One specific memory I recall from childhood is how my mom used to make “Samke Harrah” on most Fridays and on special occasions when we had people over for dinner.
“Samke Harrah” translated from Arabic into Hot or Spicy Fish is a Lebanese style baked spiced fish which is said to have the origins in El-Mina, the Northern port of Tripoli, Lebanon. This dish is served both, warm and cold, garnished with lemon slices and pine nuts; served over rice or vegetables. The best type of fish for this is white-fleshed fish, either whole or only fillets, depending on a person’s taste and preferences; spices and condiments are also important for the process of cooking. Generally speaking, the list of ingredients is the following: fish, onion, fresh garlic, pine nuts, chili pepper, lemons, coriander, tahini, vegetable oil, water, salt, and pepper. Preparation is not time-consuming, as the fish is well rubbed with lemon juice, covered in a paste made from olive oil, ground nuts, tahini, garlic, and all spices, and baked in the oven until ready. The aromas and taste of this dish are really appetite-raising and the mix of spices portrays best the subtleties of Lebanese cuisine.
When my wife and I make “Samke Harrah” nowadays, I usually head to the Fish stores in the Italian market where I find the best selection of fish. At the Italian market, they will clean it and then it is just a matter of assembling the spices and baking it. I need to point out that the fish should be deboned after baking to prevent any unnecessary accidents.
1lb fish filets
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 chili pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lemon sliced
1 bunch coriander, chopped
Pine seeds for garnish
1 cup Tahini paste
1/2 cup lemon
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste
Cut the fish into smaller portions if served in individual plates; keep as a whole otherwise. Place fish in a parchment paper lined a baking tray. Add salt and pepper, slices of lemon and a drizzle of vegetable oil.
Bake fish for around 15 minutes, depending on fish size, on highest oven temperature.
Meanwhile, prepare Tahini sauce: Mix the tahini paste, lemon, water and salt until combined.
Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil to a saucepan. Add in the onions. Sauté until withered but not golden. Add garlic, chili pepper, and Tahini sauce. Keep stirring until the sauce starts to boil. Remove from heat. Add coriander.
After cooking through, remove fish from baking sheet. Place carefully in a serving dish, at least a couple of inches deep. Pour in the Tahini mixture. Place the fish again in the oven with only the top grill turned on. Bake until slightly golden.
Garnish with pine seeds. Serve hot.