Cod, Plantain, and Sesame Soup

Source: Micki Seibel, April 2014

Source: Micki Seibel, April 2014

This beautiful and delicious stew originates from chef Marcus Samuelsson’s book The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa. Inspired by the italian-influenced flavors of Libya, this tomato and garlic-based broth provides a familiar foundation on which the spicy and tangy flavors come together with the forward flavor of the sesame seeds.

Cook Time

Prep time: 
Cook time: 1
Yields: Serves 6


For the za’atar

  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp ground sumac
  • 1 tsp salt

For the stew

  • 1 cup blanched whole almonds
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 tsp ginger, minced
  • 6 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
  • 2 tsps za’atar
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 green plantains, peeled and minced
  • 10 oz spinach
  • 2 lbs cod or tilapia or similar firm white fish, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • juice of 2 limes
  • kosher salt, to taste


  1. To make the za’atar, combine the ingredients in a small, non-reactive bowl. Store in a sealed container for up to a month.
  2. Place the almonds in a large pot over medium heat and toast until they start to turn brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and ginger stirring constantly for 1 additional minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes, jalapeños, za’atar, chicken broth, and about 1 tsp of kosher salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 25 minutes.
  5. Stir in the plantains and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
  6. Add the spinach and cod and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
  7. Remove the stew from the heat, cover, and let sit for 15 minutes to thicken.
  8. Meanwhile, heat the olive and sesame oils in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds and saute for until golden brown, about 5-7 minutes.
  9. To serve, add the lime juice, stir in the sesame seeds, and add a pinch of kosher salt to taste.

How to Not Screw It Up

  1. Plantains when they are green are very starchy. They are generally used in savory dishes at this stage. When they turn yellow and sweeten, they are more often used in sweet dishes. If you are working with green plantains  they can be difficult to peel: slice the skin lengthwise, then across, and peel across the plantain rather than along it like a banana.
  2. If you cannot find green plantains (occasionally, I run in to this issue), yellow plantains will work. However, cut the simmer time from 10 minutes to 3 minutes. Otherwise, they will disintegrate from over-cooking. The final stew has a sweet note to it, but it’s yummy just the same.