Baked Fish With a Taste of Mediterranean Summer

Baking fish in salt allows you to heat the fish while preserving all its delicious juices. Combine with watermelon and sautéed chard for a refreshing salad, or toasted green wheat for a wonderfully earthy salad.

Dan Perez

This is how life can be: It’s early evening and you return home from a day’s toil. The sun delicately lights the garden or street, and there’s still time until it sets. The kids are playing on the grass and the neighbors gather at the table in the yard, each bearing a covered bowl or tray. Glasses are filled with chilled white wine and the table groans with little dishes of olives that were preserved last fall, fresh summer fruit, almonds and walnuts, and crumbly salty cheese.

The relaxed conversation might go something like this: a friendly chat about what was said on the radio that morning and that song they’re always playing, and about the exact recipe for making those excellent pickled lemons the neighbors brought to the table. Then you bring bread and salad from the kitchen, plus the fish and another bottle of chilled wine. And the kids should come to the table, too.

And here’s a chance to teach them what life is all about: Take a slice of the great bread and put a little of the sweet, the salty, the spicy and the sour onto your plate. Then take a little of each with a fork and let the bread absorb some of the sauce. Then put it in your mouth and slowly savor the taste of life. Take a sip of lemonade or wine or arak with ice, lean back and gaze up at the stars that have just come out.

This is how life can be: no chasing or running from anything or anyone. Everything is interesting and colorful enough right here at this table, with the music playing and the company of good friends and warm summer evenings that go on and on.

Salt-baked fish – basic recipe

I’m very fond of this method of baking fish, since it creates a dry and crisp sarcophagus that heats up the fish while preserving its juices. It’s very important to tell the fishmonger not to remove the fish scales, since this is what will form the barrier between the salt and the delicate flesh and make it possible to remove the skin easily later.

Trout is the best kind of fish to use with this method, since it is fatty enough to remain very juicy. But other kinds of fish will work, too, as long as they’re fresh. The amount of salt should be double the weight of the fish, and mixing an egg white or two and a little water with the salt will make it easier to separate the salt coating from the fish later on.

You can also add grated lemon peel, coriander seeds or even lavender to the salt mixture to give it an even more tempting aroma.

Ingredients:

2 trout (600-700 gms. each), insides cleaned but scales left on

20 sprigs parsley

1 lemon

4 garlic cloves

Black pepper

3 kg. coarse salt

2 egg whites

4 tbsp. water

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius (480 degrees Fahrenheit).

Rinse the fish under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Season the inside of the fish with coarsely ground black pepper and fill with the parsley. Slice the lemon and insert lemon slices and garlic cloves in the fish.

Place the salt in a bowl and mix with the egg whites and 4 tablespoons of water until slightly moist. Spread half the salt mixture in a thick layer in a wide pan, place the fish on top, then cover the fish completely with the rest of the salt. The covering should be about 1.5 centimeters (0.6 inches) thick.

Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, break the salt casing and carefully peel it off. Remove the skin from the fish – it should come away easily – and keep the fish for use in the salad.

Fish salad with watermelon and sautéed chard

A refreshing and surprising salad that combines the flavors of the fish with the green of the chard (also known as mangold) and the sweetness of the watermelon.

You can prepare the chard ahead of time and put it in ice water once it’s sautéed, to stop it from cooking further. Cut the watermelon right before serving. Mix everything together very gently so as not to crush the ingredients.

Ingredients:

10 fresh chard (mangold) leaves

¼ watermelon

1 hot green pepper

Flesh of one fish, without bones

½ cup olive oil

Juice of ½ lemon

Sea salt

Coarsely ground black pepper

Preparation:

Rinse the chard leaves well and remove the hard white stalks. Slice each leaf in 4 pieces horizontally and place in a wide skillet or pot. Pour a quarter of a cup of olive oil over the leaves and heat over a high flame. Stir occasionally until the leaves lose some of their volume but retain their green color – about five minutes.

Transfer the leaves to a bowl. Slice the watermelon into pieces about 7-8 millimeters wide and then cut each piece into 3-centimeter pieces and add to the bowl.

Slice the green pepper and add it, along with the pieces of fish. Season with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and stir.

Fish salad with freekeh and mint

(Photo by Dan Perez)

Freekeh, or roasted green wheat, adds a smoky, earthy flavor to this terrific salad. Let it cool, but don’t refrigerate since it’s tastiest at room temperature. Add the fresh mint and parsley right before serving so they won’t lose their flavor, and season with plenty of lemon.

Ingredients:

1 onion

5 garlic cloves

1 cup freekeh (roasted green wheat)

2 cups water

Flesh of one fish, without bones

½ cup olive oil

Leaves from 4 sprigs of mint

12 sprigs of parsley

½ cup pine nuts

Juice of ½ lemon

Sea salt

Coarsely ground black pepper

Preparation:

Chop the onion finely. Heat half a cup of olive oil in a pot over a high flame, add the onion and fry until golden. Slice the garlic, add it to the pot and fry briefly. Add the freekeh and fry briefly with the onion and garlic, until everything’s coated with the oil. Add salt, pepper and two cups of water, and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes, until the freekeh softens a bit but is still firm in the center. Turn off the fire and leave covered for 10 more minutes.

Transfer the freekeh to a bowl and let it cool a little. Add the mint leaves, chop the parsley and add that, too. Lightly toast the pine nuts in a skillet without oil and add them to the salad, along with the pieces of fish. Season with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper, and serve.