Persian Cod With Herbs and Tamarind
In this traditional Persian preparation for fish, called ghalieh mahi, a profusion of fresh herbs is slowly simmered with caramelized onions and tangy tamarind until the whole thing cooks down into a silky, sweet-tart sauce with a haunting flavor. This version, adapted from Nasim Alikhani from Sofreh restaurant in Brooklyn, uses both fresh and dried fenugreek, which is worth seeking out for its musky, forest-like flavor. But mint makes a good substitute if that’s what you can get. You can use any firm white fish fillets here. Or try pouring the sauce over roasted cauliflower steaks for a vegetarian take.
- Serves: 6 persons
- ¾cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1quart chopped parsley leaves and tender stems (from 2 to 3 bunches)
- 1quart chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems (from 2 to 3 bunches)
- 1 ½cups chopped scallions (the whites and greens)
- 1cup chopped fresh fenugreek leaves or mint leaves
- ⅓cup dried fenugreek or mint
- 1teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1medium onion, finely diced
- 5large garlic cloves, chopped
- 2tablespoons ground turmeric
- 2teaspoons red-pepper flakes, or to taste
- ¼to 1/3 cup tamarind paste, to taste (see note)
- 3tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 ½teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
- Sugar, as needed
- 6thick fillets of cod (6 to 8 ounces each), or other meaty white fish such as halibut or striped bass, patted dry
- Cooked basmati rice, for serving
Step 1In a 12-inch skillet (choose one with a lid), heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Stir in parsley, cilantro, scallions and fresh fenugreek or mint and cook until they start to stick to the bottom, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in dry fenugreek or mint, and black pepper, and sauté 1 to 2 more minutes, until starting to brown. Turn off heat and cover pan so that the steam releases any darker pieces that may have stuck to the bottom, about 5 minutes.
Step 2While herbs cook, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until dark golden brown, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and sauté for 2 minutes longer, then stir in turmeric and drizzle with a little more oil (this prevents the turmeric from burning); cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add red-pepper flakes and stir well. Stir in 2 1/2 cups water and bring to a simmer, scraping up browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Simmer for 1 minute. Pour onion mixture into skillet with herb mixture.
Step 3Return the heat under the skillet of herbs to medium and stir in tamarind paste, lemon juice and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding sugar, more tamarind or both if necessary. You are looking for a balance of sweet and tart.
Step 4Drizzle herbs with 6 tablespoons oil, bring to a simmer, cover and continue to simmer very gently over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the oil separates and floats on top, about 1 hour. Taste again and adjust seasoning using more salt, sugar, tamarind or a combination.
Step 5Wipe out the 10-inch skillet and heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Season fish with salt and pepper to taste, then place skin-side down (if there’s skin) and cook until browned and crispy, 4 to 5 minutes. Do this in batches if necessary.
Step 6Use a spatula to transfer fish to the herb sauce, nestling it in so the crisp, browned side is facing up. Continue to simmer sauce and fish together until fish is flaky and cooked through, another 4 to 5 minutes.
Step 7Transfer the fish and sauce to serving plates, drizzle everything generously with oil, and serve with basmati rice on the side.