Moroccan Style Sardines Stuffed with Dates

So far on my New Year's list, I've done : Apples, Beets, Black-Eyed Peas, Carrots, Challah, Grains (did rice and bulgur instead of fenugreek), Honey, Pomegranate.
I still have fish (heads), dates, pumpkin, and quince. Almost there and better late than never...

I keep sitting down to write this post to find that I have so much to say about fish that I don't know where to start. Since I was little, these creatures tend to appear in my emotionally-laden nightdreams, they turn in to symbols or stand-ins in my artwork, and are also my among favorite thing to eat. I'm having a hard time not conflating it all....on the other hand, my "symbolic New Year's food" list is all about conflation.

The other night I was listening to house music and drinking cocktails in the company of eels, jellyfish, and seahorses, as well as the young, hip and beautiful of San Francisco. Incredible scenery. And the pulsating energy in the air was both that of a dream and of unquenchable, overflowing life.

Two things crossed my mind as I was preparing these sardines; One, how long it had been since I've cooked fish because, even though one of my favorite foods, it was just hard to do on my grad student budget. Second, how rare it is that I (or most people) cook something with a recognizable face (I'm not counting mussel faces as recognizable.) As I was tenderly cradling each sardine in one hand while scooping its insides into the sink with the other, it was hard not be struck with image of it swimming out in Monterey, surrounded by a ton of friends and family, silver scales glinting in the sunlight. While being reminded of food having a previous existence as a living creature can be extremely challenging for me, the visual of alive, happy and plentiful fish is invigorating for some reason---I guess there is some surreal translation of the image of a fish to an image of myself flitting weightlessly through vast expanses of water.

So, this dish seemed like a perfect one to make for my list because
A) It's lucky to eat fish heads (or at least have them on the table) when we are at the "head" of the year. They are supposed to remind us to be leaders in upcoming year. Fish, besides their heads, are also symbolic of prosperity and fertility.

B) Dates, in addition to being very very sweet,
are a "lucky" food because the word for dates "tamri" also suggest to "consume"-- we hope that our enemies/obstacles
will be consumed or destroyed.

C) Just like on Thanksgiving, stuffed dishes are traditional in their implication of abundance.

Fresh sardines are totally better than those from a can! As far as fish go, sardines are pretty environmentally friendly and contain all those healthy Omega-3s. Supposedly they are making a comeback. It also helps that they are very affordable here :)

Moroccan Style Sardines Stuffed with Dates (adapted from Diana Henry)

  • 1.5 lbs of fresh whole sardines
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 10 dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1/4 C slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1 T mint leaves. chopped
  • zest from 1/2 lemon and 1/2 orange
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 1/4 tsp harissa
  • 1 T butter, diced

  • 1 orange, thinly sliced
  • cilantro and harissa for serving

For the stuffing:
Saute the onion in the oil until translucent. Transfer to a bowl and add the chopped dates. Partially crush the almonds so you have some smaller and larger pieces. Add the almonds to the mixture, along with the other stuffing ingredients, saving the butter for last. Add the diced butter and bring the stuffing into a ball.

Preheat the oven to 350 °. Drizzle some olive oil in a baking dish.

Gut the sardines and rinse the bitterness out from their insides. Break or snip the spine at head and by the tail, and gently remove the spine and bones. Dry them thoroughly. Sprinkle their insides with salt and pepper. Fill each with some stuffing and lay them in the dish. Rub their outsides with the ginger and cinnamon and drizzle with olive oil. Half the orange slices and arrange them between the fish. Bake them for about 20 minutes. Serve with chopped cilantro and harissa.