Iraq is an amazing country. When you really get down to it, this land was the birthplace of the first known human civilizations in Sumer and Mesopotamia. The first forms of writing, building, and the arts all originated here. We all owe a huge debt to this place and its people. That’s why it’s very dismaying to witness what’s going on there right now. When I say “witness” I mean actually see and experience because I was in Iraq in 2004-5, during the early stages of the war. I was working for a media company, making TV commercials to promote the first free elections (post Saddam), and I got a chance to work with a lot of Iraqis, who introduced me to their food and culture. The people whom I worked with were great–bright, intelligent, creative, good-humored–and despite all their current woes, hopeful and optimistic about the future prospects for their country.
It was obviously way too dangerous for the American contingent to go out and feed ourselves, so we had most of our meals delivered to where we worked and lived, which was outside of the militarized Green Zone. We ate our fair share of bad delivery pizza and falafels, but the Iraqis would always provide us with some of their food as well, for example, whole grilled Euphrates River Carp called Masgouf or grilled quail marinated in dried Omani limes (also used in our recipe today), a popular ingredient in Iran and Iraq. Fish Fillets in Herb Sauce reminds me of Masgouf, but it seems much easier to prepare. I also like the fact that the recipe calls for curry powder, which adds plenty of complex flavors to a pretty simple dish.
My time in Iraq was filled with danger and the adrenaline rush that accompanies it, and it is my hope to one day return, and just have a cup of chai and a shisha pipe on the street–something I could never do when I was there. Until then, I will always remember my experience there, especially when I make a dish such as this one, from Kay Karim’s new cookbook.
(from The Iraqi Family Cookbook by Kay Karim)
4 filets tilapia or flounder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped scallions
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 large tomatoes, diced
2 cups chopped parsley
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon crushed dried lime
juice of 1 lemon
1.) Pour oil in a deep pan and sauté the onion and garlic for 5 minutes. Add the scallions, salt, and curry powder and stir for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, parley, tomato paste, and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil.
2.) Sprinkle dried lime over the sauce and add the lemon juice. Boil until the tomatoes are cooked and then reduce heat.
3.) Add the fish filets to the sauce and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes on low heat. To serve, ladle the sauce into a deep dish and place the fish on top of the sauce. Serve with rice.