Sayadiya: Damiettan Fish Soup With Blackened Onions


6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced
8 cups water for soup
salt to taste (my mother-in-law uses quite a lot, about 1 Tbsp. or more)
3 3/4 cups water for quinoa or rice


Saute the onions in 3 Tbsp. olive oil until they are mostly black, about 20-30 minutes.
Blackened onions. Don't be scared, they're supposed to look like that!
Allow the onions to cool slightly, then puree in a blender with 1 cup water.
Heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat, then add the fish skin side up to the hot pan. Allow the fish to cook for a few minutes.
Add water, 1/2 the onion mixture, the juice of two lemons, and a lot of salt. Stir.
Cover pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and allow to simmer for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.
When the Soup reaches the boil, it is time to start the rice or quinoa. Cook the rice or quinoa according to package directions, except that you should add the remaining onion mixture to the pot at the beginning and reduce the amount of water by 1/4 cup.
When the rice/quinoa is ready the soup should also be ready. The broth should look fatty from the fish fat and the fish should be cooked all the way through.


My mother-in-law grew up in Damietta, Egypt. Damietta is just a stone’s throw from the point where the Nile meets the Mediterranean Sea. As you might imagine, people from this region eat a lot of fish. I have had the chance to cook with Mama Samya many times during her long visits, and Sayadiya has been one of my favorites of the dishes she has taught me.

Throughout Egypt, Damietta is known for its intricately carved furniture, its marvelous sweets, and its Sayadiya. Whenever I have made the mistake of calling this an Egyptian dish, I’ve been quickly corrected that it is not merely Egyptian, it is Damiettan!

The secret is in the onions. They must be cooked for a very long time, until they are chocolate brown and mostly black but are not burned. “Just keep stirring and they won’t burn,” Mama Samya says whenever I feel the urge to turn off the heat a little too soon. Those last shades of color are critical, and give this soup a flavor like no other.

Sayadiya is typically served with Egyptian rice, also cooked with blackened onions. Egyptian rice is a short grain somewhat sticky rice. Brown rice will not work as a replacement because the texture is not right. I decided to health up the recipe somewhat by replacing the white rice with quinoa, and we enjoyed the change very much.

The traditional way of eating sayadiya is by serving the rice in one bowl and the fish and broth in another bowl. A spoonful of rice is taken from the rice bowl, dipped in the broth, then eaten.




Saturday, September 11, 2010 - 11:46pm


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