Moroccan Sardine Balls with Spicy Tomato Sauce

I bought some fresh sardines a short while ago and stupidly didn’t use them immediately. So they’ve been in the freezer ever since. I had to use them today so decided instead of serving them whole, with some kind of dressing, that I would make this Moroccan dish – the fish moulded into balls, served alongside a spicy tomato dipping sauce. A great appetizer dish – intense balls of sardine flavour which complimented the sweet, spicy sauce perfectly.

Makes approximately 12 balls.

INGREDIENTS:
Sardine Balls:

6 fresh sardines (gutted, boned and cleaned)
handful of fresh coriander
salt & pepper
1 garlic clove (mashed)
1/2 lemon (juice of)
3 tablespoons fine semolina
vegetable or mild olive oil for deep frying

Tomato Sauce:
1/2 red onion (very finely chopped)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
400g chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt & pepper

DIRECTIONS:
To make the sardine balls:
Place the sardines, coriander, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper into a food processor. Pulse the mixture into a rough paste. Remove and mould a little of the paste into walnut sized balls. Roll them in the semolina and arrange on a plate. Repeat with the remaining paste then place in the fridge for 2 hours until firmed up.

To make the sauce: Heat a medium saucepan with the oil over a moderate heat. Add the onion and fry gently for 4-5 minutes until transparent and lightly golden. Add the chilli, cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper and sugar and stir briefly. Pour in the tomatoes and bring to a light simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 20 minutes until thickened. Check for seasoning then remove from the heat to cool.

To cook the sardine balls:
Heat about 4cm of oil in a medium saucepan until hot but not smoking. Drop in a few balls and cook them for 4-5 minutes each until golden brown. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle over a little salt and serve immediately.

SERVING:
Serve the balls with a side of dipping sauce and a lemon wedge to squeeze over. You can serve the tomato sauce hot or cold – up to you.

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