Fish Stew with Onions and Saffron

Serves 4-6 • An old Arab dish, popular in Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. It is very lemony, and sometimes saffron is replaced by turmeric. All kinds of fish can be used. Serve with plain rice, or rice with vermicelli (see page 340).


  • 2 onions, cut in half and sliced
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Juice of 2-3 lemons
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed saffron threads or powdered saffron
  • Salt and white pepper
  • 2 pounds skinned fish fillets or steaks


  1. Fry the onions in 2 tablespoons of the oil till golden.
  2. Add the garlic, and just as it begins to color
  3. add the lemon juice, the saffron, a little salt, and about 1 cup water. Simmer for 10—15 minutes.
  4. Fry the fish pieces very briefly in a skillet filmed with oil over high heat, turning them over once, until lightly colored but still uncooked inside. Lift them out, drain on paper towels, and put them in the pan with the onion sauce.
  5. Simmer, covered, over very low heat, so that the liquid barely trembles, until the fish is done—about 3 to 5 minutes for fillets, up to 10 minutes for steaks.


For samak bi loomi, a version from the Gulf States, use 3 tablespoons ground dried limes (see page 44) instead of lemon, turmeric instead of saffron, plus 1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds.


This was excellent and healthy. Make again soon as a key part of the repertoire – and remember to take a picture.


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