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posted on: Dec 21, 2022

Sayadieh with caramelized lemons – Alison Norquist

By Alison Norquist / Arab America Contributing Writer

Sayadieh is a fisherman’s dish from the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and has become a staple throughout the Arab world. Composed of fragrant turmeric rice, caramelized onions, and toasted almonds, the real star of this dish is the flaky white fish spiced with cumin. To finish, lemons and parsley bring brightness to the sayadieh that makes every bite irresistible.

While sayadieh is typically made with fresh caught, whole fish, this recipe will be using frozen filets. It is important to use a white fish that is flakey in texture and thick. Cod, snapper, and halibut are perfect options.

The Ingredients

For the caramelized onions, you will need:

  • 4-6 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2-3 Tbsp cooking oil such as avocado, canola, or vegetable

For the rice, you will need:

  • 1/2 of the caramelized onions
  • 1/4 cup diced tomatoes, canned or fresh, with juice
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 cups long-grain rice such as basmati

For the spiced white fish, you will need:

  • 1 1/2 lbs frozen white fish filets like cod or halibut, thawed
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp cooking oil such as avocado, canola, or vegetable

To garnish, you will need:

  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
  • caramelized lemons are optional. See notes for instructions

The Instructions

Begin by placing your sliced onions in a sautee pan with water. Heat over high heat with the cover on until the onions are softened. Remove the lid and add the oil. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the onions are a deep, golden color. Set aside half of the onions for later.

Rinse the rice until clear and then soak it in water for 20 minutes while the onions cook. Combine onions, tomatoes, bell pepper, and spices in a food processor with 1 cup of water until smooth. Pour into the pan that the onions were cooked in and simmer for 5 minutes until the sauce begins to reduce. Add the soaked rice and 3 cups of water. Bring the rice mixture to a boil. Cover and set heat to low. Cook until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Once the rice is finished, fluff it with a fork.

In a frying pan, heat oil to medium-high. Mix the spices and salt for the fish. Be sure to pat the filets dry with paper towels thoroughly. Coat the filets in the spice mixture on both sides and fry until the fish is flaky and opaque.

How to Serve Your Sayadieh

To serve, build a bed of rice for the fish by spreading it evenly on a platter. Top this with the reserved caramelized onions. Next, lay the fish on the onions. Garnish to your preference with chopped parsley, toasted almond slices, and caramelized lemons. Enjoy!


  • While you may choose to caramelize your onions traditionally, the method used helps to reduce the time by extracting the water from the onions. This then allows the natural sugars of the onions to break down quicker and brown evenly.
  • When toasting nuts, be sure to do so on low heat. Once the nuts are fragrant, pull them from the heat and place them in a bowl until it is time to serve to reduce the risk of carry-over cooking while sitting in the pan.
  • To caramelize the lemons, place them in the frying pan after the fish has cooked. Resist the urge to turn them, instead allow them to cook while plating the rest of the dish. Once they have gotten color, you can serve or choose to cook on the other side. The lemons will be juicy and richer in flavor.
  • This dish is stunning and delicious on its own but also pairs well with salad, warmed pita bread, and cucumber-yogurt dip.

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