This is my first recipe in the Fish category. And I started with the king of Azerbaijani fish recipes – baked fish stuffed with walnuts. On joyful occasions such as the celebration of Spring Holiday – Novruz, the Azerbaijani table overflows with food. But there is always room for baked fish Levengi, a traditional walnut filling originating from the beautiful city of Lenkeran in the southeast of the country.
The best fish to stuff is KUTUM, also known as Caspian White Fish or Caspian Roach. Yes, finding kutum in Azerbaijan is not a problem. How about elsewhere, where there is no Caspian sea:) I was wondering too, until I discovered white fish in a nearby Persian grocery store. I don’t know where the raise this fish here but boy, is the taste delicious! It’s almost the same as Kutum we eat in Azerbaijan. I checked some Russian food stores and it sells there too. Check your area for this type ethnic or fish markets that may carry them as well.
If you can’t find white fish, you can substitute it with sea bass, red snapper, or red mullet, or any fish that looks like the one in the pictures below.
Typically, broiled, baked, or fried fish is served with thick pomegranate paste called Narsharab, which is actually pomegranate juice simmered on slow heat until it is thick and dark (sold in bottles). Fish flakes are dipped into this tart syrup. In U.S. Narsharab is usually available in Persian/Middle Eastern grocery stores. If you can’t find it, no worries, freshly squeezed lemon juice over your fish would do just as well.
Levengi filling calls for three main ingredients: Walnuts, Onion and Sour Paste. Sour paste is a sort of chutney-like puree made of sour plums. I will post the recipe later once the plum season comes. In the meantime, you can use dried sour plums or fresh pomegranate seeds instead of the sour paste to add some tartness to the filling. I didn’t have sour paste. I used both dried sour plums and pomegranates. Using either or a combination of both is good. Some people add raisins to the filling, too, but I never do because walnuts are rich and sweet enough for me. It’s up to you. Enjoy!
Baked Fish Stuffed with Walnuts / Baliq Levengi
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
1 large white fish (3-5 pounds), scaled and cleaned (keep the head on)
For the Stuffing
1 large onion, finely grated or ground
1 ½ cups walnuts, ground
1 tablespoon sour paste* or 5-6 large dried sour plums, pitted and chopped, or 1/3 cup fresh pomegranate seeds
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
To Rub and Baste
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
fresh juice of ½ lemon (2-3 tablespoons)
VARIATION: You can substitute white fish with sea bass, red snapper, or red mullet.
VARIATION: If the fish has a roe (in Azeri – kuru, in Russian – ikra), do not discard it when cleaning the fish. Add it raw to the walnut mixture, reducing the amount of walnuts accordingly. Stuffing with fish roe is very delicious. I have never found a fish with roe in Long Beach markets, but in Azerbaijan, you luck out finding a fish with roe quite often.
1. Rinse the fish under cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Rub inside and out with salt and pepper.
2. Prepare the filling. Place the onion on a fine sieve and press to remove the juices. In a mixing bowl, combine onion, walnuts, sour paste or dried sour plums, or pomegranate seeds, and salt and pepper. Mix well. Adjust seasoning to taste.
3. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).
4. Using a spoon, fill the cavity of the fish with the walnut stuffing. Make sure you pack the mixture tightly inside.
5. Pin the cavity shut with wooden barbecue skewers or cocktail sticks. Or, if available, sew it up tightly with kitchen twine. Place the fish on a baking sheet and pour the lemon juice over it. If you sewed the cavity, place the fish on a baking sheet in an upright position, seam side down. It looks beautiful when you remove it from the oven and place it on a platter in that position. If you used skewers like me just lay the fish on one side. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until the fish is browned and flakes easily with a fork.
6. Arrange the fish on a serving platter and discard the pins or twine. Garnish with lemon slices, pomegranate seeds and serve with rice pilaff or bread and pomegranate paste (Narsharab) on the side. When serving, slice the fish into pieces making sure each one has some filling inside.
Nush Olsun! Enjoy!