The name Salty Fish in Yogurt is a bit of a misnomer as the fish is dotted rather then covered, but that could just be a translation or an aesthetic point.  No matter the naming the taste is very very aesthetically pleasing to the palate and easy on the cook!   This is a 10 minute dish, including cooking and mix time while giving very full flavor for only a small bit of effort.

Samak Malih Bi-Laban

(Salty Fish in Yoghurt)


Take salted fish, wash it, cut it up medium and fry it as we have mentioned.  Then take it from the pan hot and put it in yoghurt and garlic.  You throw nigella and finely milled Chinese cinnamon on its surface, and it is eaten hot or cold.

(Medieval Arab Cookery, pg. 390)


Fish fillets (Talapia)                   1 Tbs sesame oil            1 cup yogurt                 6 cloves garlic

Salt to taste                                    1/8 tsb cinnamon

*The original recipe calls for salted fish.  My thought that this is fish stored in salt so as not to spoil, a common way to store meats during the middle ages; however with today’s advent of modern miracles i.e. the refrigerator getting truly salted fish is almost impossible.

My Redaction:

We start with the fish and ingredients that go with this simplistic but very tasty dish.  fish with spices

The fish of choice for the moment is Talapia.

A quick notation on fish for Middle Eastern cooking here: Fish are declared the best in the Baghdad Cookery courses as those that are river fish.  Three types of fish are mentioned specifically; Zajar, sturgeon; bunni or banana, carp; and the most admired variety, shabbut; however no recipes listed call for a specific type of fish, nor recipes from the Iraqui book known as ‘al-Baghadadi, or in the Syrian Kitab al-Wusla ila al-Habib.  (Rodinson, pg. 479-480). I have used the mild flavored fish tilapia as a substitute for fish found in today’s Middle Eastern rivers

When I make this dish, I mix the cup of yogurt with the well chopped garlic cloves first.   This bowl of garlicky yogurt is set to the side while I get the fish going.

yogurt with garlic

The next step is to take the sesame oil and pour it into the pan.  Heat the pan then lay the fillets into the oil.  (no picture here sorry was busy not splattering kitchen with the oil or burning the quickly cooking fish).  Salt each fillet side.  Don’t be worried about over doing the salt, don’t add teaspoons of salt but do add more then a few grains.  Remember this was originally made for salted fish…fish packed in salt to retard spoilage.

When the fish is thoroughly cooked on both sides place on a plate and dot (or smear) with a TBS or more of the garlic yogurt mixture.

fish with sesame and yogurt

Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and voila!  I know, I know…the cinnamon sounds really weird to the modern palate to be adding to yogurt with salt and fish instead of yogurt and sugar.  Try it this and you’ll be going “Oh wow!!!”.  Yes the dish really is that awesomely awesome not to mention handsome with the garlicky yogurt and a dash of cinnamon.


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