A new cookbook encourages UAE residents to buy and prepare fish that is not on the endangered list.
Catch up with a greener fish dish
DUBAI // A cookbook launched yesterday includes tasty recipes aimed at enticing fish eaters to switch from the popular but endangered hammour and kingfish species to others that are more abundant.
From the lip-smacking Samkeh Harra to the Shaari Eskeli with lemon and olive oil, to the Tamil Nadu fish curry, the book's creators are hoping to get residents hooked on 20 recipes made from fish that are either available in plenty, or that at least have not declined drastically.
"We wanted to give people a way to contribute and how they can help be a part of the solution," said Ms Nessrine al Zahlawi, a conservation officer at the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS). "It is important that people feel empowered that by making small changes in their life, they can play their part. There is a part for people to play in preserving the UAE's fisheries."
Sustainable Fish Recipes, available in English and Arabic, is an attempt to give people cooking options from the 10 green and four orange-labelled varieties, instead of the fast declining red-labelled species in the UAE.
A consumer guide, which was launched previously as part of the "Choose Wisely" campaign, indicates the status of the fish.
Green labels denote species of fish that are abundantly available, while orange labels signify a "good choice" but caution that there are greener varieties, while red urges people to "think again" when shopping at supermarkets or ordering at restaurants.
"It is a clear guide that can be carried while buying fish. We found that people find it difficult to recognise species of fish other than the very popular hammour. Many people are using it and carry it with them while going to supermarkets," Ms al Zahlawi said.
In fact, a handful of restaurants and supermarkets have joined the effort to provide people with the sustainable options along with the popular varieties.
The recipe book will be available for free at the participating restaurants and supermarkets, and later will be available in book shops.
Among the 22 available fish varieties in the UAE, eight have been classified in the red zone, four in the orange and ten in the green zone.
The initiative was launched by EWS and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an international conservation organisation, after a survey among 1,050 residents found that more than 70 per cent were willing to change eating habits and opt for sustainable fish species, if they were provided with labels that indicated which fish stocks were sustainable.
"People said they were willing to go to restaurants that provided sustainable options than those that did not," Ms al Zahlawi said. "We asked what would encourage them to try cooking with a new fish. We found that knowing how to cook was an important factor. That was how the idea of a cookbook came up, and we thought, 'Why don't we get people in the community to send us their recipes to demonstrate that it is possible to adapt existing recipes?'"
The community initiative was put together by 19 amateur cooks, and is complete with Emirati, European, South American and Indian cuisines — reflecting the UAE's diverse population.
The dishes were chosen after a contest last year requiring the whipping up of a "fish dish" from one of the sustainable fish species. The recipe and a picture of the dish were then rated online by residents.
Choosing the right kind of fish, knowing how to cook, the taste of the fish and how easy it was to cook were some important yardsticks for people who bought the fish.
"All these recipes are by volunteers cooking every day at home," Ms al Zahlawi said. "They made the effort to buy sustainable fish and tested it on friends and families."
Trevor Corner, a Briton who lives in Ras al Khaimah, contributed the Shaari Eshkeli with lemon and olive oil recipe to the book.
"It is extremely important to get people to think and change their habits consciously," the fish lover said. "I have already done a couple of presentations on sustainable fish and on the recipe book."
He said he was soon taking some women fish eaters to the market to teach them about choosing sustainable fishes.
"The message is not to stop eating fish," Ms al Zahlawi said. "Rather, we are saying there are sustainable options, there are alternative local, fresh, healthy and nutritious options to choose from."