This recipe is dear to my heart. There are certain dishes that move my soul – they smell like family and home. This is one of those dishes. I grew up on this fish. I remember sitting at my grandmother Tamar’s kitchen table and watching her make this. Every time I walk into my aunt Fanny’s home in Israel, it smells like this fish. And every Friday evening and holiday that I used to come home from New York, it would be on the stove top. The whole house smelled of it.
Eaten as an appetizer in my family, the pan would be left on the stove and whoever was serving it would yell out: “Who wants fish!?!” Then the follow up question, “Want a pepper!?!” And this happens every single time this fish is made.
It feels like a ‘Special Occasion’ dish, but in reality, it’s one of the most uncomplicated recipes that’s been passed down to me. Most every Sephardic Jew home in Israel creates a version of this fish. It’s like gumbo or paella in the sense that the dish is always the same at its core, but the ingredients, methods, and spice levels change from household to household. I’m sharing my mom’s version. Well, I added carrots; she doesn’t add carrots normally.
You can’t fail at making this fish. It’s very low in fat and pretty inexpensive depending on what kind of fish you choose. This is what my family uses: 1. Mom: Tilapia. 2. Aunt: Nile Perch. 3. G-ma: Tuna. It’s all good, honestly. Halibut, mullet, grouper, haddock, sea bass… Just find the freshest, and best-looking fish available in your market. It could be filleted, skin-on or off, steak… Whatever you love most. My mom taught me to use a food processor for the sauce. She loves a good short cut. As do I, as long as it doesn’t mess with the final flavor and quality, and in this case, it doesn’t. If you don’t want to use one, or don’t have one, give things a rough chop. This is a rustic dish and needs to look it.
And you obviously need some bread (or pita) for this sauce. That should go without saying. But there, I said it.
Spicy Moroccan Fish
in Tomato Sauce
makes 6 appetizer servings
2-4 long hot peppers, the light green kind
28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 small carrots, chopped
13 cloves garlic, yes, 13.
1 very large handful cilantro
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
1/2 Tbsp pilpelchuma, optional (recipe can be found HERE)
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 – 1 tsp hot paprika, or more
1 tsp salt
grilled bread or pita
2. Remove 1 1/2 Tbsp of this mixture into a small bowl and top with the olive oil and lemon juice. Set it aside in the fridge.This is the “chimichurri”.
3. Spread 2/3rds of the diced tomatoes and all the chopped carrots into a large sauté pan with tall sides and lid. It should cover the bottom of the pan.
4. Lay the whole hot peppers and fish in the pan leaving a bit of room between them. Make sure the fish does not have contact with the bottom of the pan! It should sit on top of the tomatoes and carrots.
5. Add the remaining diced tomatoes, all the spices, and salt to the garlic/cilantro mixture in the food processor. Process until fine. If don’t think by hand, just mix those ingredients together in a bowl.
6. Add 1/4 – 1/2 cup of water to this sauce mixture to loosen it.
7. Spoon the sauce over the fish and peppers.
8. Turn the heat on to high and bring to a boil.
9. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and partially cover the pan.
10. Simmer for 35 minutes, adding a tablespoon of water the sauce if it looks too dry.
11. Serve hot with the “chimichurri” and grilled bread. Enjoy!