Fish with Green Tahini
Samak al Sahara
Samak is Arabic for fish. This recipe is a variation on the traditional Middle Eastern samak ba tahini where the fish is covered with sesame paste flavored with garlic, lemon, and onions and served at room temperature. Here the fish is served hot. To the basic tahini sauce the Egyptians and Lebanese add a tingle of heat with cayenne and add chopped cilantro and parsley, which tint the sauce pale green. The tahini crust on the fish keeps it moist throughout the baking process. You may garnish this with olives, chopped walnuts, or pine nuts along with more chopped cilantro. Serve with lemon wedges and a rice or bulgur pilaf. Spinach or roasted cauliflower or carrots are good accompaniments. If you do not want to bake the fish under the tahini you may also bake, broil or grill the fish and spoon the sauce on after cooking.
6 fillets of snapper, rockfish, sea bass, each about 6 ounces
1/2 cup tahini, including some of its oil
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
¼ teaspoon cayenne or a bit more
1/2 teaspoon salt
½ cup tightly packed cilantro leaves
½ cup chopped parsley leaves (optional for more greenery)
1/2 cup water or as needed to thin
Chopped walnuts or pine nuts for garnish (optional)
Combine tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cayenne, salt, cilantro and parsley if using, in the container of a food processor or blender. Pulse to combine. Add water as needed to thin. Adjust heat and salt to taste.
To cook the fish, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place fish fillets in an oiled baking dish and spread with a layer of the Sahara sauce. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
Variation: Yellow tahini: Omit green leaves and add 1 teaspoon turmeric to the tahini when blending the sauce.
Variation: Red tahini: Omit green leaves and add chopped tomato or some tomato paste when you blend the tahini sauce or 1 roasted red bell pepper.