Fish Ghalyeh, (ghlayeh maahi) for Norooz

With the spring just three days away, here I am again celebrating the arrival of the much cherished Persian New year, Norooz, along with some 187 million other people in 15 countries across the globe, including a handful of my good talented Persian Food Bloggers – this time with a rather sophisticated Persian dish, a Southern Iran’s specialty called ghlayeh mahi, a spicy, thick fish stew.  #PersianFoodBloggers, #PFBNorooz

Norooz which marks the beginning of the official calendar year in Iran and Afghanistan coincides with the Vernal Equinox, as you might know –  this spring on Sun 21 March 2016 at 8:00 AM Iran time ( 12:30 AM Montreal time, where I live).  Norooz is also the most cherished tradition observed and honored by people of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds inside and outside Iran. If you are interested to get a bit more familiar with Norooz traditions from a personal point of view,  I urge you to visit my Norooz post from last year roundup, or watch a short colorful video clip from a few years back.

In preparing for Norooz I always catch myself thinking about Iran, about my hometown, my youth memories, and the 13 days of holidays, and festivities that followed Norooz. Some years my family would take a few days to visit our relatives in Bushehr,  my parents birthplace.  I loved every single minute of our five hour drive to Bushehr, and enjoyed its hot and humid climate, its narrow alleys, its boundless blue sea, its affectionate people, its crowded vegetable and fish market and above all its cuisine which was deadly hot and spicy yet unforgettably savory.

During each Noroozi trip our hosts would graciously serve us with the tastiest and best fish ghalyeh you could find on the planet and more than once if we were lucky. Stuffed shoorideh fish was part of the entertainment too.  The memory still makes my mouth water and bowels growl after all these years!!  So, let me at least share with you my delicious southern heritage on this happy Norooz occasion!

Ingredients (serves 4-5)

  • 150 gr defrosted or fresh fish per person.  If you are outside Iran, a first timer, or not too crazy about experimenting with exotic dishes, you might use fish steaks or neatly-cut cubes of any type of fish that is not too tender, such as king fish and salmon. The most authentic ghalyeh-maahi is made with the head and tail removed, bone-in “ghobaad” or “sangh-e sar.” Some use “shir” for a less bony and more convenient dish
  • 4 large bunches of fresh coriander, roughly equal to 1 kg, once cut and cleaned (see picture below)
  • 1 tbsp. of dried fenugreek
  • 4 medium onions, chopped into small squares
  • 1 cups vegetable oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 6 dried chili pepper or 1 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 2 raw tamaraind fruit, peeled.
  • 2 tbsp salt

Note 1: You can find my recipe for shrimp ghalyeh here; this was in fact my first blog entry some four years ago. There are a lot of similarities between the two types of glayeh as one could imagine.

      Note 2: Allow 4-5 p hrs. preparation time; I promise it will be very though if you like exotic spicy di


Sprinkle the fish steaks with salt generously. Briefly rinse in a colander and shake well, letting the fish absorb the salt for the next two hours.

Soak the peeled tamarind fruits in lukewarm water for at least 2 hours

Place the peeled garlic cloves in any hard and smooth type of mortar (made of iron or stone, for instance). Add the chili pepper (or powder) and turmeric. Pound and grind the mix with the pestle until you get a dark yellow, pungent paste. Don’t get discouraged if the garlics slide first!

Cut off the long stems of coriander near the bottom of each bundle. Once you wash and dry the herb, chop them coarsely and put them aside (hold on to your dry fenugreek for now)

In a big pan, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat and add the onions so that they are submerged in the hot oil. The onions (and later the herbs) will soak up all the oil already in the pot, which gives an idea of how much oil goes into this dish. Turn the heat down and settle in to monitor the process. The goal is to get homogenous and glittering golden fried onions: not too dark and burned, nor too pale and raw. Note that the onions continue to brown after you remove them from the heat. So, either take the following step immediately, or remove from the heat before they reach the perfect golden color.

Once the onions are glittering golden, add chopped coriander and fry them some more, until they lose their fresh green hue. Near the end of the process add in the dry fenugreek as well.

At the same time, add the garlic-chili-turmeric paste and fry for a few more minutes. The garlic component can turn bitter by over frying (so does the fenugreek). So keep it brief. Stir constantly to ensure a perfectly harmonious mix. I am taking pictures of every step to the best of my ability. I just wish there was a way I could send you the smell, OMG, the heavenly smell of this fresh garlic and fenugreek ( I think my neighbours must be going crazy right now 🙂

Extract the tamarind’s juice by mildly squeezing it through the colander and pouring it in the pot, adding also one glass of warm water to just top the mix inside the pot. Turn the heat down and simmer for an hour.

Add in the fish sticks and cook slowly just enough to allow all tastes to mingle. Fish can fall apart if cooked for too long. At this stage if your fish is already cooked but your stuck is too runny you can thicken it by dissolving one teaspoon of flour into half a glass of the ghalyeh juice and adding it back to the pot and letting simmer for ten minutes.

The longer you simmer the richer your ghalyeh would taste especially when you are cooking it in a large quantity. But at any rate, you should simmer for a minimum of two hours before tasting for adjustment. If you need more sourness, add more tamarind’s juice, but I doubt you would need more hot spice!  You could thicken the stock if feel it is not thick enough by the time the fish is almost ready and so is everybody else! Just twenty minutes before serving time, dissolve one teaspoon of flour into half a glass of the ghalyeh juice and add it back to the pot.

Fish ghalyeh is often served as lunch or dinner in small or large gatherings with plain white rice, cooked Iranian style, but in less formal gatherings it could be taken with flat bread and raw onions and taste just as delicious. Like any other Persian dish it should be accompanied with the assortment of raw herbs (sabzi) and in this case, during spring with sour orange or naranj.

Happy Spring and Norooz to all! Don’t forget to scroll further down for links to more Norooz related posts from this year by Persian Food Bloggers.

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