For a recent dinner party with a Fertile Crescent theme, I got a quick head start by shopping on San Franciscos Clement Street. Haigs Delicacies was the source for several of the spices and ingredients for this meal. Plus, I bought hummos, baba ghanouj, Marmara olives, muhammara, and pita bread for ready-made appetizers. The hummos has a coarser, more satisfying texture than many. The baba ghanouj is very silky with a strong smoky component (one of my dinner guests has since become addicted to it and buys a weekly supply!). Thanks to a tip from Rochelle Shellfood, I tried the muhammara for the first time, which is a delicious spread of red peppers, walnuts, pomegranates and more. Marmara olives are a black semi-cured style with incredible flavor intensity, and theyre only $3.99/lb. at Haigs versus $8-10 at places like Whole Foods or Oakville Grocery. The pita bread, unfortunately, is the locally made sandpapery variety (think it was Ken Hoffman who described it this way), but it had to do this time.
Across the street at Wing Hing Seafood Market (633 Clement St.), I was hoping to find a live three-pound fish to make Samak Tarator bi Senobar. I was very happy to see farmed striped bass of this size in the tanks. This was a good choice for my dish stripers have firm white flesh, a nice shape, and flat easy to separate bones. I asked the counter man to clean and gut one, but leave it whole with the head and tail on. By motioning with the knife, he asked if I wanted him to cut it from the bone or slash the flesh, but I prefer to do that myself. The price was less than $20.
Not having time to prep the fish immediately, I kept it overnight wrapped in plastic on a bed of ice in the meat compartment (coldest part) of my refrigerator. The next day, it was still in fine shape with glossy eyes and moist slippery slimy skin. I rinsed it in several changes of cold water to which kosher salt had been added to wash off some stray blood and scales. Even though I later served the fish without the skin, I did take note that the fish had been scaled thoroughly at the store.
The remaining prep for Samak Tarator bi Senobar (whole fish with sesame and pine nut sauce) is as follows.
Cut 2 or 3 diagonal incisions through the skin of a whole 3 lb. fish down to the bone on each side to help it cook more evenly. Rub inside and out with lemon juice, sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Brush a large sheet of foil with extra virgin olive oil, place the whole fish in the middle, crimp edges to seal leaving a loose fit for expansion. Place the wrapped fish on a half-sheet size baking pan (fits on the diagonal), bake for 30 minutes. Test for doneness (mine was perfect at 30 minutes) along the thickest part of the backbone. When done, unfold foil to release steam, chill (overnight is fine).
To make the taratoor bi senobar sauce, in a blender or food processor combine 1 1/2 c. tahini, juice of 2 lemons, 3 cloves garlic and 2 T. olive oil. Add a small amount of cold water (or the juices released from cooking the fish) a little at a time until the sauce becomes a smooth cream. Add a pinch of cayenne, and salt and white pepper to taste. Just before serving, toast a 1/2 c. of pine nuts and stir into sauce.
To serve: remove skin from chilled fish. [Hint: Keep it on the foil base to make it easier to turn while you're doing this.] Line a large platter with torn butter lettuce. Place the whole fish on the bed of lettuce, coat the entire fish except for the head and tail fin with the sauce, sprinkle with chopped parsley, place a round of olive over the eye of the fish. Present the platter accompanied with lemon wedges, pickled cucumbers and pickled beets or turnips. Portion some of the fish with the lettuce and garnishes for each serving and pass the extra sauce.
Serves 8-10 as a first course.
I poured an aged and toasty Blanc de Noir sparkling wine to accompany this dish. Heres the complete menu and wine list for the dinner:
1,001 ARABIAN NIGHTS
Mesopotamian Cuisine and Global Mourvèdre Wines
Bacchus Wine Tasting Society
Hosted by Melanie Wong
Saturday, October 26, 2002
1996 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé
1993 Domaine Tempier "Tourtine" Bandol
1993 La Bastide Blanche Bandol
1993 Chateau de Pibarnon Bandol
1993 Joseph Swan Sonoma County Mourvèdre
1993 Joseph Swan Russian River Valley Mourvèdre
1995 Chateau La Roque "Cupa Numismae" Pic Saint Loup
1995 Domaine Tempier Bandol
Marmara Olives, Hummos, Baba Ghanouj and Muhammara
Samak Tarator bi Senobar (Whole Stripe Bass with Sesame and Pine Nut Sauce)
1985 Piper-Sonoma "Library Collection" Blanc de Noir
Shawrbat Rumman (Pomegranate Soup)
Rutabiya (Lamb with Dates)
Roz bi Shaghria (Rice Pilaf with Vermicelli)
Mashi Batinjaan (Stuffed Eggplant)
Salatit Khyaar bi Laban (Cucumber and Yogurt Salad)
2001 Casa Castillo Monastrell Jumilla
1997 Joseph Swan Russian River Valley Mourvèdre
1990 Cline Cellars Contra Costa "Reserve" Mourvèdre
Honey Yogurt Cake
1988 Chateau Pajzos 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszu