Hot Fish - Samke Harra

Happy Ramadan to all!

It certainly is food time and I'm going to take you by the hand and help you prepare the best Tartoussi Samke Harra in existence. Samke Harra, literally means Hot Fish (hot as in hot & spicy) is a Middle Eastern dish prepared with subtle or major variations from Lattakia, Syria to Tyre, Lebanon. Well this is as far as my knowledge extends. If it is prepared by our Turkish neighbors up north or by our Palestinian brethrens to the south I am not aware of it. My favorite two varieties are the Tartoussi (Syrian) and the Tripolitan (Lebanese).

Samke Harra is a serious and delicious main course. As with any other type of cooking, do not let the long list of ingredients intimidate you. In reality, it's just another simple dish if you put your heart to it.

I also need to point out that Samke Harra is by no means a Ramadan specialty. However, I had to post about it because it was a special request from my friend Cara in California. I hope you enjoy preparing, eating and sharing this wonderful recipe Cara and I would love to read your comment after you actually try it out.

I'm sorry I couldn't post my own photo of this dish because I don't have any and I don't want to keep you waiting.

Bon Appétit!


1 (1-1½ kg fish): a Snapper is great but other firm fish will do

1 large finely chopped onion

5 cloves of smashed garlic

4 finely chopped chilly peppers

2 finely chopped red peppers

8 medium peeled and chopped tomatoes

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 bunch of chopped green coriander leaves

150g of toasted pine nuts & walnuts

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon mixed spices

2 teaspoons dry coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons Paprika

A little nutmeg

2 bay leaves

3 cups water

2 thinly sliced lemons



Step 1: Preheat oven to 175°c. Thoroughly clean the fish inside out with running water . Rub with salt. Remove head and tail , or entirely de-bone as per preference.

Step 2: Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a frying pan. Add onion, garlic and chilly peppers and sauté just until light brown. Add the red peppers and keep on medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and all the spices and continuously stir for 2 additional minutes. Add the tomatoes and water, simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.

Step 3: In a large frying pan, heat remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil then sear fish on both sides for 2 minutes each (only skin side). Place in oven in a suitable pan, top with mix from Step 2 and bake for approximately 1 hour or until fish is done.

Step 4: Remove from oven. You may remove bones and inedible pieces of fish entirely by hand before serving or you may present on table as is. Decorate with pine nuts and walnuts on top and green coriander and sliced lemons around.

Serve and Enjoy – Quantities above for 6 to 8 servings (depending on size of fish and appetite of those being served ;-)

A perfect companion to Samke Harra is Sayadieh, check out this recipe here.


Anonymous said…
You almost make me wish that I ate fish! I'll pass the recipe on to Emma; I think she'd enjoy this.

All the best, Sean
Anonymous said…
Hi, if I show up in Tartous one day soon, would you be willing to let me buy you a coffee? I've been to Jableh and Lattakia, but no other places on the coast.

Ideally, I'd ask you to show me how to cook this dish, but maybe that's too much to ask for a first meeting...

Abufares said…
Hi Sean
Great to hear from you.
Emma should have no problem at all preparing Samke Harra. Who knows, you might even take a bite yourself.
Let me know.
Abufares said…
Drop me a line, come to Tartous and we'll have more than a cup of coffee (outside Ramadan).
The dish is really not that hard to prepare. Get the ingredients, follow the steps and believe me the Samke Harra will come out perfect.
KJ said…
Ramadan Kareem Abu Fares! Inshalla dayman bi se77a w salameh!

Your recipe looks delicious. Unfortunately though I don't handle spices... well I could but then I would have to throw up! LooooL.

See what your hot fish does to me?! How you punish me so! You tease me with this irresistible meal and you savor it all for yourself, leaving me green with envy!
Abufares said…
You can't handle spices as in you don't like HOT food?
Well, how hot the Samke Harra is depends on the chilly and red peppers used in addition to whether the paprika is hot or not.
It is a good winter meal in any case. But seriously, it's much easier to prepare than it might look.
The Syrian Brit said…
My friend Abu Fares,
This is a great way to start a day.. reading one of your delightful recipes!!.. (I am going to be late, now, writing this.. but, hell, it's worth it!..)
I am sure it is as delicious as it sounds.. I simply love Samakeh Harrah, and love to try the different versions available.. (unlike KJ, the hotter and spicier the better..)..
I can't wait for the opportunity to try this particular recipe, along with your recommendation for Sayadieh..
Abufares said…
Syrian Brit
I finished what paperwork I had on my desk yesterday around 3:30PM. I still had some steam in me and I knew I had to post about Samke Harra to respond to a request. I called Om Fares from work and discussed a minor detail in the recipe and confirmed her list of spices. Then I posted and headed home. Om Fares and Nadia were irritated because I brought the Samke Harra to their attention. \\\"It\\\'s not even a Ramadan specialty\\\" she said, \\\"but you made us drool.\\\" In short, we\\\'re going to have it soon.
With Mrs. Syrian Brit taking care of you, just give her a call and tell her how much you feel like eating Samke Harra. How long can she resist your pleading do you think?
Siyam Makboul wa Ramadan Karim to you and yours.
saint said…
Hi Abufares,
Mmmm delicious, as Bernard Shaw say, there is no sincere love as the love of food.
I have recommended your post to a young lady coming up with a lot of wonderful Syrian recipes on her blog “My Taste Cocking”:
Off course, also recommend the post to my wife which I hope will find it better than her recipe -:)
Abufares said…
Hi Saint
Sa77a wa Hana
I hope you enjoy your HOT meal.
BTW, are you sure about the spelling of the link you provided? I couldn\'t open the page.
Shannon said…
How convenient! I just found some fresh Red Snapper in town. Thanks!!
Abufares said…
Hi Shannon
You\'re welcome. How about it. You prepare the Samke Harra, take a photo of the dish and share it with the rest of us!
Say YES, Please...
saint said…
Thank you abu fares,
Sorry, you are right the link should be:
It worth it, it might spark the Eid with Mate roll cake with sesame cream.
Saha to you too.
Dubai Jazz said…
Marhaba Abu fares,
for some odd reason, I am enthused to try this one out ... (I remember I didn't dare to try the khshaf, however, this one looks more challenging!)
but I have two issues to clear my way forward;
1- You probably meant (debes banadora) by the tomato paste, and since we don't the luxury of debes banadora here in the gulf, would the canned tomato paste be as fine?
2- I am not sure what's the equivalent of Snapper fish in Arabic ( is it hamour?) .. in terms of availability here, hamour, halibut or turbot are the most convenient, will that do?
Now your answers are going to define my gastronomical future! so be careful please!
Dubai Jazz said…
Ah, Forgot to add; Ramadan Mubarak!
GraY FoX said…
I'm Late as usual , but better late than never :)
first of all "Salamtak" since I didn't have the chance to read any blogs lately and didn't know that You were sick
second , Ramadan Moubarak for and your and your family :)
and finally , i have this confession , that I never had Samakeh Harra as good as it's cooked on the syrian coast, but the thing is i can not wait till they improve the internet till you can taste things online so we can savor your recipes :) , till then i will cook your recipe myself and let you know :D
Abufares said…
Dubai Jazz
Ramadan Karim to you too.
Don't be too picky about the fish type. Those you mentioned are just fine. You don't want the sticky and oily type of fish though.
Tomato paste out of a can works perfectly fine. Don't nag about the details. Just go get your fish, cook it and eat it with someone whom company you enjoy.
BTW, my science teacher in high school, a legendary Tartoussi fisherman, was asked once about the best fish for Samke Harra and his answer is a classic. He advised to buy the cheapest fish on the market, "for with the Harra sauce we prepare in Tartous even an old shoe will taste great". And, this my friend is a real quotation.
Abufares said…
Gray Fox
Ramadan Moubarak!
Please do, unlike popular belief, there's very little possibility with something going wrong with Samke Harra.
May be you'll cook it and invite me over. It will be the first time in my life I eat any type of seafood in Damascus.
Abufares said…
AND Gray Fox
I need to add this. I know that Al-Yamak opened a new restaurant in Damascus, near Nadi Al-Shark. Now, I don't know what kind of joint he's running, but the man is good, really good. He can prepare some of the best fish dishes in the world.
Al-Yamak restaurant in Tartous, although no longer his, kept the name. It also kept the high quality of great seafood he started.
Take my advise, along with other Damascene readers: You might have the best seafood restaurant in Syria right in your midst. Someone give it a try please and let me know.
Don't come back nagging about the prices, I have no idea what they are charging. Besides, Omar (Yamak) might have a Damascene partner, hahaha...
Lujayn said…
someday i will attempt one of your recipes - i keep saying i will, but... blame it on lujayn/kitchen incompatibility.

ramadan kareem, abu fares
Ingrid said…
abufares, the mixed spices, is that referring the the spices listed below that line item? Also, I guess when it says 'red pepper', you can use any kind, from mild to hot right? Which hot peppers do you usually use?
I'm no good with hot food either BUT.. I learned from my Goan friends to looove raita because of it. I'll just have gobs and gobs of it..hmm..I'll show this recipe to my husband, he loves fish (and especially fish-ING)
Abufares said…
Hi Lujayn
You need a motive that's all. I can't imagine cooking such a meal to consume it alone.
Happy Ramadan to you.
Abufares said…
Hi Ingrid
mixed spices is something we buy here that's a melange of 7 different spices if I'm not mistaken. You can use any spice to your liking.
The peppers are entirely up to you. I love this dish real hot but many people prefer otherwise.
I hope you enjoy preparing and eating this great recipe along with your husband.
Anonymous said…
Hi Abu Fares,
Just would like to wish you Ramadhan Kareem. Looking forward to more Ramadhan recipes from Tartous..!
Abufares said…
Hi Ammoontie
Ramadan Karim to you too.
Inshala soon, I'll post some more recipes.
Anonymous said…
what about LUOS RAMLI, my be FARRIDE, let me remember some other names, SARGHOUS, SMALIS, GHUBOS, LOUS SAKHRI,EJAJ,SAMAK MUSA, and my favorit, SULTAN EBRAHIM, may be we can try, ERAIDES BETAHINE,
Abufares said…
@ lê
You seem to be such an expert on local fish.
Are you sure you're not a Tartoussi?
Thank you for dropping by.
Anonymous said…
Dear habibi, just like the GILGEMISH epic, perhaps i´m u dubble
Abufares said…
@ lê

Very intriguing as are the rest of your comments on the other posts.
Again, thanks for coming my way.

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