Fish balls in tamarind-curry sauce inspired by the flavors of Indian and Iraqi jewish communities. (Photo/Faith Kramer)
Fish balls in tamarind-curry sauce inspired by the flavors of Indian and Iraqi jewish communities. (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Serve a lucky fish dish to mark the Jewish leap year

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

We’re about to feel the “leap” in the Jewish leap year of 5784, with the addition of a second month of Adar. You can celebrate by serving this spicy, sweet-tart dish of Fish Balls in Tamarind-Curry Sauce.

The recipe is inspired by Jewish symbols for good fortune (fish) and a full life (round foods), with flavors drawn from Iraqi and Indian Jewish communities.

The lunisolar Hebrew calendar gains the second month of Adar seven times within each full 19-year cycle. (Coincidentally, 2024 is also a leap year on the secular calendar with the once-every-four-year addition of Feb. 29.)

Adar is associated with good fortune because it includes the holiday of Purim. The symbol of Adar, the fish, is seen as innocent, fertile and untouched by evil.

Adar I begins the evening of Feb. 8.  Adar II begins the evening of March 9.

The recipe includes make-ahead directions for both parts of the dish. For a milder version, you can remove the seeds or use fewer jalapeños. You can serve the dish over rice or with bread to sop up the tangy, vegetable-packed sauce.


Fish Balls in Tamarind-Curry Sauce

Serves 4-6

  • Fish Balls (see below)
  • 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1-2 tsp. minced jalapeño
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 1½ cups chopped carrots (½-inch pieces)
  • 1½ cups chopped turnip (½-inch pieces)
  • 1½ cups chopped potato (½-inch pieces)
  • 2 cups chopped eggplant (½-inch pieces)
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs. tamarind paste or concentrate, plus as needed
  • 1 Tbs. sugar, plus as needed
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro, divided
  • 4 cups chopped kale
  • Tomato paste, if needed
  • Lemon slices

Prepare fish balls (see below).

Heat oil over medium-high heat in wide, deep skillet or pot. Sauté onion until soft, 10 minutes. Sauté jalapeño, ginger and garlic until garlic is golden, 2 minutes. Stir in curry powder, salt and black pepper. Add carrots and turnips. Sauté 5 minutes. Add potatoes and eggplant. Sauté 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and water. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer (adjusting heat as needed), stirring occasionally, until vegetables are just tender (20-25 minutes).

Stir in lemon juice, tamarind and sugar. Return to simmer. Add ¼ cup cilantro and kale. Simmer until vegetables are cooked. Sauce should be the consistency of a thin stew or thick soup. If too thin, simmer with cover off or stir in tomato paste by the teaspoon. If too thick, add water by the tablespoon.

Taste, adding salt if desired. Stir in additional tamarind or sugar as needed until sauce is pleasantly tart. Refrigerate up to 3 days. Taste again for tartness after reheating.

To serve, reheat fish in sauce. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro. Serve lemon slices on the side.


Fish Balls

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 to 3 tsp. minced jalapeño
  • ¼ cup packed chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cup packed chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 lb. skinless cod filet, chopped
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. ground cumin
  • ⅛ tsp. ground turmeric
  • ⅛ tsp. ground coriander
  • ⅛ tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • About ¾ cup cooked basmati rice

Chop (in food processor or by hand) onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeño, cilantro, parsley and fish until very finely minced. Transfer to large bowl. Stir in salt, pepper, cumin, sugar, turmeric and coriander. Mix in lemon zest, lemon juice and ½ cup rice. Shape into compact 1 ¼-inch balls. If mixture is loose, gradually add remaining rice. If dry, add water by tablespoon.

Bring large pot of water to simmer over high heat. Add fish. Adjust heat. Simmer, covered, turning occasionally until just firm, 12-15 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon. Drain on wire rack. Refrigerate up to 1 day. Reheat in sauce.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is faithkramer.com. Contact her at [email protected].