« Urfa pepper (Recipe: squash, sweet potato and carrot soup) {vegan, gluten-free} | Main | Other People's Pantries #105 »

Garlic (Recipe: Tunisian fish ball tagine)

Tunisian fish ball tagine

Nine things I know about garlic (you'll be glad to know them, too):


  1. Americans came late to garlic as a culinary delicacy, but in Egypt, it was popular 5,000 years ago. So popular, in fact, that slaves building the great pyramids were fed garlic to boost their strength.
  2. The word garlic comes from the Old English garleac, meaning spear leek.
  3. A member of the lily family, garlic contains a variety of powerful sulfur-containing compounds including thiosulfinates, sulfoxides, and dithiins -- none of which sound very appetizing. In fact, it's the crushing of the cells that releases allicin (a thiosulfinate), which creates garlic's distinctive aroma.
  4. To get rid of that aroma on your breath, chew parsley; to neutralize the smell on your hands, rub them on the chrome faucet over your kitchen sink. Really. It works.
  5. The rule of thumb for cooking with garlic is that the finer the chop, the stronger the flavor. Whole cloves impart very mild flavor, which is why chicken with forty cloves of garlic is less intimidating than you'd imagine. Sliced cloves have a bit stronger flavor; minced cloves or those put through a garlic press yield the most intense flavor.
  6. If you plant the cloves in your garden and let them sprout to a height of six inches (before they flower), you'll get something that looks like a scallion but tastes like a chive. Snip these and stir them into scrambled eggs. (True confession: I've had the same cloves planted in my garden for three years. I'm afraid to dig them up now for fear they've mutated into another life form. But every Spring they send up shoots, and I cut them for scrambled eggs.)
  7. It's best to store unpeeled heads of garlic in an open container, in a cool, dry place away from other foods. Best, but not required: I have a lovely wooden bowl from Africa that holds onions and garlic, and an occasional ginger root, on the counter near the stove. If you use garlic (and onion) frequently, it's perfect fine to let them hang out together.
  8. I promise you will use plenty of garlic if you try these recipes: classic garlic bread, homemade chili garlic sauce, garbanzo bean (chickpea) soup with garlic, sumac, olive oil and lemon, honey garlic grilled eggplant, garlic honey asparagus, garlic stuffed mushrooms, or an elegant garlic soup.
  9. According to an Indian proverb, garlic is as good as ten mothers. If, like mine, your mother didn't cook much with garlic, maybe the garlic is better than ten mothers.

Fish ball tagine

Tunisian fish ball tagine

These meatballs are light and airy, and the flavor doesn't scream "fish". Recipe slightly adapted from The Tagine Deck: 25 Recipes for Slow-Cooked Meals, by Joyce Goldstein. Couscous is the perfect accompaniment. Serves 6.


2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro (or use more parsley instead)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp ground cumin
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp harissa
1-1/2 lbs cod (I used cod loin), or other white fish
1-1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 egg
Olive oil for frying

For the sauce:
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
14 oz crushed tomatoes (I used canned)
1-1/2 cups water or clam broth
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
Chopped parsley for garnish


Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Fill a small bowl with cold water and set aside.

To the bowl of a food processor, add the parsley, cilantro, onion, garlic, cumin, salt and harissa. Pulse 10 times until the onion and garlic are minced and everything is well combined. Break the fish into chunks, and add to the processor. Pulse 10 more times or until the fish is minced.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl, and stir in the bread crumbs and egg. Knead with your fingers until the mixture is smooth.

Break off a small piece of the mixture and fry it in a tiny bit of olive oil in a nonstick frying pan. Taste for seasoning, and adjust with salt and pepper if necessary.

Keeping your hands moistened with cold water, form the fish paste into balls approximately one inch in diameter. Set the balls on the baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

To make the sauce: Warm the olive oil in a tagine base or Dutch oven. Add the garlic, crushed tomatoes, water or broth, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and add the fish balls to the sauce. Cover the pan, and cook for 15-20 minutes, turning the fish balls gently in the sauce midway through, until the fish is just cooked through. Garnish with chopped parsley, and serve hot.

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Chicken tagine with prunes and almonds
Salmon tagine with chermoula
Braised fish, Tunisian style
Lamb tagine with prunes and apricots

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Oh wow, this sounds so delicious. Add this to the list of things you must cook for me sometime.

Super! Recipes using harissa are nice, too.

These sound good. My only experience with fish balls is visiting the Asian market and seeing what seemed like hundreds of various frozen fish balls for sale. Kinda overwhelming and confusing. I've never eaten them, but might try these!

I'm going to try this next week.

Another great use of garlic which I came to know when I became a father. The mother is asked to eat lots of garlic in order to boost breast milk production for the newborn....amazing, isn't it?

Well I used to love roasting lots and lots of whole cloves until they were cooked and caramelized, for both of us to gorge on.

Love this idea, 'fish meatballs'!

Some thoughts to add on garlic:

It's easy to grow your own, in mid-October just stick some cloves in the ground pointed end up a couple of inches apart. In the spring, green shoots will come out of the ground, if you'd pick them then, they'd be called 'green garlic' - akin to scallions and considered a delicacy in many parts. But if you want actual garlic cloves, leave them in the ground! In mid-May, the plants will all of a sudden sprout 'scapes' - tall, gangly looking sticks. Cut these off right down to the quick. In early July, dig up the cloves, brush them off and start cooking!

Garlic chives can be VERY invasive, I regret planting them even in containers on my brick patio because they now sprout between the bricks and even Round-Up is worthless for killing them off. Good thing that the August tall flowers are so beautiful -- the saving grace!

I received The Tajine Deck for Christmas and was thinking of making this recipe! Thanks for the lovely picture and the added inspiration to make it!

Very, very cool facts and tasty-looking meal. Yum!


I'm proud to say that I east garlic almost every day...super food!

Cod fish is ideal for fish cakes or balls in this case. Classic North African flavours which i adore.

Oh wow, this sounds new and different and just yummy!

Kalyn, it will be my pleasure!

Deena, I'm such a fan of harissa. There's always a tube in my fridge.

Alta, that's totally intimidating to me, too. And it's so easy to make these in a food processor -- or even without one, if you mince the fish by hand. You can season them any way you wish, too.

Can-Can, I hope you do. It's a beautiful dish.

Sri, does the garlic flavor the milk? I'm going to add this to my next "things I know about garlic" list. Thanks!

Alanna, thank you for the advice about growing garlic. I planted garlic chives in my garden, too, and they definitely have a mind of their own. The bees really love the flowers, too.

Kirsten, this was the first recipe I tried from the deck, and I've got several more marked. It's a beautiful collection of recipes.

Paz, Noble Pig: thanks so much. I hope you'll try this; it's so delicious.

Peter, the cod loin we get here in New England is my favorite cut. It's almost lost on these fish balls, but I love it for roasting or braising, too.

wow, look at that, I'm already drooling, great color, looks delicious

these look incredible! thanks so much for sharing!

love your site and i am DEFINITELY making this recipe! thanks!

Those fish balls look really fabulous. My 9yo isn't up to speed with chile yet, but I'm working on it (she doesn't know, don't tell!)

I'll try these on her with just a pinch.

Bob, Shannon, Crunchy: yep, this is a beautiful dish as well as being a delicious one. I do hope you'll try it.

Neil, I didn't get up to speed with chile until my 20s, or 30s, so your 9 year old is probably a bit ahead of me! Anyway, I won't tell, I promise.

Lydia: quesiton....what are you referring to as a cod loin? full fillet? nape?
DEF. on my list to make now....probably next week when i get the CSF fish!

Thanks much!

The only person to know whether garlic flavors the milk would be the newborn :-)but by the way they drink up the milk doesn't look like it would be the case.

These fish balls were wonderful! Easy to prepare and very tasty!

Our local grocery store was out of cod so I made it with basa. It was light, full of flavour (I'm Canadian...we add the "u" to flavour!) and gobbled up as an appetizer at our New Year's Eve party last night.

I think I would add MORE garlic to it because it was not as "forward" a taste as I had hoped.

Thanks for posting the recipe. It was yummy!

Judith, more garlic to taste, and depending on the "fishiness" of the fish you use, can only make this better! So glad you enjoyed it (and I love the idea of making this as an appetizer). Happy New Year.

There is an important step missing that is in the original recipe: brown the meatballs in olive oil before adding to the tomato sauce! I followed the recipe above, and it made a steamed, mushy fish mess.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.