Fish with caramelized onions and dates

lukuz with date paste There was a time when finding a fish “with a head” in a supermarket in the US (say, in California where I used to live or in Texas) was not an easy task. Times have changed and now fish with their heads still on or even fish live in giant aquariums are available in supermarkets or fish markets.  I used a type of fish found in the Mediterranean for this recipe, but any fish would do, such as a grouper or snapper. This is a very easy dish and is inspired by the Arabian Gulf cuisine. To save time, I used date paste which is available in all Middle-Eastern groceries.

INGREDIENTS: 4 servings

  • 1 3-pound snapper or grouper or other white-fleshed fish
  • 1 pound onions, sliced into rings
  • 1/2 cup oil or clarified butter or ghee
  • 1/2 pound date paste (to make it, see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • salt, pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup almonds, toasted in a 300F oven till golden (optional)
  1. Clean the fish and dry with kitchen towels; sprinkle with spices on both sides and in the cavity. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat and fry the onion slices for 45  minutes until brown.

            2.         Stuff the fish cavity with about half the date paste; add a layer of sliced onions; rub the remaining date paste on the outside of the fish and garnish with toasted almonds. Bake the fish in a 350F oven till cooked, about 30 minutes. Serve.  lukuz with date paste  NOTE: To make date paste, pit the dates and place in a saucepan; add 3/4 cup of water (or orange juice) and bring to a simmer; stir from time to time and let the mixture get thicker and softer. Transfer to a processor and purée (or use an immersion blender). 


Mango pickle (Amba)

fg mango pickMango pickles always remind me of Iraq, when I first tasted this condiment  with the famous grilled fish (masgoof) by the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad. Velvety, peppery from the chilis and tangy. The permutation of spices here is infinite. Easy to prepare too (about 15 minutes).  INGREDIENTS: 

  • 2 large firm, green mangoes (or more)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup white vinegar (or other vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns (any type)
  • 3 small chili peppers
  • 1″ piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds (or other spice)
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds (or anise or cumin or fennel seeds)
  • Dash of turmeric

Peel and cut the mangoes into slices or small cubes; pack into several clean, sterilized jars. Tuck into the mangoes one chili pepper per jar.

  1. In a saucepan, pour the vinegar, sugar, salt and spices including the ginger slices. Stir the mixture over medium heat for about ten minutes. Transfer the mixture to the jars with the mango slices and divide it equally between them; add enough water to come to the top of the mango slices; close the jars tightly and shake to mix. Store in the refrigerator, turning the jars every 12 hours. 
  2. Use after 5 days. Keep stored in the fridge.

amba blog


Carrot almond tart (Christine Ferber)

blog christine tarte aux carottes Christine Ferber is a celebrated pastry chef  in France. She is especially known for her jams and preserves. One of her books landed on my lap the other day,  Mes Tartes Sucrées et salées and I was riveted.  This carrot tarte uses  an almond cream (crème frangipane), and combines it with orange juice and grated carrots. It is subtle in taste. A weekend project, too, if the crust is homemade (recommended). This recipe is adapted from the original. It makes 8 to 10 servings.

  • 1 recipe tart crust
  • Almond cream: 1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces), 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 3/4 cup almond flour, 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream or labneh or Greek yogurt
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
  • orange rind of one orange
  • powdered sugar for garnish

10″ tart mold (otherwise a 9″ pie plate would be too small)

1. Spread your crust on a lightly floured work area; roll out into a circle 

butter the pie pan and flour it  and place the crust on it. Press lightly on crust in the middle and sides. Prick crust with fork cover with wrap and keep in fridge 30 mms.

Preheat oven to 350F

1.  Make almond cream;In an electric mixer ,cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs,  almond flour, and flour; beat until smooth. Add the whipping cream cream, grated carrots, cinnamon, orange juice and zest, mix gently and pour into the crust. Smooth cream with a spoon.

2. Bake for 45 minutes; the crust should be deep golden and the almond cream puffed up. Cool, unmold and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

NOTE:  The original recipe is slightly different; for instance, it calls for crème fraiche, which has more the consistency of sour cream. Almond flour is sold in some supermarkets or can be obtained by grinding almonds (peeled) in a coffee grinder till powdery.

tarte amande carottesObservations: If I did it again, I would use small ramequins, place a ginger cookie at the bottom and pour a little custard on top; or bake them in a muffin tin. 

Original recipe:

300 g pâte sablée #1 

400 g crème d’amandes 

50 g de crème fraiche épaisse

300 g carottes 

1/2 tsp cinnamon powder

juice of 1 orange

orange rind 

powdered sugar for garnish

moule 26 cm et 3 cm high




Red lentil patties (Adass ballou’)


I learned about this dish through my friend Asma, who is of Kurdish origin. It has all the attributes of a warm weather meal; it is served at room temperature with fresh veggies and a glass of ayran. Light, but filling. Easy to master and versatile (use any spices you like). 

  • INGREDIENTS: 6 servings
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed under tap water and drained
  • 4 cups water
  • salt, pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3/4 cup fine bulgur 
  • 1 cup chopped herbs (parsley or cilantro)

1. Boil the lentils in the water until they disintegrate and soften; add the bulgur and spices. Cover and let the mixture rest for about 15 minutes. Add the herbs and mix enough until the mixture gets a bit doughy. Shape into patties or kibbeh as shown in the photo above. Serve with raw veggies and yogurt drink.

red lentil patties

NOTE: The lentil patties can be fried in olive oil. Variations to this recipe include adding a chopped onion to the dough, or pan-frying the onion then adding it; also nice is the addition of a touch of chili paste if you like a bit of heat.

If the mixture is too “wet”, cook it a bit longer to get the right consistency, OR add more bulgur.


Saffron/Cantaloupe smoothie

Saffron drink dupI brought saffron with me from Dubai. The heat index here in Beirut did not call for a huge biryani.  I had to come-up with something refreshing that would pass muster. The twenty-something that I hang out with are smoothie experts.  They approved.  Inhaled, in fact.

INGREDIENTS: 2 servings

  • 1 cup milk 
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 small canteloupe (about 2 cups cut-up)
  • 1 banana
  • pistachios, garnish (optional)

infuse milk w:saffron 1. Heat the milk and sprinkle the saffron over it; let it infuse away from heat, then refrigerate for a couple of hours or longer. Place the saffron-flavored milk, the honey, canteloupe, banana in a blender and purée the mixture. Serve cold or with crushed ice if desired. Garnish with chopped pistachios for a Lebanese touch. saffron drink


NOTE: You can substitute almond milk for a vegan version. 

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