A delicious Middle Eastern dish of fish and rice, sayadieh is known for it’s warm spices and caramelized onions. This is a showstopping dish that actually just requires a few simple steps. You’ll love it!
What is Sayadieh?
Sayadieh is a seasoned fish and rice dish that originates in Lebanon. The word sayadieh roughly translates to “catch” so it basically means a fishermans catch.
One trademark of the dish is the spice mixture used to season the rice and the fish. It’s often sold as ready pre-mixed fish spices, but I made my own spice blend which is simpler and more accessible.
Traditionally this would be made with whole fish, and the bones of the fish would be turned into a stock that the rice is cooked in. This is a lot of work and time consuming, so I made an easy cheat version of sayadieh using fish filets.
Why should I make this sayadieh?
Like I mentioned earlier, this is an easy, step by step accessible version of sayadieh. You’ll find it very easy to follow along with this recipe even if you you never heard of this dish before.
The combination of pan grilled fish, fragrant rice, caramelized onions, and toasted nuts is unbeatable. It really is such a delicious dish, and it’s served in a large platter that’s so welcoming. It feeds a crowd and is a showstopper!
I use just a few simple spices instead of the pre mixed Middle Eastern fish spices, so you can make this anywhere in the world, even if you don’t have access to Middle Eastern stores.
What ingredients do I need to make sayadieh?
The base of this dish starts with caramelized onions.
We make a sauce from the caramelized onions that we use to cook the rice with. The remaining sauce ingredients are tomato paste, water, and the spices: cumin powder, cinnamon powder, turmeric powder, salt and pepper.
Rice: basmati rice that’s been soaked for around 20 minutes, then drained and rinsed until the water runs clear.
Fish: Use around 1.5lbs of the fish of your choice. It should be white and flakey, like cod, halibut, snapper, or hammour. Make sure you get the fishmonger to skin and filet the fish, and cut it into large pieces like pictured.
How do I make this dish?
The first step is caramelizing the onions:
How do I caramelize onions?
In a large deep saucepan, heat the oil over medium high heat until hot. Add the sliced onions. They might seem like a lot initially but they’ll soon shrink down significantly. Keep cooking, stirring every few minutes until the onions turn to a light golden brown to a dark deep brown like pictured. Once this happens, remove them immediately from the pan to a paper towel lined plate to blot the excess oil and to prevent them from burning. Keep a close eye on them!
Make the sauce and cook the rice:
Remove a handful of the caramelized onions for garnish, and place the remaining onions into a blender or food processor. Add 1 cup of water and the tomato paste, as well as all the spices and blend until combined and a thick sauce forms.
Pour this sauce into the same big pot you used to caramelize the onions, and add the remaining 3 cups of water then the rinsed basmati rice. The water needs to cover the rice by about 1/2 inch or so, if you need to, add a little more water. Stir, bring to a boil, then cover with a tight fitting lid, reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed.
Once rice is cooked through, set pot aside for 10-15 minutes without opening the lid.
Cook the fish:
Heat the oil for the fish in a large skillet. Mix together the spices for the fish fillets and sprinkle both sides of fish evenly with the spice mixture. When oil is hot, add the fish to the skillet and cook for a few minutes a side or until white and flaky and cooked through.
How to assemble and garnish sayadieh:
In whatever serving platter or dish you’ll be using, spread the rice out into an even layer. Place the cooked fish on top in the middle of the serving platter. You can keep the filets whole like I did, or break them apart into large chunks. Top with toasted pine nuts or almonds, plenty of chopped parsley and the handful of caramelized onions that you set aside initially. Enjoy hot!
To toast pine nuts or almonds:
Just heat a little olive oil in a small skillet over medium high heat. Add the slivered almonds or pine nuts and stir while cooking for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove to a paper towel lined plate, they burn easily so be careful!
What to serve with sayadieh:
It’s very common to serve tahini sauce with this dish. Squeeze lemon juice into tahini and whisk with a fork to combine. Add a splash of water to thin out if you prefer.
You can also serve with a simple green salad, or my favorite salad to have with fish dishes, a parsley, tomato and tahini salad:
Parsley tomato tahini salad:
Finely chop a couple of handfuls of parsley. Add one very finely diced tomato, and tahini dressing and toss to combine.
To make the tahini dressing add 1-2 tablespoon of tahini to a small bowl, along with the juice of 1/2 lemon, a big pinch of salt and pepper, optionally a little cumin powder and a splash of water and whisk to combine. You want it to be pretty liquidy so add more water if you need to. Drizzle the dressing onto the parsley and tomatoes and mix well until combined.
FAQs and tips:
- Don’t be afraid to really get some color on the onions. Getting the onions to a deep golden brown will give you the most flavor.
- Use your favorite flaky white fish for best results
- Soak the rice in advance so it cooks through evenly, just a 20-30 minute soak. Drain and rinse the soaked rice until water runs clear- this will remove the extra starch so the rice doesn’t turn mushy and gummy.
Can I oven bake the fish?
Yes! You just need cooked fish to top the rice with, so cook the fish any way you like.
What type of rice should I use?
Use long grain rice like basmati for best results.
Storing leftover sayadieh:
Leftovers will last 3-4 days tightly covered in the fridge. Reheat in the microwave, stove top, or inside the oven at a relatively low heat.
I haven’t ever frozen cooked rice and fish, but it can be frozen up to 3 months in an airtight container. Thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat in your preferred manner.
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For the onions and the rice:
- 2-3 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
- 3-4 onions, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper powder
- 4 cups water, divided
- 1 heaped tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cups basmati rice, soaked for 20 minutes and rinsed
For the fish:
- 2 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
- 1.5 lb white fish like cod, snapper, halibut, hammour, filleted, skin removed and cut into large pieces (probably 5-7 pieces) 900 g
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika powder
- big pinch each salt and pepper
- toasted pine nuts or almond slivers
- chopped parsley
For the onions and rice:
- Heat the oil for the rice in a large pot over medium high heat, then add the sliced onions. Cook, stirring occasionally until onions have caramelized into a deep golden brown. This will probably take 10-15 minutes.
- Remove the onions from the pot, and reserve a big handful for garnishing the rice. Place the remaining caramelized onions in a blender, add 1 cup of the water, the cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, salt and pepper, and the tomato paste and blend until a thick sauce forms.
- Add this sauce to the same saucepan you used to cook the onions, along with the remaining 3 cups of water, and the basmati rice. The liquid should cover the rice by about 1/2 inch or so.
- Bring to a boil, then cover with a tightly fitting lid and cook for 15-20 minutes on low heat until all the water has been absorbed. Set rice off the heat for 10-15 minutes without removing the lid to steam. Meanwhile, cook the fish.
For the fish:
- Heat the oil for the fish in a large skillet. Mix together the spices for the fish fillets and sprinkle both sides of fish evenly with the spice mixture. When oil is hot, add the fish to the skillet and cook for a few minutes a side or until white and flaky and cooked through.
- Place all the rice in a serving platter, making a bed of rice. Add the cooked fish on top, and garnish with plenty of toasted nuts, chopped parsley, and the caramelized onions from the first step that you set aside. Enjoy!