Zanzibar Coconut Fish with Carrot Mash and Creamed Spinach


One of my favorite family vacations as a child was when we lived in Tanzania and we went to the island of Zanzibar. Zanzibar was once owned by the Sultan of Oman and was gifted to the country of Tanganyika, whose name was then changed to Tanzania. Due to the island’s history as part of Oman, the island of Zanzibar is a curious mix of African and Arab cultures which is evident in the cuisine of the island. 

Zanzibar is nicknamed “the spice island” and many of the island’s dishes are filled with the spices grown on the island. 

 At one time in its history, the archipelago produced over 90% of the world’s clove supply. Other spices easily available on the island are cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, garlic, chillies, black pepper, nutmeg and vanilla. The island is also home to much tropical fruit such as pineapple, mango, jackfruit, lychees, bananas, papaya and coconut. All of these spices and fruit find their way into the cuisine of Zanzibar, along with fish (being an island and all).

a giant pile of spices

I made a second trip to Zanzibar while I was in high school and we got to explore the history of the island as well as visit some of the spice farms and see how the various spices and medicinal herbs were grown. I remember being especially curious about the quinine leaves, as Malaria was quite common those days. I also remember on that trip that we stayed in a guest house in the center of town right by the market and were awakened by a smell that we later described as “fruity, fermented, fish.” The spices, fruit and fish all out in the Tanzania sun made for a fragrant market to say the least.

On a trip to Zanzibar in high school – yours truly on the far right

This dish is inspired by a dish my dad ordered at our hotel restaurant back in the 80’s in Zanzibar. We always used to call him the master food orderer, because his choice always looked and tasted the best. It’s been 30 years, but I remember fish and greens cooked in a coconut sauce and served on top of mashed potatoes. This dish pays homage to that dish and to the culinary creativity of the island of Zanzibar.

Even cooking this meal is beautiful…I love the vibrant colors of the spices

Coconut Fish 

: 2-3
Time: 50 minutes


– 1 can of coconut milk
– 10 cloves
– 1 1/2 inches of fresh ginger – roughly chopped
– 2 cloves of garlic – roughly chopped
– 2 dried lemons (crushed open) OR 2 kaffir lime leaves OR the juice and zest of one lemon
– 1 pinch of saffron
– 1/2 t turmeric
– 1 t sea salt
– 1 pound of white fish (I use Hammour which is a local Arbian Gulf fish) – portioned into servings
– 1 cup of frozen spinach – thawed (or 2 bunches of fresh chopped spinach)

– put coconut milk and spices in a saucepan, bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse the sauce
– while sauce simmers, make your “Carrot Mash” and set spinach out to thaw
– after 30 minutes, strain the spices out of the sauce
– pour sauce into a large skillet over low heat and add fish pieces. Keep sauce at a low simmer for 10 minutes, spooning sauce over fish a couple of times and turning the fish once during the cooking process.
– remove fish and sauce from pan. Reserve some sauce for carrot mash, some for cooking the spinach and some for plating the dish
– add spinach to the skillet and use about 1/3 of the sauce, stirring over a low heat to heat the spinach through and absorb the sauce
– PLATE the DISH – carrot mash, fish, sauce, spinach

Carrot Mash (or use the Garlic Cilantro Mash recipe without cilantro) 

: 2-3

Time: 25 minutes

– 4 medium carrots
– 1 t salt
– 1 t coconut oil
– couple of spoonfuls of sauce from cooking the fish

– chop carrots into small pieces (so they’ll cook faster)
– place in a saucepan and add just enough water to cover them
– bring to a boil
– add 1 t sea salt
– boil until fork tender
– drain and return to hot pot
– add coconut oil and begin mashing – add cooking liquid as you keep mashing to get them to your desired consistency

*** This is an impressive dish, but can be made on a weeknight if you have a little bit of time. It’s not complicated, the hardest part is waiting for the spices to infuse the coconut milk.
Products that I recommend for this recipe (affiliate links):

**This recipe was shared on the Phoenix Helix AIP RoundUp & LouLou Girl’s Fabulous Party

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