Chraime is a traditional North African dish that’s also popular in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. It’s essentially fish simmered in a thick tomato sauce. My mom prepared it only for the holidays and occasionally for Shabbat, but I make it all the time. The sauce—even the whole dish—can be done ahead, so it’s easy for entertaining or weeknight dinners.
To make my sauce more complex, I add spices, of course, but also diced lemon, rinds and all. The lemon pith lends a nice bite and intriguing bitterness to the tomatoes, which I cook only enough to retain a pop. Pronounced hraiy-may, chraime is a great introduction to cooking mild white fish like cod and halibut. There’s no risk of the fish sticking to the pan, and its mildness is infused with the tang of tomatoes. Just turn off the heat before the fish cooks all the way through, since the heat from the sauce continues to cook the fish as it sits.
Lior Lev Sercarz, from "Mastering Spice" by Lior Lev Sercarz
1 teaspoon coriander seeds (2 grams)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (2 grams)
2 teaspoons ground turmeric (2 grams)
1⁄2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (1 gram)
Finely grind the coriander and cumin together and immediately mix with the turmeric and Aleppo. Or mix 3⁄4 teaspoon pre-ground coriander and 3⁄4 teaspoon pre-ground cumin with the turmeric and Aleppo.
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
6 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless cod or halibut fillets (about 11⁄2 inches thick)
1 lemon, ends trimmed, seeded, and cut into 1⁄4-inch dice, plus 1 lemon cut into wedges for serving
1⁄4 cup tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their juices
1 large bunch cilantro, stems thinly sliced and leaves coarsely chopped
Spice Blend - see Recipe Notes for more blend options
To make the chraime: Sprinkle half the spice blend all over the fish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 6 hours.
Coat the bottom of a large saucepan with oil (2 to 3 tablespoons). Add the garlic and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden, about 3 minutes.
Add the remaining spice blend, stir well, and add the diced lemon. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, raise the heat to medium-high, and season to taste with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Reserve some cilantro for garnish and stir in the remainder of the cilantro. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle the fish all over with salt. Uncover the sauce; it should be bubbling slightly. Push the fish into the sauce so that all but the very tops are submerged. Cover and cook until the fish is almost opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Divide the fish and sauce among individual serving dishes. Garnish with the reserved cilantro and serve with lemon wedges.
In addition to making your own blend above, Everyday Masala, Tangier, Bombay, and Hawayej would all be great options!
Recipe from "Mastering Spice" by Lior Lev Sercarz.
Photo © Thomas Schauer
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