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For a Low Carb Meal, Try Samak bi Tahini--Fish with Tahini Sauce

posted on: Nov 13, 2019

By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer

While people who eat Arab food regularly are used to the concept of tahini sauce in their falafel or shawarma sandwiches, many are unfamiliar with the myriad of other uses for tahini. My mother used to eat tahini and grape molasses sandwiches as a child, comparable to the ubiquitous peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the United States.

Arab home cooks also use tahini to make the sweet confection called halva or use the paste as a sauce for lamb and even seafood. Tahini sauce is to the Middle East what peanut sauce is to the Asians, a creamy nut or seed-based sauce that enhances the flavor of the dishes without using dairy.

Tahini makes a harmonious cream sauce for fish, in particular, is a special dish called Samak bi Tahini.  While this dish is very popular in Lebanon, I remember eating this specialty many years ago in a Palestinian restaurant in Jaffa during the summer, where the fish was quite fresh and smothered with caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, and a lemony tahini sauce. I am not sure if this restaurant even exists anymore, but one thing I did know: this dish was too delicious to forget and I had to find a way to recreate it at home. 

The three simple spices of sumac, cumin, and coriander add tangy and smoky elements to the white fish, and caramelized onions add a sweetness to the tahini paste, which has slightly bitter undertones. While this dish makes an excellent low carb meal, feel free to pair with rice or roasted potatoes for an extra hearty touch. 

Samak bi Tahini–Recipe Serves 2-4 

2 8 ounce fillets of fish (haddock, rockfish, or petrale sole)

 1 teaspoon sumac

 1 teaspoon ground cumin

 ½ teaspoon ground coriander

  1 tablespoon olive oil  plus 1 tbsp butter

  Salt and pepper to taste 

Caramelized onions:

1 large onion, thinly sliced 

 ¼ cup olive oil 


  • ¼ cup pine nuts or sliced almonds, toasted in  olive oil 
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley  or cilantro 

¼ cup pomegranate seeds (optional) 

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

Tahini Sauce 

 1/3 cup tahini, diluted with ¼ cup water if too thick

 1 garlic clove,  finely minced

Juice of 1/2 lemon


Brush the fish with olive oil. Sprinkle the fish with cumin, coriander, sumac and salt, and pepper and leave for 30 minutes for the flavors to marinate. Sauté the onions in ¼ cup of olive oil until browned and caramelized then set aside. 

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in a skillet. Pan-fry the fish until browned on both sides, about 3 minutes each side. Conversely, you can put the fish in a 13×9 casserole dish and bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. For the tahini sauce, whisk the tahini, garlic, water, and salt and pepper to taste if desired. You can heat the sauce in a saucepan if you like it warm. Once the fish has finished cooking, top with the caramelized onions and toasted nuts. Drizzle with tahini sauce, then garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro, pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately. 



Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, host of the YouTube cooking show called Feast in the Middle East, and soon to be cookbook author of the “Feast in the Middle East” cookbook. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond.  You can check out her cooking video tutorials and other recipes at or her blog at  


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