Israeli-Style Fish Cakes

My husband’s cousin Moshe came to visit us last summer. Moshe grew up in Israel and now lives in France. He’s part of the Sephardic side of my husband’s family, which means he grew up eating lots of terrific Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-style cuisine. He doesn’t really like to cook, but when I asked him if he knew any family recipes his eyes lit up.

“There is one dish I know made with dagim (fish). I am not a chef, but this thing I know how to make. My Ima (mother) taught me because it’s my favorite.” He proceeded to explain the recipe to me, which sounded terrific. After a little coaxing, I convinced him to show me the recipe firsthand. We liked it so much that it is now part of our regular meal rotation.

The original name of this recipe is a Hebrew word that is sort of difficult to pronounce: ktzitzot dagim (pronounced ktzee-tzot dahgeem). I call them fish cakes, because that’s in essence what they are– ground fish bound with breadcrumbs, egg, and spices, then fried. My stepdaughter calls them “fish falafel” because they look very similar to fried falafel patties. Whatever you call them, they’re super delish, especially when paired with freshly made tahini sauce. I made a batch yesterday when my friend Sandra was here. She added sriracha to hers which gave it an awesome spicy kick. But then, she adds sriracha to pretty much everything. :)

Moshe suggested using any kind of mild white fish in this recipe – in Israel, his family uses trout or seabream. I usually use fresh whitefish because it’s affordable and the flavor is mild. I think tilapia would probably work well too. I don’t recommend using an expensive fish like halibut or seabass, you won’t notice a big difference in flavor with the seasonings and breadcrumbs and frying. No need to spend extra on a fancy fish fillet.

These Israeli-Style Fish Cakes are bite-sized, which makes them a fun appetizer or finger food. Kids who swear they won’t eat fish will likely change their minds when they try these little patties. The fish flavor becomes quite mild after cooking. The pine nuts add an exotic nutty flavor that really brings the whole dish together. When paired with a soup or salad, it makes an easy and tasty little meal!

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Israeli-Style Fish Cakes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup pinenuts
  • 1 lb. boneless skinless fish fillets (white or mild fish like whitefish, trout or tilapia)
  • 1/2 cup minced onion (about 1 medium onion)
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste (I usually use about 3/4 tsp)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne, or more to taste (very spicy)
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed or olive oil for frying
  • 1/2 cup tahini sauce for dipping (optional - click here for recipe)
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 15 Minutes
Total Time: 30 Minutes
Servings: 20-24 patties
Kosher Key: Pareve
  • Pour the pine nuts into a small skillet and toast them over medium heat for 6-8 minutes till golden and fragrant, stirring constantly. They will go from brown to burned very quickly, so keep a close eye on them. When they are golden, pour them immediately into a large mixing bowl and reserve.
  • Cut the fish fillet into large chunks and place it into a food processor. Pulse just a few times until the fish chunks are coarsely chopped. Do not overprocess or you'll end up with fish mush-- just a few pulses should do the trick. Alternatively, you can chop the fish into small pieces with a sharp knife.
  • Place the chopped fish into the mixing bowl with the pine nuts. Add the onion, breadcrumbs, chopped cilantro, egg, salt, cumin, and cayenne. Stir till all ingredients are well blended.
  • Heat your oil over medium till hot enough for frying. Form 2 tablespoons of fish batter into a small disk and place it into the hot oil. Let it fry till golden on both sides-- if your oil is at the proper temperature, it will take 2-3 minutes per side to become dark golden brown. Start by cooking one fish cake, then taste it after it has cooled slightly. Adjust seasonings in the batter if desired, adding more salt or cayenne if needed (cayenne is very spicy, add with care). Once the batter is seasoned to your liking, continue frying in batches of 4-5 patties at a time.
  • Place cooked patties onto a paper towel to drain.
  • Serve hot. I like to serve these with tahini sauce for dipping (recipe can be found on my website). It would also pair well with aioli, tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, or ketchup for the kids. Try it with sriracha if you're in the mood for something spicy.

Comments (24)Post a Comment

    1. Hi Rhoda! The frying kind of holds it together and gives it a nice crispy texture, so I’m not sure, but it’s worth a try. If I were trying it, I would spray a baking sheet liberally with nonstick oil and bake them at a fairly high temperature (around 400 or so), keeping a close eye and flipping the patties about halfway through cooking. But again, that’s just a guess– I haven’t tested it. If you have a chance to try it, let us know how it works for you!

  1. These look so good! I was wondering–do you think there is another nut that I could substitute for the pine nuts that would still compliment the fish? I love pine nuts, but I don’t always want to splurge on them.

    1. Hi Alana, great question. Pine nuts can be pretty pricey. I can’t think of another nut that would work quite so well as pine nuts (sunflower seeds maybe?), but you can certainly leave the pine nuts out, if you want to– the fish cakes will still taste great. If you have a place nearby that sells pine nuts in bulk, you can buy only the 1/4 cup you need and save some money that way. But feel free to leave them out if you prefer!

  2. These look terrific! I know the texture wouldn’t be the same, but I think they’d be delish with chicken! It’s times like these that it’s the pits being allergic to fish!

  3. Hi Tori – what I love most about this recipe is pine nuts combined with the fish. Terrific pairing. Kudos to Moshe.
    Your final dish looks fabulous…
    LL

  4. Hey Tori-

    My kids love salmon patties so much, but I’m tired of making the same recipe every time. I think I’ll try to mix it up and replace the whitefish for salmon and give this recipe a shot. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  5. Tori – please warn people to read up on the possible toxic reaction to pine nuts grown in China. If you’re not sure that your pine nuts are from the US or from Italy you should check out the article in the following blogwritten by well known chef and cookbook author, Rozanne Gold:
    link to rozannegold.wordpress.com

    1. Great information Barbara, this is the first I’ve heard of it. We eat lots of pine nuts in our home and we’ve never had a problem– we must have well-sourced pine nuts. Thanks for the heads up!

  6. These look great. I used to think cilantro tasted like soap, but now I really like it!
    I make a similar one with canned salmon; I add egg, onion, red bell pepper, bread crumbs, a bit of garlic powder, and salt. I mention this because I bake them, and they come out great.
    I make the mixture pretty wet, dredge the patties in extra breadcrumbs, then bake on an oiled sheet pan. They are great with a dill dip or cold in a sandwich with mayo, tomato, etc. But I love your idea to dip them in tahini!
    So, if the original doesn’t work in the oven, I’ll bet adding an egg to bind it, would do the trick.
    I will definitely try your version. :)

    1. Lisa, I’m so happy that you’ve come to appreciate the flavor of cilantro! I adore it. Thank you for sharing your experience re: baking the fish cakes, I am making these again for my husband this week (he loves them) and I’ll try baking instead of frying.

  7. Hi Tori,
    I’m so looking forward to trying these! I have a # of frozen tilapia fillets, do you think it’s worth trying with those? I would normally bread and fry these anyway, since they were frozen. Also, a here is quick tip that my mother in law shared with me–draining the oil after frying works better on brown paper bags (cut side and turn inside out first). They are more absorbent than paper towels and free, and you don’t have to get another plate dirty as a bonus!

  8. I made these fish cakes earlier in the week, and am pleased to report that they were a huge success with the whole family. My hubby took the leftovers to work the following day and several of his colleagues remarked on how tasty they looked. Needless to say, I have referred them all to your lovely blog.
    p.s In Australia cilantro is known as ‘coriander’, but I’m sure you already knew that!

  9. In the USA, cilantro indicates the fresh herb and coriander is only used to identify the dry herb. I don’t know if any other countries make that distinction. I think most of the world uses the term coriander for any form of the herb.

  10. I made these without the pine nuts (a bit pricey) but baked them for the kids in muffin tins. They were easy to put into school lunch and fun to eat with fingers.

  11. I just made them and they came out delicious, from some reason mine had alittle fishy after taste (i made it from freshly ground tilapia that they grinned for me t the market and i have a feeling that one of the utensils were not clean or had remaining fish….. nobody’s fault but mine! i was lazy to chop by myself so i learned my lesson! over all great recipe

  12. Came across your blog by chance. Love it!!! I have
    made so many of your wonderful recipes for the chagim as
    well as for shabbat.

    Many thanks
    Judy

  13. I tried these with slightly roasted almonds that I roughly chopped and they were great…my grand children loved them and dipped them in hummus and also aeoli. Almonds and fish is an established combination. Thanks for great easy recipe. My grand children are making the next batch…love

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