Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fish with Spicy Red Lentils

Fish with Spicy Red Lentils

This is a fantastic dish that is easy to make and packs a huge flavor punch. The combination of the red lentils and the yellow split peas result in an interesting, multi-layered texture. Both cook up quickly and turn into a rich tasting, but not heavy, base for the fish.

Fish with Spicy Red Lentils

The flavor profile is Indian/North African, including ground turmeric, cumin seeds, fresh grated ginger, cayenne pepper, fresh lemon juice and fresh cilantro.

Fish with Spicy Red Lentils

The lentils and peas are simmered in chicken and fish stocks with just a little turmeric until very tender, then seasoned fully with salt. I often use canned broth and/or concentrated stock base, both of which have some salt already. When I use homemade, unsalted stock, the seasoning step requires a fairly heavy hand.

The intense flavor of this dish comes from aggressively toasting the cumin seeds in hot oil, then browning the ginger and cayenne for a minute longer.

Fish with Spicy Red Lentils

Along with lemon juice, this spice mixture is stirred through the lentils and peas.

Fish with Spicy Red Lentils

Almost any firm fleshed fish will work with these lentils. Pictured below is Alaskan Cod, but we've also used local Sea Bass and Yellowtail, as well as Mahi Mahi and Salmon.

Fish with Spicy Red Lentils

Once the fish is cooked, the last thing to do is gently stir in plenty of finely chopped cilantro. I love that this fragrant and spicy dish needs almost no prep work and takes well under an hour to make.

Fish with Spicy Red Lentils

When we have leftovers, we sometimes make them in to croquettes (check out our Feast of the Seven Fishes post from last Christmas Eve for pictures).

Fish with Spicy Red Lentils

Plenty of seasoning is important for this dish. The amount of salt required will be dependent upon the saltiness of your chicken and fish stock or broth.
Serves 4.

1 scant cup red lentils
1/4 cup dried yellow split peas
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 (14 oz.) can low-sodium chicken broth (or homemade stock)
Fish stock concentrate (cube or paste) for 1 cup
1 cup water
1 pound skinless firm, white-fleshed fish fillet
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
3/4-1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (to taste)
Lemon wedges and chopped cilantro for garnish

In a high sided, heavy-bottomed pan or dutch oven, combine the chicken stock, water, fish stock concentrate, turmeric and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil, stir in the yellow peas, reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes. Add the red lentils to the peas, cover and simmer an additional 20-25 minutes or until the peas are just tender.

Meanwhile, heat the 2 tablespoons oil in a small frying pan. When hot, add the cumin seeds. Stir briefly and when they begin to pop and turn dark brown and fragrant, stir in the ginger and cayenne. Cook another 60 seconds until the ginger is soft and begins to brown. Pour the hot spice mixture over the lentils, add the lemon juice and stir. Taste and add salt if needed.

Cut the fish into 4 or 5 large chunks and season lightly with salt. Lay the fish pieces over the lentils, cover and cook very gently for 10-15 minutes or until the fish is opaque and flakes easily. Keep the heat fairly low in order to avoid scorching the lentils at the bottom of the pan. Gently stir in the 1/4 cup chopped cilantro.

Serve in warm, shallow bowls and garnish with extra chopped cilantro and lemon wedges.


  1. Great recipe and great website, thank you!

  2. Thanks - glad you enjoyed the recipe!

  3. I made this with scallops and it was delightful. Finally a lentils recipe I don't ruin, I think the split peas make all the difference.

    1. Glad you liked it! We did it with scallops for a "Feast of the Seven Fishes" dinner one year and it was really good.