I have never loved gefilte fish – even when it is homemade – but I wanted a fish first course and this recipe caught my eye. Egyptian Jews make it for holidays, including Shabbat meals. I made it for the first time last year and it was huge hit, so I made it again this year. The key is finding a fish monger with beautiful fresh fish, who will grind it up for you and fresh herbs and spices. You can grind the fish yourself but having someone else do it makes this dish pretty easy to make. Any leftovers make terrific lunches for the rest of the week. Frances has already placed her “order” for her flight home, which unfortunately is tomorrow. These are best made a day ahead so the Bellahat can absorb the flavors of the wonderfully savory sauce. Because I know my audience, I make these flavorful, but not too hot. I have recently discovered the joys and wonder of Aleppo pepper, which is a sweet, savory hot pepper that never overwhelms. I made lavish use of it this Passover, and will make sure that this is now a staple in my spice pantry.
Egyptian Ground Fish Balls with Tomato and Cumin (Bellahat) from Jayne Cohen’s Jewish Holiday Cooking.
Yield: About 8 servings, but can easily be doubled
For the Fish Balls
1.5 pounds (net) of a non-oily white-fleshed fish like flounder, cod, sea bass, snapper or grouper (I used Red Snapper) with the skin and bones removed and finely ground
1/2 cup matza meal
2 large eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Aleppo pepper (or cayenne if you want it really hot) to taste
2 Tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
For the Sauce
1 Tablespoon finely chopped garlic
3 Tablespoons EVOO
One 28 ounce can of San Marzano or other high quality whole tomatoes, with their juice and broken up
NOTE: (You can make this with fresh plum tomatoes and sweet red and yellow peppers, but I try to put my efforts where it really makes a significant difference. And if the plum tomatoes are not in season from a farmer’s market, don’t even bother.)
Kosher salt and more Aleppo Pepper
Juice of one large lemon
Soft-leaf lettuce for serving
Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley or lemon wedges for garnish
- I make my sauce first.In a large heavy saute pan or deep skillet, warm the garlic in 2 Tablespoons of EVOO until fragrant but not brown.
- Add the tomatoes and their juice, salt and pepper to taste. Cook over moderately high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are broken up and the sauce has thickened.
- Stir in the remaining 1 Tablespoon of EVOO and the lemon juice. Turn off the heat while you make the fish balls.
- In a food processor or by hand, combine the finely ground fish with all of the other ingredients and either pulse until well-combined or mix thoroughly with your hands.
- With hands moistened in cold water, shape the mixture into 16 slightly flattened ovoids, using about a 1/4 cup for each.
- Turn the heat on under the sauce and add the fish balls directly into the sauce. When all of the fish balls are nestled in the sauce, bring the sauce to a simmer on a low heat. Cover the pan and cook the fish balls for 20-25 minutes until the fish balls are firm and cooked through, turning them once. Turn off the heat and adjust any seasonings of the sauce. Allow the fish balls to cool in the sauce and refigerate over night or up to 48 hours.
- Serve on a platter or individual plates with the lettuce leaves, the fish balls and sauce and sprinkled with chopped parsley or cilantro.
NOTE: I like a slightly chunky sauce, but if you prefer a smooth one, remove the fish balls from the sauce before serving and using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.