Fish cakes (cutlesi ya samaki)

A taste of Zanzibar

A taste of Zanzibar (chakula kizuri), 96pp.
by Zarina Jafferji
The Gallery Publications, Zanzibar, 2002
Cooking on page 32–33

A few years back Poor John and I had several magical days in Zanzibar.

Even though we stayed in a rather basic hostel, Zanzibar was a perfect R&R stop after many months of travelling through Africa on the back of an overland truck.

We had some fantastic meals and plenty of time to explore Stone Town’s seemingly endless maze of narrow streets and alleys, lined with houses, shops, bazaars and mosques. We also enjoyed a day-long spice tour, learning how these ‘nuggets of flavour’ are grown, harvested and processed in a place that is also known as the Spice Island.

Zanzibar is a historic trade crossroads so, not surprisingly, its cuisine has been influenced by African, Indian and Arabian flavours. I hoped to buy a cookbook while I was there, but no luck. So was pleased to find that Pareen, a friend who grew up in Uganda, was happy to share this collection of Swahili recipes.

Today I’m cooking fish cakes on page 32.

Fish cakes

Fish cakes (cutlesi ya samaki)

1 1/2 lbs fish
3 medium onions, finely chopped
3 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed OR
3 slices soaked bread (squeeze out the water)
fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tsp garam masala
pinch of ground turmeric
lemon juice to taste
salt and pepper to taste
3 eggs, beaten
oil for frying

Fish cake mixture

Boil the fish with a little salt. Debone the fish and put to one side. Put the next 11 ingredients in a food processor, including the bread or potatoes, and blend together.

Lastly add the fish and blend for a second. Roll each spoonful into a ball and then flatten into fish cake size, coating well with breadcrumbs. Dip the fish cakes into the well beaten eggs and shallow fry over a medium heat, turning once or twice until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve on a bed of salad.

Serves 6.

Fish cakes Fish cakes

How it played out
Four of us were going to enjoy these, so I made two-thirds of a batch. I worked with boneless fillets of snapper that I had thawed overnight, a third of a bunch of coriander (cilantro) and lime juice rather than lemon.

The patties were easy to bring together and held their shape. I liked the fact the fish wasn’t to be buzzed for too long, so that some chunks remained in the mixture.

My breadcrumbs were quite coarse so I needed all three eggs for dipping the cakes before frying. Oh, I shallow fried the patties in peanut oil, and served them with tangy coriander and yoghurt sauces.

The coriander sauce was buzzed up in the food processor. I used a bunch of fresh coriander, 1/2 a jalapeño (mostly deseeded), 1/4 teaspoon salt, 3–4 tablespoons vinegar and 3 tablespoons yoghurt.

I stirred the yoghurt sauce together in a bowl. It had 1/2 cup of yoghurt, 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1 clove of crushed garlic, a little salt and 2 teaspoons of water (just to give a good consistency).

fish cakes

Fish cakes by Sy. Thanks for the contribution!

Delicious fish cakes that were really enhanced by the coriander and yoghurt sauces. Next time I’ll be tempted to add a couple of finely chopped green chillies, but otherwise no need to change a thing.

Two-thirds of a batch made 8 cakes about 3 inches (7.5 centimetres) in diameter.

P.S. If you have a chance, please stop by my travel blog.


About leggypeggy

Intrepid overland traveller, keen photographer, avid cook—known to jump out of airplanes and do other silly things. Do not act my age.
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8 Responses to Fish cakes (cutlesi ya samaki)

  1. Sy S. says:

    Hello LeggyPeggy, it is the “Mad Cook” (like a scientist) writing LOL. You know I am going to try this one. However, true to form I will improvise, use what I have and vary the recipe a little? ! Like, I am considering using Instant Mashed Potatoes and have some fresh dill in the refrigerator… and Panko bread crumbs. Plus your idea of using some chopped hot pepper and lime juice sounds interesting! What do you think ?

  2. Sy S. says:

    Well, here is the “Mad Cook” posting again! LOL I made this recipe and it was an experiment in learning. The fish cake mix was not to binding when I tried to form it…. I dipped it into the egg and it tended to fall apart, so had to squeeze it somewhat (with the egg) and then slightly & genteelly turn it in the Panko crumbs. After frying they formed fairly well… but some over fried (reluctant to turn them and fall apart). The mixture was Cod fish, cilantro, grated carrot and celery, Italian pepper, 1/2 cup Instant Potato Spuds and the various spices. The best part of the recipe was the yogurt sauce with lime, vinegar etc. YUMMY! Since this is a fried recipe, I don’t think I will be making it again… but it was a good one in general!

    Tx, LeggyPeggy!

    Sy S.

    • leggypeggy says:

      Hi Mad Cook
      I’m guessing the grated carrot and celery might have added just enough extra moisture to make your cakes hard to control. 🙂 But I agree that the yogurt sauce is a winner. I’ve used it for lots of dishes and it’s always enjoyed.

  3. Sy S. says:

    P.S. Sometimes food tastes better the second day. I re-heated some fish cakes in my micro wave… and it tasted good. My brother asked, where is the fish (not to fishy)… because I added fillers (like instant potatoes, grated carrots) and maybe if I used whole potato shavings, the fish cakes might have had a different texture and taste. Bottom line, I just might make this recipe again. Fairly easy to make, can off-set the high price of fish by adding fillers… and easy to re-heat for another meal.

    • leggypeggy says:

      I know what you mean about food that tastes better on the second day. Many dishes with spices mellow and meld beautifully overnight. Your brother is right, these cakes don’t have a fishy taste. And you are right that it’s a good recipe to make pricey fish go further. So glad you made it. I’d like to post your photo. Okay?

  4. Sy S. says:

    With adding the grated carrots, and one celery stick chopped…. the basic fish/veggy mixture was too dry (maybe the instant dry potato (1/2 cup) absorbed some of the moisture? Next time I might add a little water, broth or cornstarch..? to get it to bind a little better.

    No problem posting my photo..

    Sy S.

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