This satisfies an appetite for Indian spice, without actually being a curry. The dahl is pretty mild, warm with ginger and a touch of green chilli. Kedgeree aficionados will know how well curry spicing goes with smoked haddock, but it also forms a happy partnership with unsmoked white fish. I happened to have a bit of sea bass, but you could swap it for cod or one of its cousins, such as pollack, coley or hake. Of course, you don’t really have to add fish at all. Few things are as reassuring and comforting as a simple bowl of dahl.
4 sea bass fillets, pinboned
Salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp black mustard seed
2 handfuls roughly chopped coriander
For the dahl:
3 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp cumin seed
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 green chillies, slit lengthways, leaving them attached at the stalk
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed or finely grated to make a paste
A thick thumb of fresh ginger, about 6cm long, peeled and finely grated to make a paste
200g yellow split peas, rinsed
2 bay leaves
2 tsp fine sea salt
400ml tin coconut milk
Start by making the dahl. Heat the 3 tbsp oil in a medium saucepan and add the cumin, turmeric and chilli. Stir over the heat for about 1 minute, then add the onion, garlic and ginger pastes. Cook for about 5 minutes over a medium heat, stirring often, until soft and starting to turn slightly golden.
Tip in the split peas, bay leaves and 450ml water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the split peas are soft, but with a bit of residual texture. Add more water if necessary to stop them drying out, but don’t drown them. When they are done, they should be bathed in thick liquid. Stir in the salt and coconut milk and cook for another 10 minutes. Add one handful of coriander and a squeeze of juice from one of the limes. You might not need all of it – it’s just to brighten the flavour. Remove from the heat, taste and add more salt if needed. Put to one side somewhere warm.
For the fish, make three diagonal slashes in the skin of each fillet and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the fillets to the pan, skin down, and press lightly to stop them curling. Cook for 3-4 minutes over a medium heat until the skin is crisp and golden, then flip over and remove from the hob. Leave to cook through for a minute more.
Divide the dahl between plates or wide bowls and place a sea bass fillet on each one.
Quickly place the frying pan back on the hob over a high heat and add 2 tbsp more oil. Add the cumin seeds and allow to sizzle for 30 seconds, then throw in the mustard seeds and sizzle for a few seconds more until they start to pop.
Pour the oil and seeds over the fish and dahl and sprinkle each plate with a little more chopped coriander. Serve with a quarter of lime for squeezing.
Lucas Hollweg is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and cook. A former Sunday Times journalist and cookery columnist, he writes for a wide range of food publications. His most recent book is Good Things to Eat.