Moroccan Spiced Salmon with Harissa Yogurt and Pearl Couscous

I am so excited to have a guest post from my foodie friend, Sonali, who writes the amazing blog The Foodie Physician. Her recipes are all about fresh ingredients, bold colors, and simple ways to get complex flavors. As an emergency room doctor, she has a very special point of view; she truly celebrates good food as an important component of good health. Her recipes have been featured in magazines including Everyday with Rachel Ray, Better Homes & Gardens, and Taste of Home. We're absolutely honored that she would develop this amazing recipe for our blog!

Hi everyone!  My name is Sonali aka The Foodie Physician.  I’m an ER doctor, culinary school graduate, recipe developer and board-certified foodie.  I have a blog where I share my original recipes that are nutritious and full of flavor.  I also enjoy discussing the health benefits of foods and encourage people to know what they're eating so that they can make smart food choices.  I was so honored when the Full Belly Sisters invited me to write a guest post for their fabulous blog.  I’m going to talk about seafood because it’s one of my favorite things to eat and it’s so good for you! 

The American Heart Association and the newly updated 2010 USDA dietary guidelines both recommend that adults eat at least two servings (3.5-4 ounces each of cooked fish or ¾ cup flaked fish) of salmon or other omega-3 rich fish per week.  The twice-a-week recommendation for seafood used to be limited to people diagnosed with heart disease but now it’s recommended for everyone. 

So why is seafood being emphasized so much?  It’s because salmon and other fish like mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna have high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have incredible health benefits.  Our bodies don’t make omega-3s so we must get them from our diet. Here are just a few of the things that omega-3 fatty acids do:

   They are associated with reduced cardiac death.  Specifically, they decrease the risk of irregular rhythms, may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, and slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaques
   Did your parents always tell you that fish is “brain food?"  It turns out they were right!  Omega-3s are important for neurological development, especially in fetal development and also in young children; research shows they may improve learning ability in children and may also help reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly
   They reduce inflammation and boost immunity and may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and improve arthritis symptoms

In addition to all of the health benefits provided by omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is also high in protein and has an abundance of vitamins and minerals including B-complex vitamins, selenium, phosphorus, and potassium.  And on top of all of these health benefits, wild Alaskan salmon is a sustainable fish, which means it can be eaten relatively guilt-free with regards to the environment.

Recently, there have been many concerns about mercury and other contaminants in fish.  Eating foods high in mercury on a regular basis can cause accumulation of mercury in your bloodstream.  If you’re pregnant, this can cause damage to your baby’s developing brain and nervous system.  The amount of contaminants found in fish depends on the type of fish and where it’s caught. Fish higher up in the food chain such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, tend to have higher levels of mercury because they eat the smaller fish and therefore their levels build up.  Industrial pollution can also produce mercury that contaminates water and for this reason every state issues advisories about the safe amount of locally caught fish that can be consumed.  Salmon, however, is typically low in mercury.   

The updated USDA guidelines state that the benefits of consuming seafood far outweigh the risks, even for pregnant women.  For most people, it’s unlikely mercury would cause any serious effects but it is still recommended by the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency that women who are pregnant or nursing and children under 12 should avoid high mercury fish.  If you’re pregnant, you can enjoy the heart healthy benefits of salmon and other low mercury fish but should limit your intake to 12 ounces/week and limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces/week.  Some other healthy seafood options are cod, tilapia, catfish, flounder, shrimp, clams, oysters, and crab. 

My Moroccan Spiced Salmon with Harissa Yogurt and Pearl Couscous is a simple, flavorful salmon dish with a hint of the exotic.  I was inspired by warm, earthy Moroccan flavors when I created this dish.  I make an easy spice rub by combining dried cumin, coriander, paprika and cinnamon and rubbing it onto the fish before cooking it.  Although cinnamon is mostly used in sweet dishes in American cooking, it is commonly used in savory dishes in Moroccan cuisine and adds a warm flavor that nicely complements the other spices.  I love using spice rubs because they are a great, fast way to add flavor without adding calories.

To balance the spices on the salmon, I serve it with Greek yogurt mixed with a little lemon juice and harissa.  Harissa is a traditional North African chili paste made with chili peppers, spices and sometimes red peppers.  It’s traditionally used in stews and soups but it adds great flavor to everything from sandwiches to pasta.  Because of it’s increasing popularity, it can be found in many specialty grocery stores such as Whole Foods and in stores like Williams Sonoma and Crate and Barrel.  There are also many recipes for homemade harissa online.  If you can’t find it, you can substitute another hot sauce such as Sriracha.

And, finally, I like to plate the salmon on a bed of pearl couscous, also called Israeli couscous.  Pearl couscous is a larger grain than traditional couscous and feels more like a pasta.  It works great in both cold salads and warm dishes and can be found in most regular grocery stores next to the traditional couscous.  However, if you can’t find it, you can substitute any type of grain.  To add bright flavor and a burst of sweetness, I stir some chopped scallions and grape tomatoes into the couscous after it’s cooked. 

This is a nicely-balanced dish that the whole family will enjoy.  It’s full of flavor but not too spicy, so your kids should like it, too.   Enjoy the dish and a big thanks to Full Belly Sisters for having me over!   

Moroccan Spiced Salmon with Harissa Yogurt and Pearl Couscous
Makes 4 servings

Pearl Couscous:
1 box pearl couscous
2 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ pint grape tomatoes, halved (about ¾ cup)
1/3 cup chopped scallions
Salt and pepper

Harissa Yogurt:
¼ cup fat free Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons harissa
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Moroccan Spiced Salmon:
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
4 boneless, skinless salmon fillets (5-6 oz. each)
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil

To make the couscous, heat the couscous, stock (or water) and olive oil in a medium saucepan.  Cook according to package directions.  Stir the tomatoes and scallions into the cooked couscous and season the mixture with salt and pepper. 

To make the harissa yogurt, stir the yogurt, harissa and lemon juice together in a small bowl. 

To make the salmon, mix the cumin, coriander, paprika and cinnamon together in a small bowl.  Season the salmon with salt and pepper and then sprinkle equal amounts of the spice mixture onto the top side of each salmon fillet.  Rub the spices into the flesh.  Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat (don’t let the pan get too hot otherwise the spices will burn).  Add the salmon fillets to the pan, spice side down.  Cook 2 minutes then flip the fillets over.  Cook the salmon another 2 minutes on the second side and then cover the pan.  Cook an additional 2-4 minutes to desired doneness.  Remove salmon from the pan. 

Serve the salmon on a bed of couscous with harissa yogurt on the side. Dive in!


  1. Anyone who visits SaucyCooks knows of my salmon addiction and reading Sonali's post just reinforces the health benefits of this flavorful and easy to cook fish. As always her recipe is both tantalizing, healthful and easy to follow. YUM!!

  2. I know, Sonali's amazing! Thanks so much for coming by :-)

  3. Thanks so much for the awesome introduction!  It was such an honor to share my recipe with you and your readers!

  4. Thanks, Sonali!

  5. Ooh 2 of my favorite blogs/bloggers together. Love the spices used here. Justine I am still cracking up over lactation cookies, do they increase lactation or just taste good? Safe for men and people who are so done lactating?

  6. fullbellysistersMay 2, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    Yup, lactation cookies are made with ingredients - like oats, flax and brewer's yeast - that increase/support milk supply...but won't make you lactate if you're not a breastfeeding mom! They also just taste really good (even though they are more nutritious than your average cookie). 

  7. Took this recipe and tonight I used it as a jumping off point. Used hot paprika in the spice mix and made quinoa in lite coconut milk instead of water/broth. The heat of the rub combined really well with the creamy sweetness of the quinoa, and it brought the cinnamon out well. Thanks for the inspiration, this will be going into the rotation, for sure.

  8. fullbellysistersJune 28, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    Fabulous, love your substitutions!

  9. Hi, it's Food on Friday time again on
    Carole's Chatter.  The theme this time is
    salmon! Yum.  It would be neat if you linked this post
    in.  This is the
    .     Have a good week.

  10. Thanks, I'll share it now!

  11. Thanks for linking this super salmon post
    in to Food on Friday.  I am now signed up
    to follow you on Google Reader.  A follow back to Carole's
    Chatter would be wonderful – or are you already following?  Cheers

  12. wow, that looks perfect.  the pearl
    couscous is the right combo.


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