The Mediterranean is well known for its delicious seabass. And the best way I have had it cooked is in Gaza. My mother has a wonderful photograph of her and her sisters and cousins holidaying in Gaza wearing fashionable 60s bikinis and Jackie Kennedy-style scarves over their heads secured with sunglasses.
She says ‘oh it was the best place to go for the weekends, we would eat fish and go swimming and have lots of fun’. Gaza has such beautiful beaches, a charming harbour where fishing boats strewn with colourful nets come in to dock their catches. But people don’t go on holiday there anymore. Gaza is under complete control of Israel. Land and Sea, Israel controls access to it all- people, goods Israel approves everything going in and out and as you might imagine, they aren’t approving very much.
I have been to Gaza quite a few times, but I have never seen it as my mother has and I don’t know if I ever will. When I go to Gaza I arrive at a large processing centre, and thoroughly searched and quizzed by Israeli military and then have to drag my belongings across a barren waste land which Israel refers to as the Access Restricted Area where Palestinians aren’t allowed to go, getting yelled at by a faceless soldier on a tannoy to stop or walk faster. As I drive into Gaza, there is nothing- certainly not the citrus trees and olives and figs that my mother would have seen. What you notice is Gaza is what is not there, until you get to where everyone lives and then you can’t quite believe the destruction form years upon year of Israeli bombing campaigns against these people.
‘Kharabooha’ is what a lot of people say when talking about Gaza, which means ‘they [Israel] ruined it’ in Arabic. And I guess they are right. And while that may be true, I have so many young friends in Gaza who also bring hope and light, skills and creativity.
I spent years working on a project to help the fishermen of Gaza and I would be brought to tears listening to stories of them getting shot at by military boats, by dwindling fish stock in the few nautical miles they are able to fish in (once plentiful seabass is now harder to find), nets and equipment being ruined or confiscated. Being a fisherman is dangerous work in the UK, but in Gaza it is absolutely lethal.
I dedicate this recipe that one of their wives made me to them.
4 seabass whole seabass (gutted and de-scaled)
4 lemons, thinly slices into half moons
1 red chili
5 garlic cloves
Extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch parsley
1 white onion
- Blitz the onion, chili, parsley, garlic and salt together in a processor
- Slices the fish to the bone down the width of the fish
- Pack the chopped ingredients into the cuts into the fish and into the middle of the fish
- Set in a fish basket and cook for five minutes on each side on a BBQ or under an open flame grill
- Serve with fresh lemon, muttabal and a tomato and onion salad.