The traditional recipe involves stuffing and wrapping hamsi (similar to a European anchovy), the most prized fish of the Black Sea region, but they are impossible to find outside of the Black Sea. You could make this dish with sardines, or small red mullet, but I prefer garfish because it’s milder in taste and can absorb some of the saltiness of the vine leaves. Because they’re cooked on the barbecue or grill, the vine leaves will char a little. That just adds flavour.
If you’re using a charcoal grill, light it 1 hour before you’re ready to cook. Burn the charcoal for at least 45 minutes, and when the flames have died down and the coals are glowing with a covering of white ash, the barbecue is ready. If you’re using a gas barbecue, turn it on to medium heat about 5 minutes before you’re ready to cook. Or use a frying pan.
If the vine leaves are fresh, place in a bowl, cover with boiling salted water and soak for 10 minutes. If they are in brine, wash thoroughly to remove most of the salt.
Crush the parsley leaves, mint leaves, garlic, pine nuts and lemon juice with a mortar and pestle. Open out each fish and place a tablespoon of the stuffing inside, then close the two halves of the fish.
Spread the vine leaves out flat on a board, shiny side down. Roll each garfish in a vine leaf. If the vine leavs are small, add half of another vine leaf. Drizzle the vine leaves with the olive oil and cook on the grill, close to the heat, for 2 minutes on each side until the vine leaves are charred. If you don’t have a barbecue, heat the olive oil in a heavy-based frypan over high heat. Add a drop of water to the oil. If it sizzles the oil is ready. Place the wrapped fish in the pan and cook for 4 minutes on each side.
Serve the asmada zargana with the lemon wedges. You should eat the vine leaves.
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