Ghalieh Mahi – Fish in a tamarind and herb sauce

قلیه ماهی

The cuisine of Southern and South-Western Iran is known for its rich, bold flavors and the creative use of tamarind, dates, regional spices and of course, seafood from the Persian Gulf! This stew is a great representation of the region’s dishes: slightly spicier, and with a different flavor profile.

You have heard me go on (and on, and on . . .) about Shomali food. Shomal is the Farsi word for north and Shomali is how we reference northerners of Iran. Junoob is south and so Junoobi is a southerner. This post is a celebration of Junoobi cuisine!

In future posts, I will introduce and discuss Eastern and Western Iranian dishes along with a bit of a Farsi lesson introducing a few more directional terms.

What I love about this dish is that it delivers the familiar flavors of the herbs found in Shomali dishes, but adds a punch! I often describe myself as a wimp when it comes to really spicy food, but this dish takes the herbs to a whole new level of excitement without going too far, even for me!

Whether you use jalapeno or serrano peppers or red chili pepper powder or flakes, this dish can definitely be on the spicy side. The recipe below offers a base level of heat which works for me and my palate, and gives you the option to increase the spice level to suit your taste buds.

Now, let’s talk about tamarind.

In cooking, tamarind is the sticky, sour and dark fruit of the tamarind tree. In Persian cuisine we use the pulp from inside the pod that surrounds the seeds. You can find tamarind in two different forms, and it is important to know that they differ significantly in flavor and intensity.

In its less processed form, tamarind paste, the pulp and seeds are pressed tightly to make a dense paste which is then packaged and sold in various sizes.

Alternatively, the pulp can be further processed to remove the fiber and seeds to create a clear, thick syrup, sold in small jars as tamarind concentrate.

For years I used tamarind concentrate, which is powerfully tart and strong. Lately, I have found that I prefer tamarind paste, as it offers a less intense flavor profile. The paste must first be soaked in hot water for about 30 minutes and then strained. The broth is then used as a cooking liquid in dishes.

To make matters just a bit more complicated, each brand of tamarind concentrate has different levels of tartness and intensity. So if you prefer to use this form, be sure to taste your food as you add the concentrate so that you don’t overwhelm it with strong flavor.

Adaptability!

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Ghalieh Mahi

Omid Roustaei, The Caspian Chef
Fish in a tamarind and herb sauce
5 from 7 votes
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 20 mins
Course Main Course, seafood
Cuisine Persian
Servings 4

Ingredients
  

Tamarind

  • 5 ounces tamarind paste
  • 3 cups hot water

Onion

  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric, ground

Sabzi (herbs)

  • 3 bunches cilantro, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 10 stems green onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fenugreek leaves, dried
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon salt, adjust as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper, powder, adjust as needed

Fish

  • 2 pounds cod or halibut, or other white fleshed fish
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions
 

  • Place the tamarind paste in a large bowl and pour 3 cups of hot water over it. Break up the paste using a couple of forks, and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Strain, save the broth and discard the pulp and seeds. Set aside the broth.
  • In a medium sized frying pan, saute the onions for about 10 minutes or until lightly golden.
  • Add the minced garlic and saute for an additional 2 minutes.
  • Add turmeric, stir for another minute until the onions have turned brilliantly golden. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • While the onions are cooking, in another large frying pan, heat the oil and saute the chopped cilantro and green onions over medium high heat for 15 minutes.
  • This is an important step in developing flavors. Initially the herbs are sauted on higher heat to evaporate the moisture, then the flame is lowered and the herbs are constantly stirred to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The herbs will develop a darker green color and become quite aromatic.
  • Once the herbs have been sauteed, add the fenugreek leaves, salt and chili pepper and saute for an additional minute. Add a touch more oil if the herbs look too dry and stick to the pan.
  • Add the sauteed onions and tamarind broth, bring to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
  • While the herb sauce cooks, sprinkle the salt over the fish and saute the fish over medium heat with the skin side down for about 5 minutes.
  • Place the fish over the sauce, cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Fish should be firm but not overcooked.
  • Gently place the sauce and the fish in a serving ware and serve with Persian basmati rice.
Keyword fish, fresh herbs, seafood, spicy, tamarind
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7 thoughts on “Ghalieh Mahi – Fish in a tamarind and herb sauce

  1. Thanks so much for the recipe, it turned out great! It was a little bit too sour though, should I use less tamarind paste next time? I suppose it depends on the type of the paste used.

    1. Hi Irina, glad you gave the recipe a try! You’re absolutely correct in that different brands of tamarind paste offer different levels of powerful sour flavor. This dish inherently is supposed to be sour, but you can absolutely adjust it to your liking by reducing the amount of the tamarind paste.

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