Recipe: Lebanese Pepper Paste Marinade
This marinade makes Mamnoon’s samkeh harra sing, but beyond a whole fish, it can be used for firm white fish fillets, such as cod, and even sea scallops.
1/2 cup Italian pine nuts (Melkonian says the ubiquitous Chinese pine nuts don’t have the same flavor or the same creamy texture as those imported from Italy)
1 cup onions, diced fine
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon Aleppo chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
1/2 cup pepper paste
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
Sauté onions over medium-high heat until completely translucent. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Place pine nuts in food processor and pulse until coarsely ground, retaining some texture. Place in a large mixing bowl.
Add tomato, pepper paste and spices to food processor and pulse as well, until a rough purée is formed, but pieces of tomato are still visible.
Combine tomato and spice mixture with the pine nuts and onions in mixing bowl. Using a Microplane grater or mortar and pestle, finely grate garlic and add to the mixture.
Chop the cilantro fairly fine and add to the mixture, then finish with olive oil, lemon juice and salt to taste.
Marinate a whole fish, such as a branzino, or firm white fish fillets, such as cod, or chicken for between 2 and 4 hours. Put the marinated fish or meat into a cold baking pan and place in a preheated 450-degree oven. Bake until it’s just cooked through and the marinade has slightly caramelized.
Serves four, with a touch left over to serve on the side. Goes well with a side salad of shredded cabbage with fresh mint dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, and a generous helping of riz bi shi’rieh (Syrian rice made with butter fried vermicelli noodles and Egyptian short grained rice).