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Baked Fish in Chili Cilantro Sauce

This is from Faye Levy's newest book, Feast from the Mideast: 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes from the Lands of the Bible (HarperCollins, $29.95).

Like the Moroccans, cooks in Egypt make tagines, or savory casseroles of meat or fish. This one is redolent of the fresh flavor of cilantro leaves as well as its seed, coriander. If you like, use fresh dill instead of-or in addition to-the cilantro, as many Egyptians do. Cumin and coriander are optional for those who avoid them during Passover. There is enough flavor in the sauce that it will taste fine without them. If you'd really like a substitute for those spices, I would suggest using a pinch of saffron, 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger or 1/4 teaspoon turmeric. Any of these will be good with the other flavors in the sauce.

1-1/2 pounds cod, halibut or other firm, lean fish, about 1 inch thick, cut in 4 pieces, rinsed and patted dry
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil, or 1 tablespoon oil and 2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
1 mild green chili, such as Anaheim, or 1/2 green bell pepper, halved, cored, seeded, and diced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded if desired, minced, or 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 fresh ripe or canned plum tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/3 cup water
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Put the fish steaks on a tray in a single layer. Mix the lemon juice with 1 tablespoon cilantro, 1 tablespoon oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour over the fish and turn to coat both sides. Let stand while preparing the sauce.

Preheat oven to 400F. Heat the remaining oil or butter in a skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium low heat about 5 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add the mild chili, jalapeno peppers and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the ground coriander, cumin, pureed tomatoes and tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the water and bring to a simmer. Add the remaining cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to hold the fish in a single layer. Spoon about one-third of the sauce into the dish. Top with the fish and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Top with the remaining sauce. Cover and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or just until the fish can be flaked with a fork in its thickest part. Serve garnished with cilantro sprigs. Makes 4 servings.

© 2004 Faye Levy

This recipe appeared in “What’s Cooking with Sheilah Kaufman,” an online column on jwmag.org from 2002-2010. Kaufman, the author of 26 cookbooks, teaches “fearless and fussless” techniques for elegant cooking in classes throughout the country. Contact her at www.cookingwithsheilah.com.

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