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FoodMan

Samke Harra - Middle Eastern Spicy Fish

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In Charles Perry's translation of "al-Kitab Wasf al-At'ima al-Mu'tada's" ("The Book of the Description of Familiar Foods," of 1373) the is a recipe for "Stuffing for fish", from my notes, the ingredients of this are; Walnuts, garlic, sumac, coriander, cinnamon, tahini, parsely, mint and lemon juice. I think that this is an early version of the recipe discussed here, originally for fish from Lake Van I think. I will check the original recipe and see if I have got this right.

OK the medieval recipe is called "Samak Tari Mahshi" (Stuffed fresh fish). The stuffing is (approximately).

50 gms of sumac*

20 gms of dry thyme

12.5 gms peeled, finely chopped garlic

25 gms of walnuts

mix these

Adjust flavour with cassia (USA cinnamon), caraway, mastic, tahini, lemon juice, parsley and mint.

Stuff the fish, smear with saffron and bake.

* This refers to whole sumac berries, so I think that the amount of ground sumac would have to be adjusted down. It also seems like a lot of garlic compared to walnut meat.

"Samak Tari Mahshi" (Stuffed fresh fish)

Samak is fish

Mahshi is stuffed

but Tari is not fresh.

As matter of fact, Tari means soft and to my knowledge, here the recipe is drawing your attention to soft water fish v sea water fish.

My 2ct.

Let's not debate language again but Tari does mean fresh or tender, depending on where you are from, the context and so on. So if you go to the fishmonger and ask for "samak tari" it means fresh fish, same as "samak taza". In this case it seems that this specific recipe is talking about fresh not tender fish, since tender fish makes no sense.

Elie


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Well I have no expertise in this and it isn't my translation, but given that the next section is for salted fish, it fits, especially as the first bit of the recipe is about gutting fish.

Perry specifically translates 'tari' as 'fresh'. There is a later recipe "Malih Na'im" which is translated as 'soft salt' (i.e. soft salty fish). But the begining of the section on fish starts by saying 'Fish are fresh or salted', so I guess the translation is correct.

It could be that fresh fish are always freshwater in the context of this recipe collection.

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In Charles Perry's translation of "al-Kitab Wasf al-At'ima al-Mu'tada's" ("The Book of the Description of Familiar Foods," of 1373) the is a recipe for "Stuffing for fish", from my notes, the ingredients of this are; Walnuts, garlic, sumac, coriander, cinnamon, tahini, parsely, mint and lemon juice. I think that this is an early version of the recipe discussed here, originally for fish from Lake Van I think. I will check the original recipe and see if I have got this right.

OK the medieval recipe is called "Samak Tari Mahshi" (Stuffed fresh fish). The stuffing is (approximately).

50 gms of sumac*

20 gms of dry thyme

12.5 gms peeled, finely chopped garlic

25 gms of walnuts

mix these

Adjust flavour with cassia (USA cinnamon), caraway, mastic, tahini, lemon juice, parsley and mint.

Stuff the fish, smear with saffron and bake.

* This refers to whole sumac berries, so I think that the amount of ground sumac would have to be adjusted down. It also seems like a lot of garlic compared to walnut meat.

"Samak Tari Mahshi" (Stuffed fresh fish)

Samak is fish

Mahshi is stuffed

but Tari is not fresh.

As matter of fact, Tari means soft and to my knowledge, here the recipe is drawing your attention to soft water fish v sea water fish.

My 2ct.

Let's not debate language again but Tari does mean fresh or tender, depending on where you are from, the context and so on. So if you go to the fishmonger and ask for "samak tari" it means fresh fish, same as "samak taza". In this case it seems that this specific recipe is talking about fresh not tender fish, since tender fish makes no sense.

Elie

We cannot dissociate language from Arabic dish names and for all that matter from any other language.

Taking your logical thinking, you are deriving that "Tari" which is soft or tender relates to the freshness of the fish.

Big question mark as this recipe dates from 1373 and at this particular time you had only three kinds of fish available: Either fresh fish or salted fish or cooked fish.

Now bearing in mind that no refrigeration existed at that time, although ice was available only as a very rare commodity and not available as a refrigeration method. Fish could not be sold in any other way than fresh! And as the writer is drawing attention to the word "Tari" he can only be drawing a comparison between Soft water and Sea water/Salt water.

Had the writer wished to underline the freshness of the fish, he would have used many other adjectives. But he chose to draw the reader attention by specifying the type of fish and hence used "Tari".

I also would like to add that such recipe is either from al-Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes) by Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Karim al-Katib al-Baghdadi, a 13th century cookbook and Medieval Arab Cookery or al-Kitab Wasf al-At'ima al-Mu'tada (The Book of the Description of Familiar Foods.

Also I have to draw your attention that the above books are partly based on Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdi (779-839 CE), half-brother of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid.

And as you should know that when we say Caliph Harun al-Rashid we mean Baghdad. And hence we mean the land between the two rivers and hence we are talking about fish from rivers and not sea water or salt water fish.

To drive the point further. I would refer you to this dish:

Maqluba al Tirrikh from the same Al Baghdadi book where Tirrikh is a FreshWater fish and not SeaWater.

As per my previous post, Hector mentioned the word "samak" as sauce or part of the sauce name. He must have meant "Sumac" as it so happens in the 1373 recipe.

We are still to await Hector answer.

I also have a question mark on "Tahina" used in the recipe as to whether the writer is speaking of "Tahin" or whether this is proof that "Tahina" existed in that time.

I think the proper understanding of a recipe written in it's original language is fascinating and I would be very grateful if the recipe in the original language can be posted for ascertainment, as with all due respect, I have my doubts on any translation performed by a non native speaker and/or a non culinary aware person. Such experts are talking about recipes and translations while we are talking about protecting our gastronomic heritage

I assume you agree with me that here at eGullet we are not only looking at having fun but for correct culinary knowledge as well.

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Big question mark as this recipe dates from 1373 and at this particular time you had only three kinds of fish available: Either fresh fish or salted fish or cooked fish.

Now bearing in mind that no refrigeration existed at that time, although ice was available only as a very rare commodity and not available as a refrigeration method. Fish could not be sold in any other way than fresh! And as the writer is drawing attention to the word "Tari" he can only be drawing a comparison between Soft water and Sea water/Salt water.

Not that I want to enter this debate, but dried salted fish has been available in the the Levant since 1200BC. That the author used "tari" to refer to fresh rather than dried salted fish is not entirely implausible.

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Almass-

Your logic makes sense, and you could be right. However, we have to agree to disagree at this point. I still believe he means fresh fish and since he is not with us we might never know. Let's leave it at that and move on to the actual dish as we know it. It is interesting to see how this dish came to exist, but the point has been made and there is no sense debating what the word "tari" really means.

BTW, I too think that Hector meant Sumac when he wrote samak.

Elie


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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This discussion piqued my memory of a similar, delicious dish I made years ago from a recipe of the aforementioned Charles Perry. It appeared in the LA Times in 1997, reprinted from a 1984 book.

"The Eastern Mediterranean is not rich in fish, and the Egyptians, Lebanese and Syrians cannot boast a highly developed seafood cuisine. One sign is that few of their recipes call for a particular fish. However, they do have one spectacular specialty baked in rich, spicy tahineh sauce. The recipe is at least 1,000 years old (before red pepper was known, the spice was mustard). Adding dill is an Egyptian touch."

(From Totally Hot: The Ultimate Hot Pepper Cookbook by Michael Goodwin, Charles Perry and Naomi Wise. )

SAMAK BI-TAHINEH

(Fish in Hot Tahineh Sauce)

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

1/2 cup olive oil

2 pounds fish fillets

4 medium garlic cloves

1 1/2 cup tahineh

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup water

Cooked rice

2 teaspoons dill weed

Put onion in skillet with olive oil and saute over low heat until onion is golden brown,

about 15 minutes. Remove onion with slotted spoon and drain. Fry fish fillets in

remaining olive oil until cooked through, about 10 minutes, turning 1/2 way through.

(Alternatively, fish can be baked in greased baking dish 10 minutes per inch of thickness.)

In small bowl crush garlic. In mixing bowl, combine garlic, tahineh, salt, cayenne,

lemon juice and water. Stir until entirely mixed and thickened. Add onions.

Place fish in greased baking dish, pour sauce over fish and bake at 350 degrees

20 minutes. Serve fillets over rice, pouring any excess sauce over rice. Sprinkle

with dill. Makes 6 servings.

Relatedly, after reading this discussion, Charles Perry said:

"Maybe you could pass on my opinion that samak tari has BOTH senses, fresh fish and moist fish. Because of the theory of the humors, which dominated medieval medical thinking, people feared that fresh/moist fish (samak tari) would be harmful to the diner because it was too 'watery.' So cookbooks contain descriptions of salting fish to remove water before cooking it.

"For this reason, 'salted fish' doesn't necessarily mean fish that's been salted until it's hard as a rock, as we would expect. It may mean fish that's been salted just enough to ameliorate its wateriness, which would make it just a mildly treated fresh fish, by our standards.

[And, CP BOOK NEWS!!!]

"By the way, I have another medieval cookbook translation coming out. Kitab al-Tabikh, the 13th-century book by al-Baghdadi which was the basis of Kitab Wasf al-At'ima al-Mu'tada, was translated into English by A.J. Arberry in 1939. I've gone to the original manuscript (now held at the Suleymaniye Library, Istanbul) and made a fresh translation. It turns out Arberry made a great number of embarrassing mistakes (I really pull his pants down about it in an appendix), and on top of that the poor guy was working from a flawed published text. This new translation corrects all that.

"It will appear in Petits Propos Magazine soon, and then Prospect Books will reissue it as a short book. My translation has also been translated into Turkish and will be published in Yemek ve Kultur magazine, Istanbul."


Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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I think the proper understanding of a recipe written in it's original language is fascinating and I would be very grateful if the recipe in the original language can be posted for ascertainment, as with all due respect, I have my doubts on any translation performed by a non native speaker and/or a non culinary aware person. Such experts are talking about recipes and translations while we are talking about protecting our gastronomic heritage

All interesting questions. To clarify this specific issue, this 14th century text is largely based on al-Baghdadi, but in this specific instance it should be noted that this earlier work seems to have references to dried or salted fish. The later book adds the fresh fish recipes.

If you have doubts about the translation, contact Charles Perry. He has been kind enough to answer questions of mine in the past. But, before you do that I think that you should be aware that his gastronomic and linguistic skills are not in question. If you are concerned about gastronomic heritage, then this individual has most likely contributed the most of any individual to the Wests understanding of Historical Arabic cooking.

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This is all very interesting and I am sure Foodman joins me in welcoming Charles Perry participation in eGullet and on this thread particularly all be it via proxy but I hope he will find the time to post himself to the delight of everybody.

As for the "Tari" issue, my concern is, as I have stated previously" that the Arabic author must have been talking about "Fresh Water Fish" and not "Sea Water Fish" and the reason being three folds:

1- The author's book was generated in Baghdad which is landlocked.

2- Only fresh/soft water fish is available.

3- Another recipe Maqluba al Tirrikh by Al Baghdadi speaks specifically of fresh/soft water fish.

Maybe Charles Perry would like to:

- Confirm that Tirrikh is a soft water fish.

- Give us his insight as to whether Al Baghdadi was addressing fresh water or sea water fish or both?

- post a picture image of the original recipe?

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This is all very interesting and I am sure Foodman joins me in welcoming Charles Perry participation in eGullet and on this thread particularly all be it via proxy but I hope he will find the time to post himself to the delight of everybody.

As for the "Tari" issue, my concern is, as I have stated previously" that the Arabic author must have been talking about "Fresh Water Fish" and not "Sea Water Fish" and the reason being three folds:

1- The author's book was generated in Baghdad which is landlocked.

2- Only fresh/soft water fish is available.

3- Another recipe Maqluba al Tirrikh by Al Baghdadi speaks specifically of fresh/soft water fish.

Maybe Charles Perry would like to:

- Confirm that Tirrikh is a soft water fish.

- Give us his insight as to whether Al Baghdadi was addressing fresh water or sea water fish or both?

- post a picture image of the original recipe?

Originally you were concerned with the distiction of fresh v freshwater fish. Logically, it freshwater fish were the only type avalible a distintion would not be made between sea and freshwater fish. If you are saying that only freshwater fish were avalible then a logical distinction, such as "Tari" in that recipe, would be between salted and fresh fish. Also in the same recipe it refers to the juice of 'tari'lemons. I assume that this doesn't mean freshwater lemons, rather then sea lemons?

As I stated above unlike al baghdadi, the description of familar fish has recipes for fresh fish. As I said before a clue that it is fresh fish being discussed is the bit about slitting its belly and tossing away the guts. Not something you have to do with a salted fish, or fresh or sea origin.

"Tirrikh" means salted fish, the word is derived from "Tarikhos" (Greek = 'dried up').

Another thing to consider is that Arabic culture isn't monolithic, it changes over time. Many if the recipes in these older books are represented extant recipes, but many are not.

I am sorry for causing all this trouble posting what I thought may be an interesting historical recipe. To make up for it I will cook the recipe in as modern form as I can get my hands on.

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Please let us keep this thread on topic, discussing the actual dish and hopefully making it at home and posting the recipes for the dish as each of us know it.

Anymore discussion of the meaning of the word "Tari" or what an author in the 14th century must've meant by it will be removed, since it will serve no useful purpose anymore but derail this thread!

Thanks,

Elie


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Well, I want to try the Charles Perry version, with cayenne, and see what happens, so I'm glad Adam posted it here. Er, what other fresh fish should I try instead of red snapper, since that doesn't seem to arrive in good condition at our markets? Does anyone know whether walleye or northern pike would work? What about rainbow trout? Herring? Or should I try sea bass next time as someone else suggested? What about halibut? Both of those come in frozen from the ocean, but might stand up better to the treatment than the snapper did.

Finally: I'm fascinated by the comment that mustard was used in the days before red pepper was known. I never think of mustard as being hot. Do I use wimpy mustard?


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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To make up for it I will cook the recipe in as modern form as I can get my hands on.

You could download a photo of the dish off the web and print it on an edible card :wink:

Smithy, sea bass would be a good fish to use, but I think any white-fleshed fish would give decent results. Frankly, it would be a completely different dish but I bet tuna steaks with a tahini sauce would be quite nice.

I haven't made it yet because, frankly, I don't think I'll be able to face Lebanese food for another few months...I might be interested in trying the Charles Perry verison though. It is so interesting to see where these dishes come from.

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To make up for it I will cook the recipe in as modern form as I can get my hands on.

You could download a photo of the dish off the web and print it on an edible card :wink:

Smithy, sea bass would be a good fish to use, but I think any white-fleshed fish would give decent results. Frankly, it would be a completely different dish but I bet tuna steaks with a tahini sauce would be quite nice.

I haven't made it yet because, frankly, I don't think I'll be able to face Lebanese food for another few months...I might be interested in trying the Charles Perry verison though. It is so interesting to see where these dishes come from.

I recommended several types of fish in a previuous post, but any type of firm white fish should be ok I would think. I have used fresh sea bass before and it works great.

I personally would not use tuna, it just does not sound right and it will most certainly be a totally different dish. I think Nadia's extended exposure to Lebanese food over the past month or so might have skewed her judgement, and she is really trying hard to avoid it by recommneding a Japanese-Lebanese hybrid :biggrin: .

Elie


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I recommended several types of fish in a previuous post, but any type of firm white fish should be ok I would think. I have used fresh sea bass before and it works great.

I personally would not use tuna, it just does not sound right and it will most certainly be a totally different dish. I think Nadia's extended exposure to Lebanese food over the past month or so might have skewed her judgement, and she is really trying hard to avoid it  by recommneding a Japanese-Lebanese hybrid :biggrin: .

Elie

I've kept the recommendations from before (and of course, they're right there upthread), so please don't think I'm ignoring them. I'm just gunshy of trying another white sea fish at great expense, considering how much I paid for that snapper and how disappointed I was in its flavor. It's a bit like Nadia's reluctance to try Lebanese again, for a while. :biggrin:


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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As soon as the hot weather breaks I will be on the lookout for fish to revisit this dish. I have had to pass up some good candidates during the course of this discussion because of avoiding oven cookery ... frustrating!


Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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Although not traditional, I once made samke harra with monkfish fillets and thought it was a perfect pairing with this type of sauce. I like it mainly because monkfish is a little more toothsome and has more bite than other fish and this works nicely with tahini. I came to like it so much that I also use it whenever I make Sayyadieh, the other famous Lebanese fish dish.


Edited by zeitoun (log)

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler

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I had a recipe of a Samake Harra as it was served by the Lebanese/Syrian immigrants in Trinidad and Tobago. The recipe calls for a spice sauce, called "samak". I don't know what that is, or what "samak" means in Arabic. Can someone explain?

There is no spice sauce called "samak," as that word simply means "fish" in Arabic. But who knows what's happening to the dish in Trinidad. Take a look at this recipe http://www.cliffordawright.com/recipes/sam_harra.html.

Yo archestratus. The man is right, in a way.

Although "Samak" is the arabic transliteration and means "Fish".

But Hector is talking about spice in a sauce in which case he is talking about Sumac!!! the spice widely used in the Levant and particularly in Lebanon for the Fatoush salad and other. And I suppose his friends made Sumac based sauce which would go well with fish.

So it is a Sumac Samak.

LoL,

Well, let's ask. Hector, are you talking about sumac in the sauce for this fish, hence sumac samak?

I'm a questionmark right now! I don't really know. In the list for ingridients it says...

"Samak, a spice sauce"

but I think it might be sumac, first I thought it had to do with the name samake harra (heera it says here). The recipe calls for a red snapper, and no tahini. The recipe has been translated from English to Swedish, I wonder what got lost in translation?

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I'm a questionmark right now! I don't really know. In the list for ingridients it says...

"Samak, a spice sauce"

but I think it might be sumac, first I thought it had to do with the name samake harra (heera it says here). The recipe calls for a red snapper, and no tahini. The recipe has been translated from English to Swedish, I wonder what got lost in translation?[

Correct spelling?

Anyway, it seems to me that Mr Wright answered the question you initially asked which is what does "samak" mean. FISH.

So if it's a "samak sauce" I'll echo what he said "who knows what's happening in Trinidad"

Maybe it means "sumac" but we can't even begin to conjecture untill we see the recipe.

Can you post the recipe? That would help.


Edited by chefzadi (log)

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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This weekend I had better luck at buying fish. They had both bass and snapper, since the latter looked much better, I bought two cleaned whole red snappers (about 1.5 lbs each). My recipe is almost identical to the way my mom makes it and the way I grew up eating it. I sure hope someone would give it a try and let us know if they have any comments or improvements.

Click Here for the recipe

gallery_5404_94_97715.jpg

gallery_5404_94_57040.jpg

gallery_5404_94_94425.jpg

You will notice that sauce will "curdle" a bit once baked. This is ok and it will turn creamy once stirred a little bit.

Elie


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Looks delicious Elie.

I will give a try sometime this week. Minus the tahini I am very familiar with the preparation. :smile:


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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Finally: I'm fascinated by the comment that mustard was used in the days before red pepper was known.  I never think of mustard as being hot.  Do I use wimpy mustard?

The heat of mustard depends on which mustard seeds you are using, and how you are grinding the seeds.

There are yellow, brown, and black mustard seeds. The yellow ones (sometimes termed white) are the most pungent.

Mustard contains an enzyme that becomes pungent when mixed with water. If you want 'unwimpy' mustard, grind yellow mustard seeds to a fine powder, mix with water to a fine paste, and let stand for at least ten minutes before using. It will be strong.

Coarsely ground mustard will be less pungent. Mustard mixed with vinegar rather than water will also be less pungent, as the activation of the enzyme is inhibited by the vinegar.

Frying whole mustard seeds will give you a sweet rather than 'hot' taste.

Incidentally, mustard, usually ground to a fine powder, is used extensively in Indian Bengali cuisine to lend heat to foods. There is a great mystique surrounding how the seeds should be ground to get maximum taste and heat.

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Nice job Elie!! Samke harra is on the menu this week end, i'll report back with pictures hopefully.


"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler

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That's beautiful, Elie! It looks much better than mine did.

My husband has already put me on notice, however, that he doesn't want any fish staring at him from the pan. :laugh:


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Thanks again Elie for another successful dish!

Did it yesterday, as a "pan-mid-east" project, along with fresh Tahina I got from Egypt, El Rashidi El Mizan.

Came out perfect with local fish (kind of) Sea Bass.

Boaziko


"Eat every meal as if it's your first and last on earth" (Conrad Rosenblatt 1935)

http://foodha.blogli.co.il/

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