Chraime: Libyan Fish in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Growing up, I was certain the only resemblance I had to my mom is the gold bangles that clink on our right hand. We were different in most every other way. On the outside some of these differences are obvious. She colors her hair and paints her nails, I don’t make a point of it. She spends time chatting on the phone yet I keep conversations more pragmatic. We often disagree on how to look at a situation. Her floors are hopelessly spotless at any given time. I’ll always order a salad and dessert, she opts for the hearty meats and crusty bread. She’s a night owl and I’m a morning person. She proclaims “You Only Live Once” so eat the chocolate and buy that dress whereas I’m inclined to being more frugal and calculated. You’d be amused if you joined us at the mall.  Despite it all she loves me fiercely, in a way I can only relate by having my own children.

Yet as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed I inherited striking similarities that catch me by surprise. Like how I rest my left hand on my hip as I cook, or how I find solace in being in the kitchen alone, or how I get anxious at the slightest worry. We both love on people with good food. There’s more. Even some I’d rather not disclose. But you get the idea. As much as I thought I was different, I’m very much my mother’s daughter. 

For the longest time, I wanted to cook with her Libyan Couscous and Mafrum the traditional from-scratch way. I couldn’t find the couple hours needed to devote to the task, but on her last visit she took matters into her own hands and bought me a couscoussier. We finally made it and I got to document the process. It’s one of those heirloom family recipes that gets passed down generations and I felt I was missing out. I don’t know if it’ll become the celebratory meal it’s always been in my parents’ home but knowing how to make it, I feel connected to my line of grandmothers. The other dish that’s just as meaningful is chrayme, a spicy Libyan fish in a thick, tangy tomato sauce. It’s a Shabbat staple in every Jewish Libyan home and a worthwhile break from the Moroccan fish I most often make. It’s also much more approachable and simple than couscous so I feel confident you could give it a try. 

It wasn’t planned but I’m publishing this on mother’s day, not a day I make a point of celebrating but definitely one that gives me an opportunity to appreciate more and more the sacrifice and love my mother has given me and continues to give me. I strive to be as devoted and selfless as her. Because as much as we’re different, we’re more similar than I realize in the best of ways. 

Chraime: Libyan Fish in Spicy Tomato Sauce


1lb locust fish, or any other sea water fish

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 heaping tablespoon paprika

2 heaping tablespoons spicy paprika

1 teaspoon ground caraway

200g tomato paste

Juice from 1/2 lemon

6 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon cumin


In a medium bowl, sprinkle 1 teaspoon sea salt over the minced garlic and allow to sit for a few minutes. The salt cuts the garlic’s sharpness. Add the paprika, spicy paprika, ground caraway, tomato paste and lemon juice. Mix well. Heat a wide shallow pan over medium heat and pour oil. Carefully add the pasty mixture and continuously stir into the oil as it reaches a soft boil. Add 1/2 cup boiling water. Keep stirring for 4-5 minutes until the sauce thickens. Add another 1/2 cup boiling water and stir. Keep stirring until you get a rich, thick, glossy sauce. Gently add the fish and cook covered for another 10-15 minutes or until meat is opaque and flaky. Sprinkle cumin over fish. Serve with lots of bread because this sauce is irresistible.