Growing up, whenever my great aunt would invite us over for lunch, our request was always the same: Sayadiyah! Everyone loved her sayadiyah and til this day, no one makes it as good as her. It doesn’t matter how hard we try and how closely we follow her recipe, it never comes out the same.
But alas, I have made my peace with the situation and have managed to make my own tasty version.
Sayadiyah is a dish with few ingredients but big flavour. It is mainly made of white fish, rice and onions. Versions of the dish are made in several Middle Eastern countries, but today I am making the Levantine version. The main flavour comes from the onions, as well as the turmeric and fish spices. This is a blend of spices you can usually find in most Middle Eastern shops made up of cumin, paprika, coriander, cinnamon and garlic powder. Of course you can always make your own blend.
In the Levantine, most people use grouper fish, but it isn’t as available in the UK, so I use cod. Feel free to use any white fish available to you. When making the onions, make sure you don’t cut them too thin or they will melt and lose their texture once they are sautéed. You want them to get really soft but not caramelise, so make sure you add a pinch of salt to them when sautéing. As for the fish, fry it until it is golden brown. Don’t worry about it being cooked through since it will continue to cook with the rice. Most importantly, like many layered rice dishes, make sure you season every layer because these dishes can be bland otherwise.
Once the dish is cooked, turn it over on to a serving platter and let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes. This will help the dish keep its shape. But don’t worry if you are in a hurry, turn it over and watch it tumble! It wont affect the taste. If you are making a big pot, you may need some help turning it over, like me, so don’t be afraid to get some strong hands to help you out!
This dish is best served topped with some toasted nuts and fried onions. Add a side of tangy salad and enjoy!
- 3 cups Basmati rice
- 5 large yellow onions
- 5 tbsp turmeric
- 5 tbsp fish spices
- 1.5kg cod fillets
- 1 cup flour
- Oil for frying
- Toasted pine nuts and almonds for garnishing
- Fried onions for garnishing (1 large onion)
- Wash and soak the rice in hot water.
- Cut onions into medium-sized half moons then shallow fry in a large pot with a pinch of salt. The addition of the salt early on ensures that the onions soften without caramelising. Use the pot you plan to cook the dish in so you don’t lose any of the flavour from the onions.
- While the onions cook, prepare the fish. Mix the flour with salt, pepper, 1 tablespoon fish spices and 1 tablespoon of turmeric. Then, cut the fillets into medium sized chunks and sprinkle with salt, pepper, 1 tablespoon turmeric and 1 tablespoon fish spice. Coat with flour, shaking off any excess flour. Fry the fish until golden brown. Do not worry about the fish being cooked through, as it will be cooked again with the rice. Set aside.
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of the oil used to fry the fish to the onions in the pot. Make sure that the onions are evenly distributed on the bottom of the pot, and then layer the fish over them. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, turmeric and fish spices. Add a generous amount of salt, pepper, turmeric and fish spices to the rice, as well as 2 tablespoons of reserved oil from frying the fish and then add it to the pot in an even layer. Add just enough water to cover the rice and bring to the boil. To make sure the seasoning is correct, you can taste the water. It should be a little saltier than you think it should be, as it will even out once the rice is cooked.
- Lower the heat to the lowest setting and let the rice cook.
- To make the fried onions, cut an onion into half moons and fry in vegetable oil until golden and crispy.
- Once the rice is cooked, take the pot off the heat and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Then flip the pot onto your serving plate and top with the nuts, parsley and fried onions. The longer you allow the dish to rest, the better it will hold once it is flipped, but this won’t affect the taste, so don’t worry about it too much. Serve with a finely chopped salad and enjoy!