Hearty fish and veggie stew gets zing from Moroccan flavors


March is easily the hardest month, to my mind: Winter storms may yet bring harsh weather, just as our spirits begin to yearn for longer, warmer days. Cold and weary, we look eagerly now for the early noses of daffodils and crocus to poke through the last of the snow. Spring must surely come soon, we think.

My solution to a snow-stunned palate is to dapple my March menus with meals bright with herbs and still-seasonal citrus, dishes sturdy enough to nourish a winter-worn body but colorful enough to fill my eye with the hues of the season I hunger for.

This hearty fish and vegetable stew fills the need quite handily. Its complex, layered flavors draw on Morocco’s fascinating court cuisine, but only a couple of ingredients may not be in your pantry already. In Morocco, a tagine of fish would be served over a bed of couscous, and you certainly can serve this stew that way. In my kitchen, though, it tends to come out more as a stew, eaten from a big bowl, and yes, please, I’ll help myself to seconds.

Chermoula is what the Moroccans call the fragrant sauce that often accompanies fish. In a thicker variant, it might be used to stuff a whole roasted fish; loosened with a generous pour of olive oil, as here, it becomes a condiment much like Argentine chimichurri or Yemeni zhug.

Use it with any firm white fish that’s reasonably priced; I don’t care for basa (swai) or tilapia, two farm-raised fish that come from Indochina, most frequently, but if you like them, they’d work here as well.

Fish Stew with Moroccan Flavors

Prep: 25 minutes

Marinate: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cook: 50 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

A classic Moroccan chermoula doesn’t include mint, but I’ve added it here for its bright, springy flavor. You may not need all the sauce for the recipe; if you have some left over, it’s also a terrific marinade for chicken, and is a good accompaniment to beef or pork. While the vegetable stew will be delicious without the preserved lemon, it’s definitely worth the effort to find or make preserved lemons for their silky, salty contribution. (Use store-bought, or try the method below.)

Sauce:

1/2 bunch parley

1/2 bunch cilantro

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, packed

3 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. each: ground coriander, minced fresh ginger

1/2 tsp. each: salt, cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. saffron threads, optional

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup olive oil

Stew:

4 portions (4 to 6 oz. each) mild, firm white fish fillets or steaks, such as flounder, sole, halibut, catfish or sea bass

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced vertically

1 bell pepper, sliced

1 tsp. each: salt, ground cumin

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 russet potato, peeled, thinly sliced

2 carrots, sliced diagonally

1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes

Peel of 1 preserved lemon, cut into slivers, optional

1/2 cup pitted green olives, such as Castelvetrano or Picholine, coarsely chopped

1 Tbsp. honey

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped

1. For the sauce, combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender; whiz until well blended into a thick paste. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

2. Use about half the paste to marinate the fish pieces. If your fish fillets are thin, as with flounder and sole, spread the uppermost side with the sauce, then fold into thirds. Refrigerate fish to marinate for 1 to 2 hours. Set remaining sauce aside.

3. Begin the vegetable stew: Heat olive oil over medium in a large, heavy skillet with a close-fitting lid. Add onion and peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until onions and peppers soften, 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine salt, cumin and cayenne pepper; toss sliced potatoes in spice mixture until they are well-coated.

4. Add carrots, potatoes and diced tomatoes with their juices to the skillet. Stir to blend. Stir in preserved lemon, green olives, honey and cinnamon; bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a slow simmer. If the liquid seems to evaporate, add water to bring the mixture back to a stewy consistency.

5. When the vegetables are almost tender, 20-25 minutes, stir in chopped parsley. Nestle the fish portions into the vegetable stew, brushing with a little of their marinade if you wish. Re-cover the skillet, and cook until the fish is opaque but still moist, about 15 minutes.

6. To serve, divide the vegetable stew among 4 bowls. Top each portion of stew with fish. Pass additional sauce at table, if desired.

Nutrition information per serving: 404 calories, 27 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 44 mg cholesterol, 29 g carbohydrates, 12 g sugar, 16 g protein, 1,521 mg sodium, 6 g fiber

Easy Preserved Lemons

Prep: 10 minutes

Marinate: 9 days

This method from Tribune archives is written by “Dinner at Home” columnist JeanMarie Brownson, Meyer lemons are good here — they are sweet and tender. Look for them at large specialty markets.

1. Scrub 2 whole lemons clean. Cut each lemon into wedges, leaving them attached at the stem end. Coat with a generous amount of coarse (kosher) salt. Pack tightly into a small glass jar; sprinkle with more salt. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice to come about halfway up the lemons. Put the lid on the jar.

2. Let stand at room temperature a couple of days, shaking the jar every day. Refrigerate about 1 week. Lemons will keep 3 months or more in the refrigerator, and the skins will get softer. Rinse off salt before using.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Austin360 Eats

Get a taste of Austin’s summer to come with this Shark Bait cocktail
Get a taste of Austin’s summer to come with this Shark Bait cocktail

This cold snap drawing temperatures down to record-breaking lows probably has many of us native Texans dreaming of the days when we can wear shorts and sandals again. That’s not likely for at least another week, but one Austin burger joint is offering a fun, Instagram-friendly tiki cocktail in the meantime, a boozy reminder of the warmer months...
We knew this already: Buc-ee’s is officially the best gas station 
We knew this already: Buc-ee’s is officially the best gas station 

Huge, super-clean bathrooms. Fresh sandwiches. Pajama pants covered in little beavers. Home decor. Awesome snacks. Really big car washes. Texans know where it’s at when it comes to gas stations, and Buc-ee’s is the best of the best. We knew this already. This is nothing new.  But now it’s official. GasBuddy listed Buc-ee&rsquo...
Are you the cutest couple in Austin? Enter the 2018 Cutest Couples Contest
Are you the cutest couple in Austin? Enter the 2018 Cutest Couples Contest

Are your friends constantly telling you how cute you and your significant other are? Do they say, “Oh, gross” when you smooch at brunch? Do they tell you to “get a room” when you gaze at each other lovingly over happy hour beers? Do you think you’re pretty cute, too?  Let’s put it to the test. We&rsquo...
Weekend music picks: Fab T-Birds, Dream Syndicate, Moody Blues and more
Weekend music picks: Fab T-Birds, Dream Syndicate, Moody Blues and more

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dz0df22-Zgk&w=492&h=307] Friday-Saturday: Fabulous Thunderbirds with Kim Wilson at Antone’s. In 1986 the Fabulous Thunderbirds became one of Austin’s biggest bands ever, with the top-10 single “Tuff Enough” omnipresent on the radio. Their...
Houston Barbecue Festival will deliver the best barbecue the area has to offer
Houston Barbecue Festival will deliver the best barbecue the area has to offer

You could drive the 160 miles to Houston and then drive another 160 miles around the sprawling beast trying to get a taste of the best barbecue the area has to offer, or you can just head down to the Houston Barbecue Festival. The event, which this year moves beyond the city limits to the Humble Civic Center, takes place...
More Stories