North African cookery, 336pp.
by Arto der Haroutunian
Century Publishing, London, 1985
Cooking on page 232
According to the dustcover, this was the first-ever comprehensive book on the cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. From fiery harissa paste to tajine cooking vessels, der Haroutunian takes the mystery out of 300 dishes popular in this region, also known as the Maghrib—or the land of sunset in Arabic.
Der Haroutunian’s death in 1987 was our loss. He was a true guru of Middle Eastern food. Born in Syria, he moved to the United Kingdom as a youth. In 1969, he started opening restaurants and hotels, and brought fine examples of Middle Eastern cuisines to Great Britain. When he died at age 47 of a heart attack, he had already written 12 cookbooks, which are mini histories of peoples and cultures. His books are interspersed with historical facts, proverbs, folk wisdom, poems and anecdotes.
In all my years of scrounging around in second-hand bookstores, this is the first der Haroutunian book I ever found and I was delighted to get it for $6. I have since found two more and look forward to sharing them with you.
Page 32 and 132 call for ingredients I can’t get—no pigeons sold in Australia—so I moved on to page 232, which has a recipe popular with Algerians and Tunisians.
Kelb el bhar chetitta (Dogfish in hot sauce)
1–1.5kg (2–3lb) dogfish, cleaned and cut into 6 equal portions or 6 dogfish steaks
6 tablespoon oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon harissa
450ml (3/4 pint) water
2 ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped
Rinse the fish slices thoroughly, drain and pat dry with kitchen towels.
Mix the oil, garlic, paprika, salt, cumin, coriander, black pepper, harissa and 6 tablespoons of the water together in a bowl and then pour into a large frying pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2–3 minutes. Add the fish slices and pour in the rest of the water, with the chopped tomatoes.
Cover the pan and simmer for 25–30 minutes or until the fish is tender. Serve with rice, cous-cous or noodles and a salad of your choice.
How it played out
Dogfish is a type of shark, and I’ve never seen it available in Australia. Most likely that’s because some kinds of dogfish in Australian waters are listed as endangered.
So I opted for just over a kilo of bream, which was on special at the markets. Otherwise I followed the recipe—mostly. After measuring and tossing in the spices, I realised I had used the 1/2-tablespoon measure for the paprika, salt and cumin—or half again as much as needed. My heavy-handedness didn’t make a lot of difference.
I was especially proud of myself for actually blanching and peeling the tomatoes. It’s a step I often skip.
A lovely fish dish that was much milder than I expected. Served with rice and another page-32 recipe, easy picnic broccoli salad. That post includes an excellent and easy-to-make recipe for homemade mayonnaise.
The bit of lore attached to this recipe is a Berber expression—‘fish follow their river’, which der Haroutunian says means ‘people will support their own family or tribe’.
Also, in the recipe title, the word kelb means dog and the word chetitta means hot or piquant.
Be sure to drop by my travel blog. We’re in India now.