This is my first recipe post after Nowruz and nothing could have been a more fitting recipe to write about than this popular ghalieh mahi dish from my home region of southern Iran. This dish not only tastes great but it also brings back memories from way back when. The aroma of freshly chopped cilantro, fenugreek and garlic simmering away in a red pepper hot tamarind sauce with tender yet firm pieces of fish on the kitchen stove takes me back to my childhood. With a few weeks into the spring season I am once again filled with nostalgic memories of Khuzestan's beautifully perfect but short-lived spring with red laleh (tulips), shaghayegh (red poppy) and wild flowers inside the patches of green fields along the roads and over the hills. Most years we had relatives and close friends of my parents come and stay for the Nowruz holiday. My parents were both very sociable and loved having people over. My mother's cooking around this time of year, when our home was at its busiest, was more delicious than ever, or that's how I would recall!
Ghalieh Mahi - Southern Iranian Spicy Fish & Herb Stew
2 pounds fish fillet (tilapia, snapper, halibut, cod) or any fish of your choice, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 cups freshly chopped cilantro
1 cup freshly chopped fenugreek or 2 tablespoons dried fenugreek
8 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 medium onions, finely diced
8-ounce tamarind pulp
1 teaspoon red pepper powder
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
Salt to taste
- Place the tamarind in a small bowl, cover with 2 cups of hot water. When the water becomes cool enough to touch, separate and remove the seeds and branches using your fingers and pass the liquid through a sieve. Set aside.
- In a small bowl combine the flour with 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, a pinch of salt and red pepper. Generously coat the fish with the flour-turmeric mixture and set aside for 10-15 minutes. Dust off any excess flour before frying the fish.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a skillet and lightly saute the fish pieces on all sides on medium heat. Set aside.
- In a large pan saute chopped onions in 3 tablespoons of hot oil until translucent on medium-high heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder and the minced garlic, cook for another couple of minutes on medium-low heat.
- Add the freshly chopped herbs to the pan, saute along with the onion and garlic for about 10 minutes on medium heat.
- Pour in the tamarind sauce, simmer on medium-low heat until all flavors come together for about 15-20 minutes.
- Gently place the fish in the stew, add salt and red pepper to taste. Add more hot water to the stew if needed. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Cook for another 30 minutes on medium-low heat. Do not stir the stew.
Place the stew in a serving bowl and serve with basmati rice.