This popular Sephardic recipe from Syria comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. I would have never thought of serving fish cakes in a tomato sauce, but it works really well, especially over rice. And it’s excellent for leftovers.
I used tilapia instead of cod, and it was delicious. The first time I made it I had a hard time keeping the cakes together while they were searing, but I think the trick is leaving them to cook on one side without touching them until that side has browned well. Once I did that I had no problem. You could make the tomato sauce ahead of time to make preparation simpler.
What you need for the tomato sauce:
2 & 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 & 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon coriander
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1-400 gram/14 oz can chopped tomatoes (I used canned cherry tomatoes)
1 red chili, seeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped coarsely
salt and pepper to taste
What you need for the fish cakes:
3 slices white bread with crusts removed (about 60 grams)
1 & 1/2 lbs cod, tilapia, halibut, hake or pollock
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
30 grams flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
30 grams cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 & 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons olive oil (for frying)
What you do:
1. To make the tomato sauce, begin by heating the olive oil in a very large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and spices and cook until the onion is soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the wine and simmer for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes, chile, garlic, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then add freshly ground pepper and more salt if you need it. Keep this simmering so it is hot when you add the fish to it. (If you’re making rice, you could start it now)
2. To make the fish cakes, begin by putting the bread in a food processor and making bread crumbs, then place in a bowl. Chop the fish up very finely and add to the bowl along with all of the other ingredients except the olive oil. Mix it all together with your hands. Form the mixture into cakes about 8 cm in diameter and 2 cm thick. You may need to refrigerate them for about 1/2 an hour to firm up a little.
3. To begin cooking the fish cakes, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a frying pan, then add half of the fish cakes, searing for a few minutes, until quite browned. Carefully flip the cakes and brown the other side. Place the seared fish cakes in the hot tomato sauce and then sear the other half of the fish cakes.
4. Once all the fish cakes have been placed in the tomato sauce, add about a cup of water (or white wine) to cover the cakes partially. Cover the pan and simmer over very low heat for 15-20 minutes. Remove the lid and turn off the heat about ten minutes before serving to let the cakes settle.
I liked them when they were served hot, but the cookbook says they are good at room temperature too. Serve over rice or with bread to soak up the sauce, and garnish with a little mint or cilantro.