Middle Eastern Fish Dishes That I Pine For

Favorite Methods of Cooking Fish


By Habeeb Salloum, Canada – I have always enjoyed and cooked fish dishes including several Middle Eastern fish dishes. Even before I knew their health attributes I looked upon fish, one of humankind’s very important foods, as a treasured item. For me, tasty and mouth-watering in whatever way it is prepared, fish adds color, flavor, and attractiveness to any meal.

Not only is fish a delicious food, but it also contains excellent nutritive properties. It contains about 20% protein and small amounts of calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and sodium. In addition, fish is a good source of vitamins A, B, D, and E, and is almost carbohydrate and fat-free — making it popular as a low-fat fare. Fish’s omega oils are good for the immune system and help to prevent arthritis and headaches. In 2003, research at Harvard University established that eating fish only once a month can actually reduce one’s risk of stroke.

The best meat preservation methods, which includes fish, are canned, dried, frozen, salted, smoked, or marinated. However, all types of fish are at their epitome of taste when eaten fresh, spoiling quickly when not cooked at once. Hence if not to be used immediately, fish should be kept frozen. The modern method of blast freezing preserves the flesh so well that decomposition is barely detectable.

A cook can always tell if a fish is fresh or frozen soon after capture by the brightness of the eyes and the firmness of the flesh. To preserve its fresh taste, if frozen, fish should be thawed slowly in cold water then cooked right away.

From the many fish dishes that I have prepared, the following are just a few of a good number of Middle Eastern fish dishes that I often pine for.

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Fried Fish – Samak Maqli

Serves about 4

Served with lemon slices and tartar sauce or garlic sauce and French fries, it is one of my favorite Middle Eastern fish dishes.


2 pounds grouper fillet

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds


Cut fish into 1/2 inch thick slices and set aside.

Combine remaining ingredients, except flour, then rub fish slices with this mixture and allow to marinate for 30 minutes.

Roll fish slices in flour then deep-fry until golden brown — about 10 minutes, turning over once. Drain on paper towels then serve hot.


Grilled Fish Kebab

Serves about 4

If the grouper is fresh, this dish is divine. Serve with lemon slices and cooked rice or French fries.


2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cloves

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

2 pounds grouper fillet, cut into 1-inch squares

Combine lemon juice with garlic, salt, and all the spices, then place fish cubes in a bowl and pour the spice mixture over the fish. Mix well then allow to marinate for 1 hour. Place fish cubes on skewers and barbecue, turning them a few times or grill in the oven until done — from 10 to 12 minutes in oven — barbecuing takes less time.


Oven Cooked Fillets

Serves 2

Grouper is my favorite fish, especially when it is fresh.


4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander leaves

1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 pound of fish fillet preferably firm flesh fish such as salmon, grouper, etc.

Combine all ingredients except fillet then coat fillet and marinate for 2 hours. Bake uncovered in its marinade in a 350°F preheated oven for 20 minutes then serve while hot.


Fish Cakes

Serves about 6

These tasty fish cakes found in the United Arab Emirates are also popular in other Arab Gulf countries. They can be served as snacks or, along with a salad, as a delicious entrée.


2 pounds fillet of grouper or similar firm flesh fish

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 cup fine breadcrumbs

1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves

2 eggs, beaten

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Oil for frying

Place all ingredients except oil in a food processor and process into thick dough. Form into small cakes and set aside.

Heat oil 1 to 2 inches deep in a saucepan; deep-fry cakes until they turn golden brown. Serve hot. However, they are also delicious when eaten cold.


Fish and Burghul Patties

Makes about 48 small patties

Called fish kubba in the Greater Syria area in the Middle East, its land of origin, these patties make a great Middle Eastern fish dish when served as an appetizer or for a snack.


1 cup fine burghul, soaked for 10 minutes in warm water, then thoroughly drained by pressing out the water through a fine strainer

1 pound cod or similar fish fillet, cut into pieces

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Oil for frying

Place all ingredients except oil in a food processor, then process into firm paste. Form into small patties about 1 1/2 inch in diameter, then set aside.

Heat 1-inch deep oil in a frying pan, then fry patties over medium heat, turning them over a few times until they turn golden brown. Drain on paper towels then serve.


Stuffed Grouper

Serves about 6

If grouper is not available, salmon makes a good substitute.


1 whole grouper (3 to 4 pounds), fins and tail clipped then thoroughly washed

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup lemon juice

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 onions, thinly sliced

1 cup finely chopped fresh coriander

3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

2 medium sweet red peppers, seeded and finely chopped

2 teaspoons garam masala

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 cup olive oil

Rub fish inside and outside with half of the garlic, 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, half of the salt, and half the pepper then set aside.

In a bowl, combine onions, coriander, tomatoes, sweet peppers, garam masala, and cardamom as well as the remaining garlic, salt, and pepper.

In a blender, blend remaining lemon juice with the oil until fluffy. Pour half of this into the mixture in bowl and stir.

Spoon a third of the bowl mixture into a greased baking pan; stuff the fish with another third of the mixture then place in baking pan. Spoon the remaining mixture over top then pour the remaining lemon/oil mixture. Cover with foil and bake at 350°F for 40 minutes. Uncover and remove any vegetables still on top of fish then place under broiler and broil for 5 minutes or until fish begins to brown. Serve with sauce and vegetables.


Steamed Cantonese-style Fish

Serves 4

This delicious dish is healthy and low in fat. I have never forgotten its taste since the first time that I ate it in a Chinese restaurant in Regina, Saskatchewan.


2 to 3 pounds salmon or similar fish steaks rubbed with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger

4 tablespoons chopped green onion

1 small red sweet pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips

4 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons peanut oil

3 teaspoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves

Place fish in the perforated upper part of a double boiler then set aside.

Fill the lower part of the double boiler with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Fit the upper part with the fish on top then spread ginger over the fish.

Allow to steam over high heat for 10 to 15 minutes. It is done when the fish begins to flake slightly but still remains moist.

Remove the steamed fish and place on a platter. Spread the green onions and red pepper slices over top then drizzle over with the soy sauce.

Heat the peanut and sesame oils in a small saucepan until they begin to smoke then immediately pour them over the fish. Spread coriander over top and immediately serve with cooked rice.


Salmon Teriyaki

Serves 6 to 8

This Japanese dish can be served with teriyaki or a similar type of sauce.


3 pounds salmon fillet, cut into serving pieces

3/4 cup soy sauce

3/4 cup golden brown sugar

1/4 cup orange juice

4 tablespoons lemon juice

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Place fillets in a casserole and set aside.

Make a marinade by combining remaining ingredients. Pour over fillets and allow to marinate for about 5 hours, turning them over a number of times. Remove salmon steaks from marinade and wrap with aluminum foil. Grill for about 10 minutes, turning over once or until fish flakes when pressed with a fork. Serve with cooked rice and teriyaki sauce.


Seafood Stew

Colombian Seafood Stew

Serves 8

Quick to cook, this stew makes a perfectly delicious meal for the whole family.


4 tablespoons butter

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 small hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1 medium grated carrot

2 cups coconut milk

1 pound uncooked shrimp

1 pound scallops, fresh or frozen

1 pound tuna or halibut fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup white grape juice

2 tablespoons tomato paste, dissolved in 1 cup water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

Melt the butter in a large saucepan then sauté over medium heat the red pepper, onion, garlic, hot pepper, and carrot for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add remaining ingredients, except the coriander leaves, and bring to boil. Cover and cook over medium/low heat for 20 minutes then garnish with the coriander leaves and serve hot along with cooked rice.


Fish Stew – Yassa

Serves about 6

Yassa is a famous dish that is popular throughout West Africa. Cubed beef, lamb, mutton, or chicken may be substituted for the fish. However, when using meat the dish will need to cook a bit longer for the meat to become tender.


2 pounds of firm fish steaks such as tilapia or perch

4 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 small hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped

4 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup olive or peanut oil

2 cups chopped cabbage

2 cups carrots, diced into ¼-inch cubes

Place fish steaks, onion, hot pepper, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, and 4 tablespoons of the oil in a Pyrex or glass utensil then thoroughly mix. Refrigerate and marinate overnight. Remove fish steaks and spread on a tray. Reserve marinade.

Fry, grill, or broil steaks for 3 minutes on each side. Set aside.

Heat the remainder of the oil, over medium heat, in a saucepan.

Remove onions from the marinade and place in the saucepan then sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the marinade, cabbage, carrots, and the fish steaks to the onions. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 40 minutes or until vegetables are cooked, adding a little more oil if needed. Serve with cooked rice or couscous. 

Do you have other Middle Eastern fish dishes to add to this list?

Originally published in the November/December 2014 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.


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