Egyptian Ground Fish Balls with Tomato and Cumin (Bellahat)

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Yield: About

    8

    servings

Appears in

Favored by Egyptian Jews as a prelude to Sabbath and holiday meals, this easy-to-prepare, well-seasoned alternative to gefilte fish requires no poaching in fish stock and can be made with any white-fleshed fish. The pungent cumin that flavors bellahat tastes like today, but it is an ancient spice, sold by the Hebrews during biblical times in herb markets, and used in their soups, stews, and breads.

Simple tomato sauce, galvanized by extra-virgin olive oil and lemon, cloaks the fish balls in this version from Corinne Rossabi, an excellent home cook raised in Egypt. When summer collides headlong with fall, I prepare a tomato and pepper sauce variation from the explosion of red, orange, and yellow at my local greenmarket.

Ingredients

Fish Balls

  • pounds flounder, haddock, cod, scrod, sole, hake, sea bass, snapper, grouper, or other nonoily white fish fillets, skin and any bones discarded
  • ½ cup matzoh meal
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Cayenne (I usually use about ¼ teaspoon—I like this rather spicy, the traditional Egyptian way—but season to your taste)
  • Olive or vegetable oil, for frying

Sauce

  • 2 cups good-quality canned whole tomatoes with their juice, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fine-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Soft-Leafed Lettuce, for Lining the Platter Optional Accompaniments

  • chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, lemon quarters

Method

  1. Make the fish balls. Cut the fish into 1-inch pieces. In a food processor, puree them with the matzoh meal, eggs, garlic, salt, cumin, and cayenne until the mixture is smooth. Transfer the puree to a large bowl and refrigerate it, covered, for 1 hour. With moistened hands, shape the mixture into 16 slightly flattened logs, using a scant ¼ cup for each, and transfer them as they are formed to a sheet of wax paper. Heat ¼ inch of oil over high heat in a large, heavy skillet until it is hot but not smoking. Add the fish balls in batches, and fry, turning them once, until pale golden. Transfer the balls as they are fried to paper towels to drain.
  2. Make the tomato sauce. Wipe out the skillet thoroughly. Add the tomatoes and their juice, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste and cook over high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break up and the sauce is thickened. Add the fish balls and simmer the mixture over low heat, covered, for 15 minutes, turning the fish balls once or twice. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the bellahat to cool in the sauce.
  3. Line a platter with the lettuce leaves, arrange the bellahat on them, and spoon the sauce over the fish. Sprinkle with parsley or cilantro and accompany with lemon quarters, if desired. Serve the fish chilled or at room temperature.

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