Fish Baked with Golden Onions and Tahina Sauce

The only time-consuming step in this easy-to-do Middle Eastern and Israeli favorite is caramelizing the onions to a deep bronze-gold. But that is the key to this recipe’s success—just as it is to countless others in the Sephardi and Ashkenazi repertoire. Here the savory onions combine with creamy, slightly bitter tahina sauce and sweet, buttery pine nuts to create subtle flavor layers with every bite of fish. I sprinkle on a light dust of red Aleppo pepper or smoked paprika for a spice finish.

Tahina paste can vary greatly in quality: a couple that I have tried tasted stale or had an overly bitter aftertaste. Try a few to find a brand you like. The paste is essential for hummus, and sauces prepared from it are used for everything from dressing salads to glossing meatballs and cooked vegetables.

To add a little more complexity, some cooks grill or sauté the fish first before baking it with the sauce, but I usually use this simpler method.

Read more


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for greasing the pan
  • 8 cups thinly sliced onions (about 2 pounds)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup tahina
  • cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 large garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced
  • 2 pounds sole, sea bass, flounder, grouper, snapper, tilapia or similar white-fleshed fish fillets (any stray bones removed with a tweezer or paring knife), wiped with a damp paper towel and patted dry
  • Aleppo pepper or smoked paprika (optional)
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted (or sautéed lightly in butter, if preferred)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro


Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Heat the oil in a very large heavy skillet until sizzling. Add the onions and sauté over medium-high heat, lifting and turning, until softened, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until they turn a rich golden brown, about 15 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper, cook for another minute or two, then set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, slowly stir ¼ cup hot water into the tahina until it is absorbed. (It will start out lumpy but will soon become smooth with a little mixing.) Stir in the lemon juice, garlic, salt (about 1 teaspoon or to taste) and pepper, and mix until well incorporated.

Arrange the fish in a greased baking pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Salt and pepper them lightly. Shower the fish with onions, spoon on the tahina sauce, and dust, if desired, with the Aleppo pepper or smoked paprika. Scatter the pine nuts over the sauce.

Bake until the sauce is bubbly and the fish is cooked through.

Sprinkle with the parsley or cilantro and serve with lemon quarters.


  • lemon quarters; warm pita, freshly cooked bulgur, or basmati rice (optional)