11th Commandment: There Is One Golden Rule When Making Fish Balls

Also: Soups to cool you down in the summer.

Fish balls
Fish balls. Dan Peretz

Fish, meat or vegetable balls are simple, and no matter how many you’ve made, you usually find you haven’t made enough. The smaller and more numerous they are, the tastier, when theyre soaked in a sauce that drips on to white rice or fresh challah.

The balls are made in a pot you can place in the center of the table, so everyone can reach in and take more sauce, which must always be a little spicy or salty to encourage diners to sip a little more arak or wine. That makes the food easier to digest and you avoid feeling too stuffed. They can be made from meat, fish, vegetables or even bread and onions. With a rich, creamy or spicy sauce, they make a memorable meal.

Fish balls: the mixture

There is one rule for making good fish balls – use excellent, fresh fish. You can have the fishmonger remove the skin, but keep the bones and heads to make a good fish stock. Almost any fish will do, but I prefer white-fleshed saltwater fish. It’s a good idea to mix several different kinds of fish together. Fish balls made with fatty trout are also quite delicious, but a little lemon should be added to lighten the taste. In contrast to frozen fish, when using fresh fish you don’t need to add an egg, and you could also forgo the dry bread.

More advanced and adventurous cooks may want to try adding a filet of pickled matjas herring or smoked mackerel to enrich the flavor.

Ingredients:

1 kilo filet of white-fleshed sea fish, skin and bones removed

¼ cup olive oil

1 medium onion

2 garlic cloves

2 thick slices stale bread, crusts removed

12 sprigs parsley

leaves of 4 sprigs of mint

juice of ½ lemon

sea salt

coarsely ground black pepper

Preparation:

Grind the fish in a meat grinder on the coarse setting, or finely chop it with a knife and place in a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet, chop the onion and sauté until lightly golden. Crush the garlic, add it to the onion, stir and turn off the heat. Dampen the bread with water, squeeze well and crumble into the fried 
onion. Combine well and let the mixture cool a little. Chop the parsley and mint and add to the ground fish along with the lemon juice. Add the onion, garlic and bread mixture, with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and knead the contents of the bowl together to make a smooth, thick paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.

Spicy fish balls

These are a great thing to eat on a Friday afternoon when you’re hungry but don’t want to ruin your appetite for dinner. The only challenge is not to finish off all the challah and sauce before it’s time to sit down at the Shabbat table. The level of spiciness is open to interpretation, but if it doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, we haven’t done our job.

Ingredients:

5 sweet red peppers

1-2 hot green peppers

1 bunch cilantro

8 peeled garlic cloves

½ cup (120 ml) olive oil

1 heaping tbsp sweet paprika

1 heaping tsp hot Moroccan paprika in oil

1 scant tsp turmeric

sea salt

500 grams of the fish mixture

Preparation:

Cut the sweet peppers into strips and the hot pepper into slices. Place the cilantro in a uniform layer on the bottom of a pot and sprinkle the sweet peppers, hot peppers and peeled garlic cloves on top. Season with a little sea salt, pour on the olive oil, cover the pot and place on low heat for 30-40 minutes at a gentle simmer. If necessary, add a tablespoon or two of water so the mixture doesn’t burn.

Sprinkle the paprika and turmeric on top and use a spoon to make sure the spices are absorbed in the liquid. Tilt the pot gently from side to side until the mixture is evenly covered. Simmer, covered, over a low flame for another 10 minutes, until the cooking liquid is bright red and the oil floats to the surface.

Shape the fish mixture into walnut-sized balls, dip them in the sauce, then turn them over. Arrange a single layer atop the peppers and gently tilt the pan so that the sauce coats them but doesn’t cover them. Salt lightly and simmer, covered, for another 20 minutes.

Bring the pot to the table with two fresh challahs and some chilled arak. The challah soaks up the sauce, the arak cools off the spiciness.

 

Fish balls with lemon and béchamel

This is one of my very favorite things to eat. It reminds me of Greek casseroles, with fresh parsley, olives and lemon slices on the side.

Ingredients:

2 large onions

1 lemon (preferably organic)

4 garlic cloves

¼ cup (60 ml) dry white wine

sea salt

coarsely ground black 
pepper

500 grams of the fish 
mixture

2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil for frying

 

For the béchamel:

150 gr butter

6 tbsp (60 gr) white flour

3 cups milk

100 gr grated hard cheese (Parmesan or Pecorino)

ground white pepper

salt to taste

¼ tsp grated nutmeg

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.

Slice the onion into rings and separate. Heat the olive oil in a broad skillet and sauté the onions until golden. Rinse the lemon well and chop it (including the peel). Chop two garlic cloves, add to the skillet and stir. Add the white wine. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes until the wine evaporates. Season with salt and pepper and transfer in an even layer to an oven-proof glass or ceramic casserole dish.

Shape round patties from the fish mixture and fry for two minutes on each side in a little olive oil until they are 
stable but still soft and 
uncooked inside. Arrange the patties over the layer of lemon and onion in the pan.

In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over a low flame. Gradually add the flour, stirring constantly, until it is completely blended with the butter and there are no lumps. Slowly add the milk and keep stirring until the mixture is smooth. When the béchamel is warm, add the grated cheese, pepper, salt and nutmeg and keep simmering while stirring, until the texture thickens a bit to the consistency of thin porridge. Be careful not to let the butter and flour burn. Pour the béchamel over the patties and tilt the pan so it spreads from side to side and the patties look like little golden islands in the middle of it. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes until the béchamel is lightly browned, especially on the edges. Serve warm with thick slabs of challah and a glass of chilled white wine.

Soup for summer
 
We can forecast the weather from what’s on our plates. When cold winter winds are gusting, we warm ourselves with a hot bowl of soup, and when rain lashes the windows, we dip into a pot of cholent. On scorching hot days, we look for sweet, cool watermelon to quench our thirst, and when the sun is high in the sky and the air is steamy, we nibble on a piece of tzfatit cheese along with some juicy tomato.

I myself like to eat soup all year long, even on days when the humidity is intense. This love for soup is something that has stayed with me from the Diaspora, perhaps, but I also pour into it what my new-old homeland has given me. Instead of waiting it for it to be cold outside so I can warm myself with soup, I let the hot and the cold mix together and enjoy some summer soup that is just as refreshing as a crisp slice of fresh watermelon.

Summer vegetable soup

The stock is made with peppers and tomatoes and lots of fresh herbs. The liquid will have a reddish-orange color, is very flavorful, slightly tart and not heavy in the least. While the stock alone is wonderful and balanced, adding raw vegetables or tinned fish or meat gives it an especially rich texture and character.

Serve the soup as a first course or as a meal in itself. One option is to serve the stock in individual bowls, and then place all the possible additions on a tray positioned in the center of the table, so each diner can choose for himself. Before you know it you’ve finished off the first combo and are eager to try another.

Ingredients:

1 leek

3 carrots

1 celery root

1 parsley root

2 fennel bulbs

1 head of garlic

2 tomatoes

½ lemon

1 red pepper

5 celery stalks

12 parsley sprigs

4 sprigs fresh thyme

leaves from 3 sprigs of mint

3 bay leaves

10 allspice berries

sea salt

coarsely ground black pepper

Preparation:

Rinse and clean the leek well, cut into several large pieces and place in a wide, deep soup pot. Peel the carrots, celery root and parsley root and cut the fennel into quarters. With a sharp knife, slice off the garlic tops so the cloves are exposed. Add everything to the pot.

Peel the tomatoes, slice the unpeeled lemon into very thin slices and add to the pot along with the peppers, celery stalks, herbs, bay leaves and allspice. Pour in enough water to cover plus a bit more (about 5 liters) and bring to a boil over high heat. When a grayish foam begins to accumulate on the surface, skim it off with a large spoon and keep doing so until the liquid is clear.

When the stock is boiling, lower the heat, cover and simmer for half an hour. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper as needed then keep simmering for 20 minutes more. Strain the stock and transfer to a clean pot or tureen. Pour some of the hot soup into the serving bowls after diners have assembled their selected extras. Wait a minute and then enjoy with a glass of chilled white wine.

Sardine and pea soup

Ingredients for 4 servings:

12 snow pea pods
peas from 10 fresh pods
1 light zucchini
2 tomatoes
4 filets of tinned sardines
Stock from Summer Vegetable Soup recipe

Preparation:

Remove stems from the snow pea pods and pull off the thin thread along each pod. Cut the pods in half and set aside. Shell the fresh peas. Rinse the zucchini and dice it into small cubes, together with the peel. Peel the tomatoes and dice them.

In each bowl, place one sardine filet and add a little of the snow peas, garden peas,
zucchini and tomatoes. Pour the hot stock over the ingredients and serve.

Asparagus and prosciutto soup

Ingredients for 4 servings:
12 asparagus spears
1 fresh head of broccoli
8 thin slices of prosciutto
Parmesan cheese

Stock from Summer Vegetable Soup recipe

Preparation:

Peel the asparagus and trim off the tough lower parts of the stalks. Slice the stalks into 2-3 cm-long pieces. Break the broccoli into florets and throw out the fibrous stalks.

Place two slices of prosciutto in each bowl and cover with the pieces of asparagus and broccoli. Pour the hot stock on top, grate in a few shavings of Parmesan and serve.