Mini Fish Cakes with Spicy Tahini Aioli

Mini Fish Cakes with Spicy Tahini Aioli

Last year, one of my at-the-time roommates who is Jewish invited us to join him in celebrating Rosh Hashannah. I have had my share of Chabbat celebrations but this was a first in celebrating Rosh Hashanah, though I knew a lot about the traditions of this holiday from my grandparents. When I was a child I always anticipated the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippour celebrations in Fall with excitement because, even though we never actually celebrated those holidays with my parents, my grandmother would always send us little individual almond and dried fruit filled breads for each member of the family in a package through the mail.  Even when we lived in the US, she’d Fedex us our little Yom Kippour breads across the Atlantic! We’d have them for breakfast for an entire week and it was the best breakfast of the year.

Our roommate moved back to Europe a few months ago, but one year has rolled by since that first Rosh Hashanah celebration in 2012 and as the holiday neared by again this year, my roommates and close friends all seemed eager to repeat last year’s dinner and counted on me to lead them in these festivities. I suspect the delicious Rosh Hashanah food had something to do with it. But even though I was the only person in the group with Jewish origins, I realized they were all genuinely interested in discovering more about Jewish traditions, and so I agreed to come up with a menu for this year’s Rosh Hashanah that would honor recipes from Jewish Sephardic cuisine. Ingredients like apples, honey, pomegranate, squash, dates, lamb, fish and chickpeas are important for this holiday, and I got my friends to all participate in the making of this dinner which was a great occasion for them to dabble in Jewish-Arabic cooking. Aside from these fish cakes, we also ate a delicious lamb galette with squash, apples, dates and a chickpea flour crust, roasted pepper salad, braised eggplants and carrots with cumin seeds and an out-of-this world honey cake which I promise to post soon.  All of that in the ambiance of Sephardic music and discussions on what the spirit of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippour mean, reflections on the year that has passed and making plans for the year to come.

I’ve always been interested in exploring more culinary traditions from my Sephardic roots, either from my grandmother’s Jewish-Algerian repertoire of recipes or from other Maghreb and Mediterranean countries that share similar traditions in cooking. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have such fond childhood memories of my grandmother’s Sephardic cuisine, from roasted pepper salad to couscous and honey-filled cigar-shaped pastries. And beyond my grandmother’s recipes, my taste buds are in general very responsive to traditional foods of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern diets: hummus, baba ganoush, tajine and couscous, labneh and goat cheese, dried fruit, zaa’thar spice, lamb kebabs, olives, mackerels and sardines, fava beans, I could go on and on and oooon but I also want to leave some mystery as to what could be coming your way in future blog posts.  Yes indeed, I’ve decided that I want to dig a little deeper in culinary traditions from the Sephardic heritage as well as from Mediterranean cuisine, especially from North Africa, Israel and the South of France which is where I spent so many Summers, so you can expect more of these types of recipes to come on the blog. I can’t speak fondly enough of how my grandmother made me appreciate cooking as a child: I used to love helping her make cookies or just watching her prepare Chabbat dinner on Fridays, which reminds me of a topic I was discussing the other day with friends on the importance of getting children to participate in cooking at home. But I’ll leave that subject for another blog post.

Mini Fish Cakes with Spicy Tahini Aioli
These mini fishcakes or fish balls are typical of Jewish Maghreb cuisine though they were never a classic recipe in my grandmother’s house. The tahini aioli just makes it that much more Mediterranean, and it was a fabulous addition with a squeeze of fresh lemon!

Full disclosure: I only get credit for putting the recipe together and taking pictures on this one, in reality someone else was hard at work in the kitchen cutting up the fish, combining the ingredients, making the balls and frying them in the pan. Thanks to my darling roommate Pilou and chef friend Bia for lending such a helpful hand, these were a real success at dinner!

Recipe: Mini Fish Cakes with Spicy Tahini Aioli

Makes 30-35 mini fish cakes

2.2 lbs (1 kg) of boneless whitefish, cod or hake
Mini Fish Cakes with Spicy Tahini Aioli

1 onion

6 cloves of garlic, minced

3 branches of flat parsley

3 branches of fresh cilantro

1 egg

1/2 cup of manioc flour (you can probably use almond flour but I did not test)

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt

Freshly ground pepper

For the Spicy Tahini Aioli

Makes about 2 cups

1 cup of Paleo Mayonnaise

1/2 cup Tahini

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and pressed

Juice of one lime (about 4 tbsp)

1/2 tbsp sweet paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Drizzle of olive oil

Salt and pepper


1. Start by making the aioli: Combine the mayonnaise (recipe here by Eat Drink Paleo), tahini, lemon juice, paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt. Smash the garlic cloves and add them in using a garlic presser. Add some olive oil if the sauce is too thick. Refrigerate until ready to serve with the fish cakes.

2. Pat the fish filets dry with paper towel. Cut up the fish into very small cubes (you can grind it in your food processor if you have one). Remove any excess water by pressing down the fish pieces into a strainer, then place in a large mixing bowl.

3. Cook the onion and the minced garlic in a little olive oil in a skillet for 10 minutes on low heat. Cover halfway through so the onion softens and becomes flavorful with the garlic. Remove from heat and let cool.

4. Chop the parsley and cilantro and add to the fish with the ginger, salt, pepper and the cooked onion and garlic. Add the egg, flaxmeal and manioc flour. Add more flour if the batter doesn’t quite hold together.

5. Take about half a tablespoon of batter and shape into round balls using your hands.

6. Heat olive oil in a large pan and cook the fish cakes in batches until brown and crispy, about 4 minutes on each side. Remove them from the pan and set them on a plate lined with paper towel to soak up excess oil.

These can either be served immediately or made in advance and eaten cold or reheated in the oven. They are great as an appetizer served with lemon wedges and the spicy tahini aioli.

Shared on The Paleo RodeoMarvelous Mondays, Natural Living MondayHealthy Tuesdays, Gluten-free Wednesdays, Real Food WednesdaysFresh Foods Wednesday, Tasty Traditions, Simple Meals FridayFight Back Fridays

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