Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi explore a region of rich, cross-cultural culinary traditions in Jerusalem.
With their sweet and slightly sharp sauce, these fish cakes, typical of Syrian Jews, manage to capture much of the spirit of Sephardic food. They are delicate, almost brittle, and thus very comforting and very popular, perfect for a large family gathering where there are many, often fussy diners to please. The cakes are almost better the day after they are cooked; just remember to bring them back to room temperature or warm them up before serving. Serve with bulgur, rice, couscous, or bread, alongside sautéed spinach or Swiss chard.
- First, make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a very large frying pan for which you have a lid. Add the spices and onion and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onion is completely soft. Add the wine and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chile, garlic, sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, and some black pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until quite thick. Taste to adjust the seasoning and set aside.
- While the sauce is cooking, make the fish cakes. Place the bread in a food processor and blitz to form bread crumbs. Chop the fish very finely and place in a bowl along with the bread and everything else, except the olive oil. Mix together well and then, using your hands, shape the mixture into compact cakes about ¾ inch thick and 3¼ inches in diameter. You should have 8 cakes. If they are very soft, refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up. (You can also add some dried bread crumbs to the mix, though do this sparingly; the cakes need to be quite wet.)
- Heat half the olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat, add half of the cakes, and sear for 3 minutes on each side, until well colored. Repeat with the remaining cakes and oil.
- Gently place the seared cakes side by side in the tomato sauce; you can squeeze them a bit so they all fit. Add just enough water to cover the cakes partially (about a scant 1 cup). Cover the pan with the lid and simmer over very low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the cakes to settle, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with the mint.
Reprinted with permission from Jerusalem, copyright © 2012 Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.