In my time as an English undergrad, when I was reading a lot of Jewish literature and referencing Tales of the Old Sarajevo with excitement and conviction (I still do this, of course), I really ought to have had a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s cookbook Jerusalem. If only it had existed then.
But I’ve made myself very busy with making up for lost time. Every night this week we have eaten something bursting with cumin, garlic, and lemon, scattered with cilantro and dotted all over with yogurt sauce. We’ve had eggplant roasted to sweet smithereens and turkey meatballs flecked with grated zucchini. It’s all felt royal, but this! This was the queen.
Chraimeh sauce is actually called the queen dish of Tripolitan Jews. It’s the sort of thing that every family has a recipe for, something they take great pride in. It’s velvety and sharp and spicy and soothing. You don’t exactly taste the cinnamon, chile, sweet paprika, sugar, lemon, and garlic… you taste their explosive harmony. It’s like having all your buttons pressed at once; you get all jazzed up and your fuses just sizzle. I dunno… does that sound pleasant? It is so, so pleasant.
This comes together with a speed disproportionate to how exciting it tastes. On our first bite we looked at each other and said one thing, in unison: “whoa,” making it the quickest recipe I know of to get someone to say “whoa.”
Salmon in Chraimeh Sauce
Adapted from the amazing Jerusalem cookbook (Buy it. Just do it.) Their recipe is for 4 pieces of salmon. I made 2 pieces but made the same amount of sauce, because you can’t have enough of the sauce. This can also be made with any white fish.
Scant 1/2 cup oil (Jerusalem calls for sunflower; I used olive oil. I also think you can get away with using much less than the amount called for– 2 tbsp in the sauce and a drizzle in the pan worked for me.)
3 tbsp flour
2 salmon fillets
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp caraway seeds, toasted & ground (I did not have caraway seeds so I used coriander. Different vibe that worked very, very well.)
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
rounded 1/4 tsp cayenne
rounded 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 green chile, chopped (I used jalapeno)
2/3 cup water
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp superfine sugar
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro
salt & pepper
Lemon wedges, for serving
Heat 2 tbsp oil over high heat in a large frying pan. Mix a little salt & pepper into the flour and dredge the salmon fillets in it. Shake off the excess flour and sear the fish for a minute or two on each side, until golden. Remove fish and wipe the pan clean.
Place the garlic, spices, chile, and 2 tbsp oil in a food processor and process until you have a smooth, thick paste. You can drizzle in more oil to help bring everything together, though I found I didn’t need to.
Pour the remaining oil in the frying pan, heat well, and add the spice paste. Stir fry for 30 seconds, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the water and tomato paste (careful; it might spit.) Add the sugar, lemon juice, 3/4 tsp salt, and some pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Nestle the fish into the sauce, bring to a gentle simmer, cover and let cook for 7-11 minutes, depending on the size of the fish, until cooked through.
Serve fish warm with chopped cilantro and a lemon wedge.