Folks in the city of Tripoli/Mina in Lebanon are well known for their seafood . And on top of the pyramid lays “Samke Harra.” Translated from Arabic, it simply means spicy fish. This is a specialty dish where a lightly lemon-marinated fish is baked, then covered with a mouth-watering sauce made with Tahini paste (roasted sesame seeds), lemon juice, garlic and spices. For those who are not familiar with Tahini, it’s a paste made from crushing/blending roasted sesame seeds.
The fish can be filets, or can be whole (scaled). The best fish that goes with this seem to be the Red Snapper type. I’ve had it made with Salmon before and it wasn’t as good, the flavors just didn’t go well together. I’ve also personally tried Samke Harra in many restaurants in Lebanon and outside made in different styles, and the best method that I liked is the one by the folks from Mina, featured here. Sorry Beirutis.
If you ever go to Tripoli/Mina, make sure to pass by “Abou Fadi”‘s restaurant. It carries the name of it’s late owner who himself was a fisherman. Abou Fadi made the best Samke Harra sandwiches hands down at least back in the day, because he always used fresh fish and had a special touch in making his Tahini sauce. Today his place is called “Malak El Samkeh Harrah” which means the King of Spicy Fish and I heard that it’s run by his children.
Fortunately we found this youtube video about the restaurant Courtesy of Dirty Kitchen Secrets for the curious.
Summary: A tasty recipe with baked fish in a spicy tahini sauce
Samke Harra Ingredients (5-6 servings)
- 4 lbs of fresh Red Snapper, filets or whole scaled
- 17 cloves of garlic
- 1 cup of Tahini paste
- 1 teaspoon hot chili powder
- 1 cup of raw pine nuts
- 1/2 bunch green Italian Parsley (finely chopped for garnish)
- 1.5 cups Freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
- 4 cups of water
- 1-2 tablespoons of salt (to taste)
- 5-6 tablespoons of ground coriander
- Olive Oil
- (optional) Rub fish with white vinegar and salt then rinse with cold water in order to tame down any smell.
- If using whole scaled fish, cut slits in it
- Rub fish with a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle some lemon juice on it. If you’re cooking a whole scaled fish, then insert lemon slices inside the fish for flavoring.
- Place fish on olive oil-greased cooking tray and bake at 300 degrees F for 20-25 minutes.
- In a small pan, mix 1 cup of pine nuts with 1-2 tablespoon of olive oil and cook on medium heat for about 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Be careful as they can burn very fast.
- Take half of the pine nuts and grind them with a mortar and pestle and keep the remaining ones for garnishing.
- Crush or mince the garlic then add to a pot with 1.5 cups of lemon juice, the Tahini paste, water, salt, coriander and chilli pepper.
- Heat on stove to medium/high, stirring constantly (very important so they don’t stick or burn). The sauce should have a rather liquid consistency, and should have a nice balance of Tahini, garlic and lemony flavors. If the sauce is too thick, add a cup or 2 of water and a bit more of lemon juice.
- Bring the sauce to a boil while keeping on stirring non-stop and then lower heat, add the smashed pine nuts then keep on cooking on low heat and stirring until you reach about 20 minutes of total cooking time for the sauce.
- Once the fish is baked, lay it out on a serving platter that is at least 1 inch deep, pour the cooked tahini sauce on top of the fish, garnish with finely chopped parsley and browned pine nuts, serve hot with pita bread and and a side of Hummus and Tabbouli Salad and enjoy.
Serving and Tips
Sandwich: If you’d like to make Samke Harra into a sandwich, add the fish + Tahini sauce along the diameter of a pita bread, add lettuce and tomatoes, roll and enjoy.
Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 40 minute(s)
Diet tags: High protein
Number of servings (yield): 5
Culinary tradition: Middle Eastern
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