Tilapia with chickpeas and garlic in North African spices

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Coming into our then apartment building about 7 years ago, my wife and I encountered an obviously Jewish man, obviously in the midst of moving into the building. After exchanging pleasantries we asked if he had meals organised for his first Shabbat there. Seemingly a sensible fellow he answered “I’ll ask my wife”. They joined us for a meal that first Shabbat and we’ve been good friends ever since. Several weeks later they called us to invite us for a reciprocal meal. The wife, an excellent cook, served up this fantastic fish dish which quickly became a favourite.

I was never particularly fond of fish growing up but I’ve slowly grown to enjoy eating a wide variety (although tuna in a can is still something I can’t stand). This was my first encounter with Tilapia (“amnon” in Hebrew – this Hebrew – English chart is excellent), a firm white fish which in itself is somewhat lacking in flavour but which provides an excellent base. When I originally asked for the recipe I was told to use sweet paprika to spice it. I’ve experimented with a variety of combinations since and usually take the lazy route of buying a prepared fish spice. When I do make my own, I use an unmeasured mix of paprika, both sweet and smoked, chili flakes or powder, onion powder, cumin, mustard seeds and oregano – and what the hell – if something else takes my fancy then in it goes too!

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Plenty of garlic is imperative as it will cook with the chickpeas and the spices and we usually end up fighting over it. Those that have been on the bottom or the sides of the pan become crisp on the outside whilst those in the middle are buttery soft. This is almost the best part of the dish!

I usually serve this with rice – in this case white Basmati as the flavoured oil needs something to sop it up – some good fresh bread would probably be wonderful too. I usually end up scraping the bottom of the pan out!

I generally serve this as an elegant starter with a fillet of tilapia per person but it’s also a great main course. I find the fish holds up well so that if it cooks a little bit longer than the suggested times or is being kept on a hot plate that it doesn’t suffer too much as a result.

Ingredients

4 tilapia fillets

2 heads of garlic, separated into cloves, peeled

1 can of chickpeas, drained – if you want to reconstitute dried ones then I’m sure they’d be excellent but who has the time?

1 large bunch of coriander

appropriate spices (either a prepared fish spice or a mixture of paprikas, cumin, chil, onion powder, oregano – experiment!)

olive oil

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Method

Preheat an oven to 180c / 350f

put a layer of garlic cloves and chickpeas on the bottom of an oven proof pan (I use a stainless steel frying pan)

add half your coriander

Sprinkle a generous amount of your spices over the whole lot.

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place the fish on top

add a further layer of chickpeas, garlic, coriander and spice

drizzle a 1/4 cup of olive oil over the top

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Place on a medium heat, cover with a lid or foil and allow to cook for 5 – 6 minutes – a delicious aroma should begin to fill your home.

Transfer to the oven and cook for a further 30 minutes.

Serve over rice with a squeeze of lemon

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