A la Bella
How to make Ghalye Mahi
By Ashpaz Baashi
August 9, 2001
Dear Ashpaz Baashi,
I recently returned from vacationing in Iran to America. I wanted
to know if you knew the recipe for "Ghalye Mahi." I have had it
a few times and I absolutely love it.
My own very recent first encounter with Ghalye Mahi was in Berkeley,
the foody capital of America as well as a mecca of PC multiculturalism.
It appeared on the table as part of a fabulous jonoobi feast concocted by
my friend Bella, along with a spicy prawn curry and a decadent ranginak.
As well as being one of the best cooks I know, Bella is a Very Dramatic
Person, an accomplished actress with a stunning presence both on stage and
And, as a native Abadani with Assyrian roots and a Berkeley base, she
can claim some authority in matters of jonoobi cooking and multiculturalism,
of which this dish is a perfect example. With its Arabic name ('ghalye'
is the Arabic for 'khoresh'), the south Indian influence of tamarind, chili,
and curry, and the unmistakably Persian base of sabzi, it's a dish that
blends the many currents of the Persian Gulf.
I was completely carried away by the dance of sharp and subtle flavors,
not to mention fine company and conversation, so of course I begged for
the recipe. But Bella is a true artist of improvisation, and though she
would tell me what went into the pot, just how much of what and when were
not part of the story. The recipe I've reconstructed is my best attempt
at reverse engineering of the magic, and Bella is in no way to blame for
Slice 2 onions thinly and fry in cup oil till brown. Remove the stems
from 1 bunch of parsley and chop finely. Chop 2 bunches of cilantro (no
need to remove any but the coursest stems), 1 bunch of green onions, and
4 cloves of garlic. Add the chopped sabzi and garlic to the onions and continue
to fry until the color turns a deep dark green. Add 1 tablespoon curry powder,
1 finely chopped jalapeno pepper, and 1 teaspoon turmeric, and fry for a
Add 3 cups water, 2 tablespoons tamarind paste, 1-2 tablespoons dried
fenugreek (shanbalileh) leaves, and salt to taste. Depending on the type
of tamarind paste you use, and the freshness of the fenugreek you may want
to add a little more of each. Simmer the stew for at least an hour, longer
if convenient. Add extra water if it becomes too thick. About 5 minutes
before serving, add 1 lb. of fish cut into 2-inch pieces, and continue simmering
just until the fish turns color. Serve with plain rice.
A few notes about measurements and ingredients:
How American supermarkets determine the size of a bunch of sabzi is one
of those mysteries of mass marketing I'd rather not think about. For the
business at hand, figure that each "bunch" is about 1/4 lb.
I've never seen fresh fenugreek (shanbalileh) outside of Iran, so I use
dried. You can find this at Indian stores under the name of kasuri methi.
Another Indian specialty that's very handy is Tamicon, a smooth tamarind
paste that comes in jars. If you use the normal tamarind paste that looks
like a hard brown brick, you will need to soak it in hot water first and
remove the seeds and stringy fibers.
Any type of fish will do, but the dish is well suited to a firm white
fish like cod or one that is robustly flavored, such as catfish.
Do you have a cooking question? Do you have a nice recipe you would like
to share? Email it.