Monday, August 31, 2009

A Memorable Summer Fish Soup

This savory fish soup called shūrbat al-samak (fish soup) is popular along the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf (called the Arabian Gulf by Arabs).

[photo: Clifford A. Wright]

The recipe will appear in my forthcoming book The Best Soups in the World (Wiley). It is spiced with a spice blend known as kabsa, which also gives its name to a famous dish of Saudi Arabia kabsa bi’l-dajāj, a chicken, rice, and nut dish seasoned with the kabsa spice mix. The kabsa spice mix is described in the note below and you can use the excess spice to season some chicken for baking. The soup is also seasoned with dried limes known as loomi (lūmī) popular in the cooking of Iran, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf states which gives prepared dishes a delightful tang. These sun-dried limes known as loomi are available through and Aleppo pepper is available at and many Middle Eastern markets. The shrimp of the Gulf are famous, and before oil (the black kind) was exploited, the shrimpers and pearl divers of the Gulf drove the economies of the small and then poor sheikdoms.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons finely chopped onions
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
5 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
Pinch of saffron, crumbled
1 dried lime (loomi or lūmī) or 1 small fresh lime left in a 200 degree F oven for 3 hours
1 teaspoon kabsa spice mix (see Note)
6 cups fish broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 pound large shrimp, shelled
1/2 pound red snapper or sole fillet, cut in half
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro (fresh coriander)
1. In a pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the onions, stirring, until translucent, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the Aleppo pepper, garlic, tomato, saffron, loomi, and kabsa mix and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the fish broth and tomato paste and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and fish, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the shrimp are firm and orange-red and the fish is ready to flake, about 5 minutes. Correct the seasoning and serve with a sprinkle of cilantro.
Note: To make the kabsa spice mix, blend together 1 ½ teaspoons cayenne pepper, ¾ teaspoon ground cumin, ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground cloves, ½ teaspoon black pepper, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom, ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ½ teaspoon ground coriander, and, optionally, ½ teaspoon ground dried lime (loomi) or fresh and very finely chopped lime zest.
Makes 4 servings


  1. Good Recipe!!!!
    Aurelio Barattini "The Tuscan Cook"

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