According to the Washington Post article where we found the recipe, this Spicy Tamarind Fish and Herb Stew isn’t just memorable, it offers a teachable moment. Cookbook author Naz Deravian uses it for a lesson on “chashnee,” a Persian word that describes “a particular ingredient,” a spice or special something, “that brightens the dish, bringing it to life, like lemon or vinegar,” and it changes from one region to another. In the Persian Gulf region of Iran, chashnee comes from incomparably tangy tamarind and the heat of chile pepper.
In our neck of the woods, halibut is more than twice the price of cod, so that’s our preference here. Keep in mind, the sauce is bold. In fact, we, who love spicy food, didn’t bother to add any cayenne. You may also prefer to remove the chile seeds to further tame the flavor. I do feel the brown sugar (which we used instead of honey) balanced the tanginess of the tamarind.
Fenugreek seeds and powder are used in many Indian dishes for their nutritional profile and slightly sweet, nutty taste. If you’re unable to locate it at a nearby grocery store, you can check specialty markets or just order online like we did.
Beware, if you are not a cilantro lover, then this dish is not for you.
Spicy Tamarind Fish and Herb Stew
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste or finely grated
- 1 tsp. ground turmeric
- 1 red serrano or small jalapeño chile pepper, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
- 3 bunches fresh cilantro, tough stems trimmed, finely chopped (5 to 6 cups, chopped); plus some whole leaves reserved for optional garnish
- 2 Tbsp. dried fenugreek, or 1/2 bunch fresh leaves, finely chopped; OR, 1 Tbsp. dried crushed seeds
- 2 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp. tamarind paste , dissolved in 2 cups warm water, plus more to taste
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 tsp. brown sugar or honey, plus more to taste (optional)
- Cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 pounds cod, halibut or other firm-fleshed fish
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Cooked rice, for serving
- In a large pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle with a little salt, reduce the heat to medium, and add the garlic, turmeric and chile pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the cilantro and fenugreek and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and the cilantro has considerably wilted, about 10 minutes. (This step actually only took 2 minutes for the cilantro to be completely wilted.)
- Add the flour and the 2 teaspoons of salt and stir to incorporate for 1 minute. Stir in the tamarind mixture and tomato paste. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Taste as it simmers. If the sauce is too sour, add the sugar or honey to take the edge off the tang. Taste again for salt (keep in mind you will salt the fish as well), heat (add cayenne if you like), and more tang from tamarind.
- Meanwhile, cut the fish into 2-inch pieces and season well with salt and black pepper. Raise the heat to medium, add the fish, and simmer, uncovered, until the fish cooks through, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir gently to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. If the stew gets too watered-down, remove the fish and raise the heat to reduce the sauce a little, if it’s too dry, add a little more water.
- Garnish with more chile peppers and cilantro leaves, if you like, and serve with rice.
Recipe compliments of Justin Tsucalas for The Washington Post