Friday, 13 September 2013


Brussels is a strange place: simultaneously so beautiful and so so ugly. Yes, there are a lot of Ugly Belgian Houses, but this city is full of Victor Horta buildings, wrought iron balconies, little details and grand facades. The metro stations reek and most of them would not look out of place in post-Apocalyptic East Berlin, but there are also parks and palaces and sweeping vistas. Not to mention the chocolate, beer, and frites which can distract you from looking up. But there is one thing which I find hard to cope with: the grey. In the light, with a blue sky, the grey stonework and paint looks chic. I've never seen so many different kinds, tones, and shades of grey in one place before, and it works, sometimes. It does. Tall houses with slightly fading grandeur; elegant shopfronts; imposing official buildings. But then, when the sky is grey and the pavements are grey and the buildings are grey it is hard not to feel grey, too.

So today I wanted some sunshine, which severely lacking in this environment. The Indian summer has given way - to either brutal downpours or that annoying rain where it's patchy and not heavy enough for an umbrella but give it ten minutes and you're soaked (man the fuck up, rain, commit to it or go away). I have completely bastardized a dish I love from Al-Shami, a Lebanese restaurant in Oxford (I cannot recommend their sharing mezze menu enough): baked fish in a tomato sauce. Vibrant red. Aromatic. Warming.

Served with green beans and rice, and a large glass of Riesling:

And afterwards? More sunshine:

Lebanese-ish Baked Fish in a Spiced Tomato Sauce 

Recipe made up out of my own head and not much like a proper Kousbariya or Samaka Hara Ma'a Banadora at all. Makes dinner for two with leftover sauce.

- 200g firm white fish, such as cod (oh god all the names of things in this place are odd and I don't know what I'm doing staring at nondescript pieces of fish and trying to guess what is what)
- a small amount of flour
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, crushed (depending on your love of the stuff)
- 4 ripe tomatoes (I used San Marzano, de-coring the white part but keeping the juice and seeds)
- 1 red pepper, sliced
- 1 heaped tsp cumin
- 2 heaped tsp each fresh parsley and coriander
- plus olive oil and salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan. Dust the fish with flour, and fry it off for a minute or so each side so it is nicely browned. Remove and place in an ovenproof dish.
2. Wipe out the pan and add more oil. Gently fry the onions, peppers, and garlic, adding the tomatoes when the peppers start to soften. Add one generous teaspoon each of cumin, parsley, and coriander. Cook this sauce, bubbling, for about five minutes. Taste and season as necessary.
3. Pour this sauce over the fish, enough to cover it. (At this point I kept about a third of the sauce back in order to make another bastardized dish - huevos rancheros - for lunch the next day, but the important thing is to generously cover the whole fish. You will also notice from my photo above that, at the edges of the pan where the sauce is thinner, it may burn. Combat this by using a smaller pan. I didn't have anything suitable. *Cue ungrateful my-kitchen-is-soooo-ill-equipped moan*)
4. Bake the covered fish for around 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish.
5. Either sprinkle the rest of the parsley and coriander over the top, or bring the herbs to the table so that people can add their own to their portion. But do bring it to the table in the cooking pan, so that you can do a nice cheffy flourish when breaking through the sauce to reveal the white fish below!

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