Recipe: Indian-Spiced Fish Cakes with Zucchini Relish

Zahra Sethna

Zahra Sethna › Rustik Magazine focuses on practical tools and techniques for rural and urban self-sufficiency and sustainability. The ...


Whether they’re called ‘pempek’ or ‘pasties’, ‘croquettes’ or ‘chops’, fish cakes are a staple of cuisines around the world. Some variation of fish cakes can be found in most coastal cultures, from Thailand to Denmark to Puerto Rico.

Nova Scotia is no exception. In this part of Canada, as well as most of New England, fish cakes were traditionally made with dried, salted cod. For fish cakes, the cod was soaked and reconstituted, then mixed with mashed potato, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried in rendered salt pork. The result would have been a hearty but somewhat bland dish, perfect for hard-working fishermen.

This variation intensifies the flavor of the traditional fish cake with bold Indian spices. It also uses fresh fish in place of the salted, preserved fish. Salmon can easily take on the zesty spices, but any mild white fish–such as haddock, pollock or cod–also works well.

Some variation of fish cakes can be found in most coastal cultures.

Chow chow is the perfect accompaniment for fish cakes. This pickled relish is generally made with green tomatoes and other vegetables and brings a nice spike of flavor and sweetness to the plate. Although chow chow is often associated with the southern United States, it actually originates in Nova Scotia. The recipe made its way down south with Acadian French who were expelled from Nova Scotia by the British in the 18th century.

This recipe puts a twist on chow chow by using zucchini and apples in place of green tomatoes and cabbage.

Serves 6
For the Fish Cakes

about 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into equal sized cubes

½ lb filet of fish (salmon, pollock, haddock or cod)

½ tsp garam masala

¼ tsp curry powder

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground cumin

2 scallions, finely chopped

1 tsp fresh ginger, pulped or finely minced

1 fresh red chili, seeds removed and finely chopped

2 tbsp fresh cilantro, leaves and thin stems finely chopped

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup breadcrumbs


olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste



For the Spicy Zucchini Relish

2 large zucchini, diced

2 apples, diced with peel on

1 large white onion, chopped

a 2-inch piece of ginger, grated or finely minced

1 large clove of garlic, finely minced

2 or 3 medium Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon mixed spice (mixture of allspice, ground clove, nutmeg and cinnamon)

1 tablespoon crushed red chilies

1 cup white wine vinegar


For the Fish Cakes

  1. Put the potatoes in a large pot filled with water and boil.
  2. Rinse the fish, pat it dry and wrap it in foil. Bake at 350º F for 15-20 minutes, until fully cooked. Remove it from oven, open the foil and allow it to cool.
  3. When the potatoes are soft, drain them into a large mixing bowl. After they have cooled a bit, add the scallions, chili, cilantro, ginger and ground spices. Season with salt and pepper, add a knob of butter and mash.
  4. Flake the fish into large chunks.
  5. Add one of the beaten eggs to the potato mixture, then gently fold in the salmon. If it is easier, use your hands to mix.
  6. Shape the mixture into cakes, and dip each one in the remaining beaten egg to coat. Dredge each cake in breadcrumbs, fully coating all sides.
  7. Heat a frying pan with about half an inch of olive oil over medium heat. When hot, gently add the cakes and cook, turning once or twice, until they are browned evenly on all sides. Do not overcrowd the pan.
  8. Remove from the pan and drain fish cakes on a plate lined with a few layers of paper towel.

For the Spicy Zucchini Relish

  1. Place all ingredients in a large cooking pot and slowly bring to a simmer.
  2. Cook, uncovered, for about two hours, until liquid has mostly evaporated and mixture becomes thick and slightly jammy. Stir often to prevent sticking.
  3. If possible, make ahead and preserve for at least three or four weeks, to allow flavours to mature.

(To preserve relish: Fill mixture into three sterilized pint jars, leaving about half an inch of head space. Close lids and process in boiling water for ten minutes. Mixture should keep for about a year if properly preserved.)


Do you have your own twist on the traditional fish cakes? Tell us about it.

Photo credit: Zahra Sethna


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