A dish of Turkish-spiced halibut skewers with yoghurt sauce. Picture: Fred R Conrad/The New York Times
A dish of Turkish-spiced halibut skewers with yoghurt sauce. Picture: Fred R Conrad/The New York Times

RECIPE: Turkish-spiced fish skewers with yoghurt sauce

By David Tanis Time of article published Aug 27, 2019

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When people speak of Turkey, I don’t think of Turkish taffy or Turkish delight. I think of swordfish kebabs.

Swordfish is popular in the eastern Mediterranean, where it is on the smaller side and known for being juicy and meaty. Rather than cut it into large steaks, Turkish cooks most often cube and grill it on skewers, usually dousing it in a garlicky lemony marinade first. Bay leaves (they grow wild) are usually a presence, too.

Beyond that, you find personalized variations, nothing too complicated, so the fresh flavour is not masked. Some cooks alternate chunks of swordfish with vegetables on the skewer; others may add a sprinkling of (also wild) oregano. The version I learned has thinly sliced lemons and onions, along with pinches of aromatic cumin and coriander, and a heavy hand with the bay leaves. You would think this might be overkill, but in fact it only enhances the sweetness of the fish.

If you grill over hot coals, the lemon and onion char in a delicious smoky way, and they protect the meat from the fire so it won’t dry out. Since most of us aren’t grilling outdoors yet, it’s good to know that a hot broiler can also do this.

Time: 25 minutes, plus 1 hour of marinating


700g boneless halibut or other firm-fleshed fish
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small lemon, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced, plus 1 garlic clove, grated or smashed to a paste
8 bay leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup plain yoghurt
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 small cucumber peeled and diced
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped dill
1 tablespoon chopped parsley


Cut halibut into large chunks of equal size and thread on to skewers. You should have four kebabs. Lay them in a shallow dish. Season on both sides with salt and pepper.

In a mixing bowl, put cumin, coriander, paprika, red pepper flakes, onion, lemon, minced garlic and bay leaves. Add olive oil and stir together. Spoon mixture over fish skewers and leave to marinate for at least 1 hour.

Put yoghurt in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then add garlic paste, cayenne and cucumber. Mix mint, dill and parsley together, add half to yogurt mixture, and reserve the rest. Stir to combine. Set aside.

Heat a grill or broiler. When hot, cook skewers for about 2 minutes per side, until just opaque. (Leave some lemon, onion and bay leaf clinging to fish, so they char a bit.) Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with remaining mint, dill and parsley. Serve yogurt sauce on the side.

The New York Times

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