Anissa Helou’s Feast: Foood of the Islamic World (Ecco Press, 2018) is a great book and you should have it in your personal library. It’s big, beautiful and full of recipes that are complicated and exotic along with much simpler fare. The common thread is celebrations. I’ve had the book for a while now and it remains a constant inspiration. The recipes work.
I’ve taken a lot of liberties with her Baked Sea Bass with Tomatoes and Olives recipe from Morocco. She calls for a whole sea bass but my market had fillets of halibut. The all green olives were replaced by a mixture of green and black only because this is what I had on hand. I also added a bed of pureed Rancho Gordo Cassoulet beans on each plate to rest on as a starch instead of bread. But the basic dish is chermoula-marinated white fish baked with tomatoes and olives. I did follow that!
A traditional Moroccan clay vessel for fish is a tagra. I’ve been wanting one for a very long time. I’ll get one one day. I used the bottom of my clay, unglazed tagine and it was great. I even used the tagine lid to keep the dish warm as my slow but determined family made their way to the table for a Sunday supper. We all agreed that this was a keeper, especially with so many good heirloom tomatoes at hand in the garden. I’m hoping Anissa won’t mind all the liberties taken with her recipe.
For the Fish
- 1 ½ to 2 pounds of firm white fish, such as halibut or sea bass.
- Chermoula (see below)
- Sprigs of flat leaf parsley
- 4 large firm ripe tomatoes, cut into thick slices
- Sea salt
- 10 ½ ounces green (or green and black) olives, pitted, preferably by you, sliced in half
- 2 cups cooked Rancho Gordo Cassoulet beans, Ayocote Blanco, or Royal Corona and some of their cooking liquid
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced to a fine paste or pounded in a mortar
- 1 small onion, finely grated
- ½ bunch of cilantro, stems discarded, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 2 lemons, or to taste sea salt, to taste
- Pat the fish dry with paper towels and place on a platter or in a bowl. Gently massage the fish with the chermoula and marinate for at least 2 hours, preferably longer, in the refrigerator.
- Preheat the oven to 425F (220C).
- Blanch the pitted olives in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and reserve.
- Spread the parsley over the bottom of an oven-to-table baking dish large enough to hold the fish. Lay down the marinated fish and then cover with sliced tomatoes. Season the tomatoes with salt and add any leftover chermoula over the tomatoes. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Add the reserved olives and cook for another 10 minutes. Take care to not overcook the fish. A whole fish will take a few minutes longer than fish fillets. Allow the dish to rest for 5 minutes.
- Warm the beans in a small pot and puree them with an immersion blender. The consistency should be almost like a pancake batter; thick but still soft and liquid. If they are too runny, turn up the heat to medium-high and stir as the bean puree thickens. If the beans are too thick, add a little water.
- Have each guest put a ladle full of the bean puree on each plate and then add the fish.