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
- 1/4 cup pinenuts
- 1 pound 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 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste (I usually use about 3/4 tsp)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon 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)
- 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.