Being that we live in landlocked Colorado, we don’t eat much seafood – which is a shame, since I grew up near the sea and ate it frequently. It is expensive and quite difficult to obtain good quality fish here – especially on a budget. Since it was Shavuot, and we were having a rare dairy meal for dinner, I figured it would be a good time to splurge on some fresh yellowtail snapper that I saw at my local fish market.
There are several incarnations of samke harra from Lebanon – some with or without sauce, and with different ingredients – but this style from Tripoli (on Lebanon’s northern coast) is undoubtedly the most popular. My version of samke harra reflects more of a Lebanese and North African fusion, since I had harissa paste and urfa biber chili on hand – but you can adjust to your tastes or whatever spicy peppers you prefer. Despite its presentation, it is actually a very simple dish to make – and if you don’t fancy whole fish or aren’t feeding a crowd, you can simply cook filets and then top with the delicious sauce instead. I would recommend a delicate flavoured white fish for this, as you don’t want the flavour to compete with the sauce.
Samke Harra (Lebanese Spicy Fish)
For the Fish:
- 1 whole red / yellowtail snapper, scaled and cleaned (or 4 individual fillets of fresh white fish)
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper, ground
- 2 tsp harissa paste
- ½ tsp urfa biber pepper, dried crushed
- 2 to 4 lemon slices to stuff into fish cavity
For the Spicy Tarator Sauce:
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ sweet onion, finely diced or yellow onion
- 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 green pepper (capsicum), finely diced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced
- 1 serrano pepper, finely diced
- 2 medium tomatoes, finely diced Roma sized, I used heirloom
- 1 tsp allspice, ground
- ½ tsp coriander, ground
- ½ tsp cumin, ground
- ½ tsp Aleppo pepper, dried crushed
- salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ – ½ tsp cayenne pepper, ground – to taste
- 1 cup tahini
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1 cup Greek yogurt, full fat optional
- handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- handful of fresh cilantro/coriander, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts, for garnish optional
For the Fish:
- Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C).
- On a foil-lined and lightly oiled baking sheet, place your fish. Use the harissa to coat both the outside and the cavity, stuffing the lemons inside. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chili.
- Cook for roughly 20 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 145°F (63°C). Remove from the oven and allow to rest.
For the Sauce:
- Over medium heat, add olive oil and onions and cook until translucent. Add your garlic, green pepper, jalapeño, and serrano. Saute again until softened, 5-8 minutes. Add all of your spices.
- In a separate vessel, combine your tahini and lemon, whisking into a sauce. Remove the pan from the heat, and add your tahini – lemon mixture. Allow to cool for five minutes, and then add Greek yogurt if desired, whisking a little in at a time to prevent it from curdling (even if it does curdle slightly, it will still taste good – so don't worry). Pour the completed sauce in your serving
- Pour the completed sauce on to your serving platter, and place the cooked fish atop it. (If using filets, you'll want to pour half of the sauce on, add your filets, then use the rest to cover it. Top with your fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts.