, then set aside.
3. Preheat oven to 450 F. Get out a large casserole or baking dish.
4. Pat the fish dillets dry and sprinkle with salt, then rub a thin sprinkling of flour on the fillets to coat on both sides. Heat a few spoonfuls of olive oil in a wide pan. Fry the fillets for 2 minutes on each side. You want the outside of the fillet to be "sealed" but the inside will not be done.
5. Place fillets in the baking dish. Pour the sauce over the fish and place in the oven. Bake 7-12 minutes, until the fish is just done. Serve immediately, with rice or bread.


Sitar Roger said...

Then, To Say a Little:
The Wire & The Media -- The problems with The Media are much, much deeper.
Ali vs. Harris -- Mostly semantics.
Pollan and Food -- First read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver.
Fish Dish -- Excellent substitutions! I can taste it already. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

You write really well and that is why I read this blog. It's okay to leave your niche now and then, I'm sure it would be lovely.

Sara said...

The Ayaan Hirsi Ali article ruined my day as well. I don't even want to talk about it. Or her for that matter.

Anyways, the recipe looks delicious and I might just give it a try. I love Persian food.

Chris said...

We also love Middle Eastern food, and I'll be a regular visitor to your blog. This recipe looks delicious.

Kendra said...

Mercedes, I'd read your blog no matter what you wrote, because I get to feel and see and do what you are doing. You are an excellent writer and I don't mind the hundreds of ways in which you tell me something is delicious. And I can't wait to try the recipe.

Lyra said...

I would like to read both Pollan and Kingsolvers' books, but that means shelling out the cash and finding the time while going to grad school and working fulltime. Oh well, maybe over the summer. Either way the fish dish looks delicious, just the kind of flavour combination that I would like. Im emailing it to myself right now:)

Mercedes said...

To reduce Ali's article to an issue of semantics is to totally overlook the broad offenses she commits towards Muslims but worse, the article's complete lack of knowledge of the academic/intellectual writings of the field. That was my major issue with the whole section, the rhetoric is soooo antiquated, anyone who has a degree in Middle Eastern studies would be shocked at some of the stereotypes published by such a reputable newspaper. But the problem is that there is a disconnect btwn academics and the public, and those who do bridge the gap often have very specific/skewed/idealogical perspectives (Bernard Lewis, for one). Where is Tim Mitchell when we need him? Anyway, it was all depressing.

I've read Kingsolver's book (lovelY), but I what I like about Pollan's work is his more researched approach.

My big thanks to all the supportive comments, they mean a lot.

Dori said...

Oh my goodness...I have to try this recipe for sure! The ingredients sound so good, all the juices and spices...wow! Can't wait to try this :)

Anonymous said...

Hello Mercedes.

I felt I had to (finally) leave a comment on your amazing blog. One of the (many) reasons I love coming back to it, is the fact that you make it all sound so easy and the pictures are incredible. Tuesday's recipe of fish in persian sauce was the one thing that prompted me to write as, apart from the fish and the pomegranate juice, I have every other ingredient in my kitchen right now, making the dish even more atttractive to try!

I think the greatest compliment I can pay you however is to tell you that I got up early this morning to make Marya's date tart (for the first time) which I will be serving tonight for a friend's 40th birthday - it looks and smells delicious, but I'm sure I don't need to tell you that!!

I could spout on for ages explaining why I love your blog but I won't - I'll just leave quietly and re-read about you meeting Um Hana which is beautiful. Also, I'm sure your Grandmother is very proud that her china set is being put to such wonderful use.


Anonymous said...

Mercedes - thanks for posting my comment, but I have a question if you wouldn't mind.

I do not often post comments and with the comment I left for you, I notice that my name (dad) is blacked out and therefore others cannot see who left the link. Other people'snames are blue and link to their profile. Is that a setting that YOU dictate or did I do something wrong?

It isn't a big deal - just wondered why it was different!



Mercedes said...

"Dad" - The reason your name shows up in black is because you did not provide a link to a profile, or you don't have a profile/website. I have no control over that.

Thank you for the very thoughtful compliments, and I hope your friends enjoy the date tart, I think it's scrumptious. And the post about Umm Hana is one of my favorites, it never gets the attention it should.

I should note for other readers that you've chosen the screen name dad, but we have no relation.

Anonymous said...

How foolish of me! Complaining of something within my own power to put right!!

Very briefly, I have (honestly) never cooked or made something that everyone enjoyed without exception. The date tart changed this. Everybody loved it, and were it not for the huge (but perfectly cooked) leg of lamb (with rosemary, thyme and garlic), no-one would have been able to resist the last slice. Thankfully, the remaining slice sat there until my parents arrived this morning to take our children out for the day, and they shared it with a cup of English breakfast tea, rolling their eyes at how delicious it was.

Thank you (Marya) for the amazing recipe. I'm making another to share amongst my work colleagues.

I'm off to buy some grapefuits!!

p.s. Sorry about the "Dad" confusion!

Anonymous said...

Just read this now and couldn't agree with you more - sometimes there's just nothing to say about what you had for lunch or dinner and you stress about it and wonder what in God's name to do until you realize that it's just fine and that you can't write something fresh and witty about every single thing that you put on the table (substitute "you" for "I" and "me" ;)

Arunah said...

This looks delicious and the dish is very pretty too ! Is it ancient, bought in Iran ?
I think there is a shortage of Persian recipes on Tastespotting !
Thank you for your contribution.
( However, I'll omit garlic and scallions... )

UmmBinat said...

DH enjoyed this fish dish a lot. Note to self to make lots of sauce next time and try with an orange as I didn't have any and used a lemon this time. I used pomegranate molasses and no nutmeg because we don't consume intoxicants, I added a little allspice in it's place. I freshly ground my cardamom and used the honey option, I used haddock fish fillets that had been thawed and a gluten free flour blend. I will make this again insha Allah.

UmmBinat said...

Oh and I served it with your Anbari Rice Pilaf using a lot more butter for the crust!!