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Baked Fish Stuffed with Walnuts (Balig Levengi)

This is my first recipe in the Fish category. And I started with the king of Azerbaijani fish recipes – 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 fish stuffed with 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
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

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!

39 Comments
  1. I’ll try this fish recipe soon. It couldn’t be more clear. The step by step instructions are perfect. The zebra cake looks awesome too.
    Thank you so very much for sharing all these recipes.
    Margie

  2. Farida, as someone who loves to cook it is great to have such resource available on the web.

    When I lived in the US I made levengi often and it quickly became the favorite food of my American friends. For the sour paste I used prunes (mashed in a blender after soaking) and added lemon juice for tartness. It came out sweeter than home but was still good. I like the pomegranate juice for adding of the tartness as well.

    Jale

  3. Margie, thank you. Let me know how the fish turns out. Enjoy zebca cake, too! Jale, thank you for stopping by. Yes, when the necessary ingredients are not available, we turn to our imagination to get somewhat close to the original:)) I often do. Sometimes I modify the recipes slightly or offer substitutes to accommodate for people who are going to cook outside the U.S. Please visit again!

  4. Farida, I will definitely be stopping by again. I love the photos as well. Very beautiful. I have not spent enough time on your blog to pay attention too much but something I am always working on is to make Azerbaijani dishes less greasy and lighter without losing the flavor. It is difficult to run into here in Baku and I love the originals but at the same time I always appreciate lighter healthier food.

    This year I am going to try and make pakhlava solo :) My mom will watch me do it :)) It’s my grandmother’s recipe and I look forward to it.

  5. Jale, let me know how your baklava turned out to encourage me:) Because mine turned out ok but still needs some improvement. I am not stopping until I bake a perfect Azerbaijani baklava:)

  6. Farida,
    Thanks a lot for your recipe. This is the first time I am going to cook levengi. I have found turshu lavash from the Persian store, but it is solid, after I mix onion and nuts how do I make sure that turshu lavash mixes well too? Do I need to soak it a night before in water or something? Sorry, I am not a good cook at all but want to try my best this time. Would appreciate your help.
    Thanks,
    Asmar

  7. Hello Farida. I have sogal turshusu from home, what I am going to put into my levengi. I do not scale the fish when prepare levengi. A woman from Lenkeran region tought me that. This way a fish becomes even more tasty and juicy.

    Asmar, the oven’s heat will melt down the turshu lavaha, do not worry.

  8. SEVINJ, interesting to know about not scaling. I should try it that way. Thanks for letting me know.

    I have emailed my answer to Asmar earlier but thanks for your idea too. New ideas are always appreciated:)

    ASMAR, I hope your Lavangi turned out great!

  9. Farida, we just eat levengi I prepared with your recipe and that woman’s advice. It was very tasty. When I want to make something special I ask julia to check your site. We tried almost everything, except the pomegranate salad. As soon as pomegranate steps in our home, after 0 minutes it is over. We just love it. So I can not save any for salad :)

  10. Farida, we just eat levengi I prepared with your recipe and that woman’s advice. It was very tasty. When I want to make something special I ask julia to check your site. We tried almost everything, except the pomegranate salad. As soon as pomegranate steps in our home, after 0 minutes it is over. We just love it. So I can not save any for salad :)

  11. I wanted to type: after 30 minutes it is over, not 0 minutes :)

  12. Sevinj, glad your Lavangi turned our delicious. I am happy my blog serves as a source of inspiration for you:) Pomegranate salad is very delicious. Hope you get to to try it. If you do, enjoy!

  13. Hi Farida

    A very fantastic blog with very good recipes. Well Done! As I am studying in the UK now It was about eleven months I have not eaten Azeri foods. After I have seen this page, I made some levengi without fish. Just made levengi. Although I am originally from Lenkoran, I did not know how to do it. After your blog, I did it and my roommates from Scotland England and Spain liked it very much. By the way I found turshu in Turkish and Iranian shops. Keep like that. Fab!!!

    Anar

  14. ANAR: Welcome to my blog. Thank you for your nice words. I have tried fish without levengi, but not levengi without fish:) Glad your roommates liked it. Cheers.

  15. I love all kind of stuffed fish, unfortunately I cannot find good quality big fish where I live (North Bay-Ontario is 4 hours from any big city) have many recipes for stuffing big fish with different flavours.
    very good job

  16. ARLETTE: I love fish stuffed with too. We are lucky to have a good Persian store nearby – they sell delicious fish which i use for stuffing.

  17. I don’t know how, but I missed this one. I am not such a fan of the fish, but this one…makes we change my mind :)

  18. MARIJA: This is a very delicious recipe. Best if made with white fish, the traditional way. The walnut stuffing is yummy:) Hope you get to try it.

  19. What delicious way to eat fish! I wanted to comment on your new post, but the lovely pics on the side bar changes my way.. :)

  20. Farida can I use pomegranate paste (molassas) instead of the sour paste.

  21. Salam Farida! Im in US, & I do not know any persian store in here..we have arab, indian, polish, but not persian close to us. Which Fish i can substitute to Kutum? Thank you

  22. MAHSATI: You can use red snapper or tilapia or trout, but keep in mind the taste won;t be the same. Check Arab or Polish stores, they may have white fish too. Ours have, because they cater to other ethnic groups too.

  23. first i tried it with Butter Milk Fish It was nice but too many bones , then with Tilapia what i didnt like at all and then finally I found that White fish :) and It was good. Thanks

  24. Dear Farida,

    Could you please write what is exact name of this fish? I am not good in choosing fishes. I could easily find here if it have name :)

    Thank you very much in advance,

    Tahira

  25. TAHIRA: It is called WHITE FISH in the US. Sells mostly in Persian markets. In Azerbaijan it is KUTUM.

  26. Hello, there. Where can I find the sour paste recipe? Thanks.

  27. NEDA: You can buy sour fruit rolls in Persian/Middle Eastern markets. Then soften it in hot water, mash into paste and use as sour plum paste. They don’t sell sour plum paste here. Or, you can use tamarind paste instead.

  28. Thanks so much Farida. You’ve brought alive some favorite family recipes for me. Cheers. :)

  29. Hello, can I add garlic and fresh cilantro to your walnut stuffing? or it will loose its fragrance while baking?
    thanks.

  30. ALINA – Garlic would not be quite fitting here. You can add cilantro perhaps – try a little bit and see if you like the taste. I have never tried with cilantro. This would not be traditional.

  31. We would add dried cornelian cherries(kizil) instead of sour paste/ plums in Baku and also some raisins (optional). Here, in the US we use berberis or sumac for the sour part of the stuffing. My mom is making this dish today, and apparently she has dried kizil brought from Baku. And yes, white fish instead of kutum.

  32. cilantro and garlic will interfere with the flavor, I think. So, no to that combination in this particular dish

  33. Hi Farida. Could you please tell me what does mean sour paste?

  34. I love your recipes. I want to make levengi for my birthday. Thank you very much.

  35. AYKA – Sour paste is paste obtained by cooking sour fruit pulp to the consistency of jam. In Azerbaijan it is called “turshu”, or “palchig lavashana.”. Hope this helps.

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