Fish in Tahini Sauce (Samak bi T'heena) 4.000

Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post; tableware from Crate and Barrel

Apr 24, 2013

Here, the sweetness of the caramelized onion offsets the slight bitterness of the tahini-based sauce.

Serve hot or cold, with white rice or Arabic bread.

Make Ahead: The sauce can be made and refrigerated a day in advance; you might need to thin it with a little water. The fish needs to marinate at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes.

Servings: 4 - 6
  • For the sauce
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 cup good-quality tahini
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, cut in half, then into very thin half-moon slices
  • 2 small serrano chili peppers, seeded and cut into thin slices
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • For the fish and marinade
  • 1 1/2 pounds firm-fleshed skinless fish fillets, such as sea bass, cod, hake or grouper
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped lemon zest (no white pith)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
  • 1/2 cup flour, or more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish


For the sauce: Combine 4 cloves of the garlic and the 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a mortar and pestle. Crush to form a paste, then transfer to a mini food processor along with the tahini and lemon juice. Pulse, gradually adding 1/2 cup of the water, to form a smooth, thick mixture. (That step also can be done by hand, in a bowl.) Transfer to a medium saucepan (off the heat).

For the fish and marinade: Rinse the fish carefully in a mixture of cold water and a little lemon juice. Pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the cumin, salt, black pepper, lemon zest and the 3 tablespoons of oil in a large zip-top bag. Add the fish and seal; massage gently to rub the mixture into the fish. Let sit at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes -- no longer.

Meanwhile, finish the sauce: Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion and stir to coat; cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed, until the onion is softened and golden, with some browned edges.

Cut the remaining 2 garlic cloves into very thin slices, then add to the onion along with the serrano peppers. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, until fragrant and slightly softened. Remove from the heat.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels, then place a wire rack on top.

Heat 4 or 5 tablespoons of oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. While the oil is heating, spead the flour on a plate. The fillets will have the marinade rub on them; gently pat each one into the flour to evenly coat on both sides, shaking off any excess. Working in batches, cook the fillets on each side until crisp, golden and just cooked through; the cooking time will vary depending on what type of fish you use. Transfer to the rack to drain. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm. Repeat to cook all ofr the fillets. Discard any remaining flour.

Stir the remaining 1/4 cup of water (or slightly less, as needed) into the sauce in the saucepan, then stir in the onion mixture. Add the nutmeg and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring, then remove from the heat.

Arrange the fish on a platter or divide among individual plates. Pour the hot sauce over the fish. Garnish with the chopped parsley. Serve warm or cold.

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Recipe Source

Adapted from "The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey," by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt (Just World Books, 2012).

Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.

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