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Ghalieh Mahi (Spicy Tamarind Fish and Herb Stew)

Ghalieh Mahi (Spicy Tamarind Fish and Herb Stew) 6.000

(Justin Tsucalas for The Washington Post; food styling by Nichole Bryant for The Washington Post)

Essential Cookbooks Newsletter Jul 13, 2020

This stew isn't just memorable, it offers a teachable moment. Cookbook author Naz Deravian uses it for a lesson on “chashnee,” a Persian word that describes “a particular ingredient," a spice or special something, “that brightens the dish, bringing it to life, like lemon or vinegar,” and it changes from one region to another. In the Persian Gulf region of Iran, chashnee comes from incomparably tangy tamarind and the heat of chile pepper.


If your tamarind contains seeds, you may want to strain it through a fine sieve before adding to the sauce.

If you cannot find dried fenugreek, you can substitute yellow mustard seeds or even Dijon mustard. For fresh fenugreek, substitute watercress or celery leaves.

This recipe is from Week 7 of Voraciously's Essential Cookbooks newsletter series. For more recipes like this one, sign up here. It appears as published in Naz Deravian's "Bottom of the Pot," with minor edits for clarity.

Make Ahead: The stew can be prepared 3 days in advance without the fish. Reheat, adding more water and seasoning as needed, and add the fish to cook.

Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Where to Buy: Tamarind paste is available at international markets and online.


When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 6 servings

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced (1 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste or finely grated (2 tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 red serrano or small jalapeño chile pepper, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
  • 3 bunches fresh cilantro, tough stems trimmed, finely chopped (5 to 6 cups, chopped); plus some whole leaves reserved for optional garnish
  • 2 tablespoons dried fenugreek, or 1/2 bunch fresh leaves, finely chopped (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste, dissolved in 2 cups warm water, plus more to taste (See headnote)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar or honey, plus more to taste (optional)
  • Cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 pounds cod, halibut or other firm-fleshed fish
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooked rice, for serving


In a large pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle with a little salt, reduce the heat to medium, and add the garlic, turmeric and chile pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the cilantro and fenugreek and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and the cilantro has considerably wilted, about 10 minutes.

Add the flour and the 2 teaspoons of salt and stir to incorporate for 1 minute. Stir in the tamarind mixture and tomato paste. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Taste as it simmers and make adjustments to suit your taste. If the sauce is too sour, add the sugar or honey to take the edge off the tang. Taste again for salt (keep in mind you will salt the fish as well), heat (add cayenne if you like), and more tang from tamarind.

Cut the fish into 2-inch pieces and season well with salt and black pepper. Raise the heat to medium, add the fish, and simmer, uncovered, until the fish cooks through, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir gently to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. If the stew gets too watered-down, remove the fish and raise the heat to reduce the sauce a little. If it’s too dry, add a little more water.

Garnish with more chile peppers and cilantro leaves, if you like, and serve with rice.

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Recipe Source

From "Bottom of the Pot" by Naz Deravian (Flatiron Books, 2018)

Tested by Olga Massov.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving: 242

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 8g 12%

Saturated Fat: 1g 5%

Cholesterol: 65mg 22%

Sodium: 659mg 27%

Total Carbohydrates: 14g 5%

Dietary Fiber: 2g 8%

Sugar: 4g

Protein: 29g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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