Nov 29, 2017  By Jewish National Fund  Category: Go North,

In the JNF Kitchen: Chef Alaa Moussa’s sea bass filet on a bed of lemon-verbena freekeh

This recipe originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of our Byachad Magazine. You can read the full issue here!

Step into El Marsa restaurant, and you instantly become witness to the latest movement in Arabic cuisine in Israel.

Chef Alaa Moussa
“Just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it can’t be experimented with, elevated, and displayed in an elegant manner,” said Chef Alaa Moussa, who is part owner of this popular seafood establishment located along Akko’s Old City waterfront. And Chef Moussa does exactly that with his delectable dishes, capturing exquisitely fresh flavors typically missing from Arabic cuisine in Israel, but found in abundance in local Mediterranean waters.

It’s not difficult to understand how he gained his culinary skills and insights once his past experiences are revealed. Starting off as a cook in Akko’s famous Uri Buri fish restaurant, he moved to Sweden and continued to study and work under several Michelin-rated star chefs, absorbing their techniques and skills. There is also the unshakeable influence of his mother’s home cooking. When he returned to Israel, Chef Moussa and his business partner, Marwan Su’ad, opened El Marsa in a beautifully renovated 13th century building. 

In the restaurant, diners can enjoy dishes such as the namesake El Marsa Salad, a refreshing combination of cherry tomatoes and Champignon mushrooms tossed in a dressing of olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice, topped with locally sourced cheese and nuts. The dish is simple, yet divine, and just one example of an unexpected twist on a typical Israeli salad. Boutique Galilean wines from local vineyards are available to pair with meals to enhance the dining experience.

With perseverance and great effort, El Marsa has not only become a well-known restaurant in Israel, but also a source of pride for local residents. Sampling the many delights on Chef Moussa’s specialized menu, while looking out at the lights reflecting off the waterfront, it’s easy to understand exactly why.

Enjoy this #RecipeOfTheWeek, and if you make any of these recipes, be sure to send a photo of your creation to or tweet it to @JNFUSA with the hashtag #JNFfoodie. We might share it!
Serves 4


5 ½ cups vegetable stock, unsalted
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons cumin
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
1 tablespoon harissa* 
4 tablespoons vegetable oil (separated into 1 and 3 tablespoons)
1 lb. coarse freekeh**
2 onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
3-4 bunches wild chicory or baby spinach, washed and steamed 
2 lbs. sea bass filet (or any other white fish filet) 
Juice of 2 lemons

3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1-2 wedges of pickled lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
*Harissa is a Moroccan hot chili pepper paste.
**Freekeh is durum wheat commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Both can be found in Middle Eastern markets and online grocers.


Preparation of freekeh and spinach or wild chicory
Fill a deep pot with vegetable stock, add all spices and the harissa and bring to a boil.
In a separate large pot, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on medium-high heat. Add the freekeh, chopped onion, and parsley, and stir and cook till the onion softens. 
Pour the boiling liquid from the other pot over the freekeh. Then stir, cover with a lid, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. 
Turn off heat and leave the pot covered for an additional 15 minutes.
Lightly steam washed wild chicory or baby spinach in a steamer. Set aside to cool. 

Preparation of the fish
Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a heavy skillet and sear the fish on a medium-high flame, skin-side down, for 3-4 minutes until skin is crisp and pulls away from the pan easily.
Flip the fish over and sear for an additional 2 minutes, or until it is cooked through.
Turn off heat, remove the fish, and set it aside.


Place 2 heaping tablespoons of the freekeh mixture in a deep serving bowl. Add the steamed, cooked chicory or baby spinach to the freekeh and mix well. Add the lemon juice and some olive oil to taste. Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese on top of the freekeh. Serve with the fish filet on top of the freekeh, garnish with a wedge of pickled lemon.