Spiced Halibut With Spinach and Chickpea Stew
This highly aromatic dish is inspired by pkaila, a Tunisian condiment made by frying spinach in plenty of oil for a long time (traditionally hours) until it becomes almost black in color. This slow-frying transforms the spinach into a rich and flavorful version of itself. Here, the spinach isn't fried in so much oil, or for as long, but it still delivers a uniquely rich and wholly unexpected depth to the dish. The spinach stew can be made ahead of time but, if you do so, season the fish and chickpeas close to the time when you are going to cook them. The Persian lime powder is optional. You can buy it, or start with a whole dried Persian lime: Roughly crush it with the side of a knife and then grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder.
- Serves: 4 persons
- ⅓cup/60 milliliters olive oil
- 1teaspoon ground cumin
- 1teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼teaspoon dried Persian lime powder (optional, see note)
- 2garlic cloves, crushed
- 2teaspoons lemon zest
- ¾teaspoon kosher salt
- 4skinless, boneless halibut fillets, patted dry (about 1 pound/410 grams total)
- 1can chickpeas (15.5 ounces/400 grams), drained and patted dry
- 2tablespoons vegetable oil, for frying
- Olive oil
- ¾cup (80 grams) finely chopped yellow onion
- 3garlic cloves, crushed
- 2mild green chile peppers, such as Anaheim, finely chopped
- 1teaspoon ground cumin
- ½teaspoon dried Persian lime powder (optional)
- ½teaspoon ground coriander
- 1fresh cinnamon stick, roughly crushed
- 1 ¼packed cups/50 grams cilantro (coriander)
- ½packed cup/25 grams flat-leaf parsley
- 1pound/400 grams baby spinach
- 1 ¼teaspoons flaky sea salt
- 2cups/500 milliliters chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 ½teaspoons granulated sugar or caster sugar
- 3tablespoons lemon juice
- 1lemon (peel the skin to get 3 strips and juice to get 2 tablespoons)
- 1mild green chile pepper, such as Anaheim, halved lengthwise and finely sliced
- 2spring onions, finely sliced on an angle
- 2tablespoons olive oil
- 2packed tablespoons/5 grams cilantro (coriander), roughly sliced
- Flaky sea salt and black pepper
Step 1Marinate the fish and chickpeas: In a small bowl, mix the first 7 ingredients together. Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of marinade to a bowl with the halibut and mix well. Add 2 tablespoons of the marinade to a separate bowl with the chickpeas and stir to combine. Set both aside at room temperature.
Step 2Prepare the spinach stew: Add 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon/75 milliliters of the olive oil to a large pot over medium heat with the onion and gently fry for 8 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic, chile pepper, spices and cinnamon stick and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.
Step 3Meanwhile, add the herbs and some of the spinach to a food processor and blitz until finely chopped. Repeat in batches until all the greens are finely chopped. Add the chopped spinach and herbs to the pot with the onions, along with 3 tablespoons of oil and the flaky salt. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring often, until the spinach turns a deep green color, almost gray.
Step 4Add the chicken stock, sugar, lemon juice and 1/3 cup/100 milliliters water to the pot. Bring to a rapid simmer and then lower the heat. Cook for 20 minutes until thickened slightly.
Step 5Make the salsa: Finely slice the lemon skin into very thin strips, then mix with the lemon juice and remaining salsa ingredients and set aside.
Step 6When you’re ready to serve, heat a large nonstick frying pan on a high heat, then add 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the chickpeas and fry for 6 minutes, stirring every now and then until crisp and golden-brown. Transfer to a plate and wipe the pan clean.
Step 7Return the pan to a medium-high heat with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the halibut fillets, spaced apart, and fry for 3 minutes on one side, then flip and fry for another 2 minutes on the other side until both sides are crisp and golden brown.
Step 8Add about two-thirds of the chickpeas to the stew and stir together, then transfer the stew to a large platter with a lip. Place the halibut fillets on top of the stew, then scatter over the remaining fried chickpeas. Finish with the salsa and serve at once, sprinkled with more flaky sea salt if you like.