Pilchard frikkadels wrapped in cabbage leaves


If there really is a country on earth that has not come up with some version of a frikkadel wrapped in cabbage, they have likely not discovered it yet. The word, frikkadel (the Afrikaans word for meatball) comes from the French fricandeau or fricandel and by the mid-1600s, the Dutch in the Cape referred to them as frikedillen. But the concept of wrapping meatballs in cabbage – or vine leaves – goes all the way back to ancient Greece. This recipe is based on the South African heritage classic, Ouma onder die Kombers (granny under a blanket), which comprises minced meat wrapped in cabbage. But in this version, I’ve substituted the mince for canned pilchards to revisit one of my fondest childhood memories.

My father and I shared a deep connection. We did our best bonding over a can of pilchards, two forks and long discussions about the many things we had in common. I’d sometimes walk into the kitchen to find him there, he’d meet my eye and with a knowing glance, would nudge his head in the direction of the pantry. I knew instantly what to do. In well under a minute, I’d be back at the table with a can of Pilchards in tomato sauce (the red can) and a can opener, which I hadn’t quite mastered by then.

While he took care of opening the lid, I’d fetch us two forks. In time, the stories he’d share with me began to repeat themselves – each time with a new embellishment – but I never dared interrupt him. It would have spoiled the magic of those special moments with him, eating every last pilchard together straight from the can. This recipe is always such a welcome walk down memory lane for me – a treat I love to make when I’m missing those good old days.


For the frikkadels

2 x 400 g tins Lucky Star Pilchards in Tomato Sauce

2 slices white bread

125 ml milk

½ onion, finely chopped

15 g parsley, finely chopped

1 egg, beaten

salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 baby cabbages

For the tomato salsa

200 g baby yellow tomatoes, or red tomatoes

8 cm piece cucumber

1 small onion, finely chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

10 ml white wine vinegar

For the parmesan crisps

100 g parmesan cheese, finely grated


For the frikkadels

Spoon the pilchards out of the tomato sauce. Keep the tomato sauce on one side and remove the bones from the fish.

Soak the bread in the milk until soft. Remove the bread and squeeze out the excess milk.

Mash the pilchards and bread together. Add the onion, parsley and beaten egg. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Break off the leaves of the cabbages. Cover with boiling water and let them soak until soft. Take them out of the water and dry with a kitchen towel.

Now, pour the tomato sauce (kept to one side) in an oven dish. Spoon tablespoons of pilchard mixture onto the cabbage leaves (one tablespoon per leaf). Wrap the frikkadels in the remaining cabbage leaves. You may have to use 2 or more leaves per frikkadel.

Arrange the frikkadels on top of the tomato sauce and cover with tinfoil.  Place the oven dish in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

For the tomato salsa

Cut the tomatoes and cucumber up into very small cubes. Mix with chopped onion and add vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

For the parmesan crisps

Spoon heaps (relatively equal in size) of grated cheese onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Flatten the heaps and place the tray in the oven. Keep an eye on the cheese. Once the heaps have melted into flat discs, take the tray out of the oven and let it cool before removing the crisps from the baking tray. Be present, as this process takes only a few of seconds.

To serve

Scatter the tomato salsa over the frikkadels and serve with the parmesan crisps.