Spicy fish or “fish harra where harra stands for spicy” is a traditional dish cooked differently throughout the various Lebanese regions. The version that I have comes from Tripoli, the capital of the North. By no means I can take any credit for it. It’s from my mum’s first (and only) cookbook; the one she got when she got married, like thirty years ago! To be fair to the taste, I wouldn’t have named the sauce spicy; cause it just isn’t! Maybe by increasing the red pepper flakes it would become, but as it is originally, I would describe it as garlicky, tahini-like with a hint of coriander. Spicy or not, it is so good and I don’t change a thing to the original recipe except using less oil and roasting the nuts instead of frying (obviously)!
When we had our friends over last week, I roasted a whole fish. We were so busy eating and talking that I forgot to take pictures until there was only the head and tail left! Anyway, it was so tasty that I recommend trying the recipe with a whole fish, but for the sake of convenience and time, you can always use fish fillets, which I have two days later, to eat my leftover sauce. For the fish, I asked the fish monger to clean it up and used Anne Burrell’s recipe to cook it. I cut a few slices through the skin on each side. After I seasoned it with salt and olive oil, I inserted cloves of garlic into the cuts. On an aluminium foil, I layered a bundle of parsley (you can use also oregano, thyme or a combination), a few slices of lemons and topped it with the fish. I stuffed the fish with more parsley, garlic cloves and a couple of bay leaves, topped the fish with lemon slices, added white wine (can use water) and sealed the foil. I then baked in a 200 degrees Celsius oven till it’s done. This depends on the size of the fish. I used around 2.5 kg (5 pounds) fish to serve 6 persons and it took around 45 minutes in the oven.
As I mentioned before, we had some leftover sauce, so two days later I baked a couple of fish fillets so that I can share the recipe with you. I just seasoned them with salt, black pepper and olive oil, topped them with lemon slices and a bay leaf. I didn’t seal the foil this time.
Ingredients for the sauce (served 6)
- 10 cloves of garlic
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander
- 1 medium onion, thinly diced
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 1 cup tahini, sesame paste
- 2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup walnuts, crushed (optional)
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted (optional)
Mash the garlic and coriander together. In a small skillet, heat a teaspoon of canola oil and saute the onion until translucent. Combine lemon juice, tahini, water and salt in a sauce pan and whisk until smooth. Heat the tahini mixture, stirring constantly, until it starts to boil. Lower the heat and leave to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes until small drops of sesame oil show on the surface and the mixture has thickened up a bit. Add the garlic and coriander mixture, the onions, the peppers and walnuts if using. Stir for a minute and remove off the heat. Spoon the sauce over the fish and sprinkle with the pine nuts and almonds. Serve and enjoy it hot!