With the start of a new year come the resolute promises of a healthy diet to counteract the indulgences of the previous year.
One protein that is versatile for a variety of different diets, whether Mediterranean, Keto, gluten-free, Paleo or pescatarian, is fish. White fish is very low in fat and loaded with an average of 30 grams of satiating protein per serving.
However, some home cooks equate white fish filets with blandness, or avoid them altogether for fear of environmental contamination. What many consumers do not know is that finding the most flavorful and sustainable fish begins during the purchasing process.
In the meat or poultry section, you can look for labels such as “grass-fed,” “free range” or “organic” – but no such labels exist for fish. While descriptions like “wild caught” are certainly preferable to “farm raised,” this definition is still nebulous. One tangible metric is the monitoring of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls. PCBs are persistent, cancer-causing chemicals banned in the U.S. in 1976. However, PCBs accumulate in oceans and rivers from the fishmeal fed to farmed fish. According to research conducted by the Environmental Working Group, on average farmed salmon has 16 times more dioxin-like PCBs than wild salmon.
While 80% of seafood in the U.S. is imported from other countries, watchdog groups like Seafood Watch make sure that the fish allowed in is sustainable. Seafood Watch also works on blocking importers that violate sustainability. Look for labels that include the Marine Stewardship Council, or the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative. These standards require fisheries to combat overfishing and reduce the impact on the environment.
Another way to source excellent quality fish locally is through Community Supported Seafood or Fisherman, known as CSS or CSFs, where they catch wild fish the same day they deliver them to nearby neighborhoods. In the Los Altos region, H&H Fresh Fish delivers to many local neighborhoods, and often sells fish at farmers’ markets throughout the Bay Area.
Pacific rockfish, also known as Pacific snapper, is a local and sustainable white-fleshed fish that is great to use for quick and easy meals, and is versatile in many types of cuisine. Rockfish are firm, lean and mild-flavored, basically a neutral canvas ready to absorb myriad seasonings and sauces.
The Lebanese dish Samak bi Tahini features white fish smothered in caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts and a lemony, creamy tahini sauce. The dish is seasoned with tangy ground sumac, smoky cumin and earthy coriander. This dish tastes rich and indulgent while incorporating lean protein and healthy fats to start the year with a fresh new take on fish. While Samak bi Tahini makes an excellent low-carb meal, feel free to pair with garlic rice or roasted potatoes for an extra-hearty alternative.
Samak bi Tahini Fish
• 2 8-ounce filets of fish (rockfish, haddock or petrale sole)
• 1 rounded teaspoon sumac
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 large onion, thinly sliced
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 2 tablespoons pine nuts or sliced almonds, toasted in skillet in olive oil
• 1/4 cup parsley or cilantro, chopped
• 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds (optional)
• 1/4 cup fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped
• 1/3 cup tahini, diluted with 1/4 cup water if too thick
• 1 garlic clove, finely minced
• Juice of 1/2 lemon
Brush fish with olive oil. Sprinkle fish with sumac, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper and leave 30 minutes for flavors to marinate.
Sauté onions in 1/4 cup olive oil until browned and caramelized, then set aside on paper towel-covered dish.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in skillet.
Pan-fry fish until browned on both sides, approximately 3 minutes each side.
Alternatively, put fish in 13-inch-by-9-inch casserole dish and bake 10 minutes at 375 F.
For tahini sauce, whisk tahini, garlic, water and salt and pepper to taste if desired. Heat sauce in saucepan if you like it warm.
Once fish is done finished cooking, top with caramelized onions and toasted nuts. Drizzle with tahini sauce, then garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds.
Makes 2-4 servings.
Blanche Shaheen is a television correspondent for the NBC show “California Live,” host of the YouTube cooking show “Feast in the Middle East” and cookbook author. For more recipes, purchase her cookbook “Feast in the Middle East: A Personal Journey of Family and Cuisine” at FeastInTheMiddleEast.com.