Traditionally, local nomadic tribes preserved the abundant milk from their flocks of sheeps and goats for the year to come through a meticulous and lengthy process resulting in yogurt “stones” known as afiq, jameed, or kashk. This traditional drying method, documented in Arabic literature that dates back to the beginning of the last millennium and preserved to this day, ensures the milk’s long shelf life even in harsh desert conditions.
Even months after it’s produced, it can be grated over dishes like Parmesan cheese or soaked overnight to serve as the base for yogurt sauces like the one in this recipe from chef Ohad Levi. He also mixes it into the spinach and herb filling, giving it an umami boost.
Levi sources his yogurt stones from cheesemaker Samira Abu Juda from the Project Wadi Attir, which brings together traditional production methods from the Negev’s bedouin community with innovative technology. This Passover, you can find afiq in the Kaiten x Asif Desert Box. It’s also available in Arab neighborhoods like Wadi Nisnas in Haifa and East Jerusalem. In the U.S., it is harder to find, but can be ordered online.
Cook’s note: Since the yogurt stone is naturally salty, season this dish with salt sparingly. Also, ask your fishmonger to help you clean and debone the fish for this recipe.
Check out more desert Passover recipes from Levi like one for leg of lamb stuffed with date charoset and chocolate fudge muffins with coffee and cardamom.
1kg (2.2lb) whole wild sea bass or 2 500-gram (1.1lb) smaller fish such as European Sea Bass/ Gilt Head Bream, cleaned and deboned
For the filling:
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 bunches (total 300 grams) flat-leaf spinach, washed and separated into leaves
2-3 sprigs fresh hyssop (or oregano), separated into leaves
A handful parsley leaves
A handful basil leaves
2 tablespoons grated yogurt stone
Ground black pepper
¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
1 cup (240ml) white wine
Atlantic sea salt
For the yogurt sauce:
500ml (17 fl oz) full fat yogurt (9% fat or more)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 flat teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated yogurt stone
- Prepare the filling: Heat a skillet with olive oil over high heat and lightly fry the garlic. Add the spinach leaves and sauté until they soften slightly, 3-4 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and let the spinach cool a little before squeezing it to remove excess liquids. Add the hyssop (or oregano), parsley, and basil leaves and finely chop the greens. Add the grated yogurt stone, a pinch of salt (keep in mind that the yogurt stone is salty) and ground black pepper, mix well and taste. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- Prepare the fish: Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Place the fish on a baking tray or an ovenproof skillet and stuff it with the filling. Pour the white wine and olive oil into the tray and generously season with sea salt. Roast in the oven, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes. The roasting time varies, depending on the fish and your oven: the fish is ready if it wants to fall apart when pressed lightly in the center.
- In the meantime, prepare the yogurt sauce: Pour the yogurt into a small pot, add the cornstarch and mix to dissolve. Add the olive oil, salt, and grated yogurt stone and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a low heat and cook until the sauce has thickened and reduced (about 10-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the yogurt). Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice, and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste.
- Pour the yogurt sauce over the prepared fish and return to the oven for 4-5 minutes. Serve immediately.