Bengali Fish Curry with Red Lentil Dal

I’m bored. Bored with what I’ve been eating and doing and watching and reading and even with my same tired old boring usual thoughts. Oh, me. Oh, life.  I know that it’s tacky to admit to being bored, when there are so many interesting things in this world. And most of the time, everything is beautiful and interesting. But I must inject new flavor and sound and scenes into my everyday life immediately. Which is why I am going to learn to play guitar this year. And why I am trying to get to the gym more frequently. And why I went to the movies ALL BY MYSELF! yesterday. And plan to take Violet to the Farnsworth and Rock City and the library more afternoons. And walk on warmer mornings. It’s why I made this fish curry. We all fall into food ruts/routines, making the same three things over and over (and over) again. I needed to cook something entirely different. I’d say this qualifies. Bengali fish curry is fun! I’m not even bored any more. Well, maybe still a little…

I learned a lot researching and executing this dish. One is that when working with turmeric, wear gloves or wash hands frequently. My fingertips are stained an ugly, nicotine yellow, which no amount of scrubbing will undo. Should you Magic Erase your fingernails? I might try. Second lesson: Cod is delicious. I always buy haddock, but this wild cod was firm and lovely, and stood up to the sauce and my flipping it around in the pan too much. Third thing: Don’t flip your cod so much, even if you think it can take it. Fourth, the baby will eat your dinner if you don’t watch out. She is hungry. So very hungry, even after her own dinner of black beans, beets, bananas, cheese, and clementines. Finally, a note about mustard oil. I couldn’t find any, as, apparently, it isn’t widely sold for consumption in the US, due to possible toxicity. I whirled some mustard seeds around in canola oil, then strained, to try to infuse it. I think you can safely skip that step. Even without the authentic element of mustard oil, this is a flavorful and pretty fish dish from East India.

Bengali Fish Curry with Red Lentil Dal
Adapted from recipes by Red Online and Aarti Sequeira; Serves 4


For the fish curry:

  • 1 heaping tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 Serrano chiles, ribs and seeds moved, roughly chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 lbs cod, cut into portions
  • Cilantro, for garnish

For the red lentil dal:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger, grated
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 cup red lentils, picked through, rinsed, and soaked for 30 minutes
  • Kosher salt


For the fish curry:

Toast mustard seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, 5 minutes. Blend mustard seeds, turmeric, onion, garlic, ginger, cumin, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, tomatoes, and 1 Serrano chile with 1/2 -1 cup water. Season sauce to taste with salt. Season fish with salt and a sprinkling of turmeric. Heat canola oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Cook fish on both sides until golden brown. Remove to a warm plate. Pour mustard/turmeric paste into the skillet. Add more water if necessary, and bring paste to a bowl. Add the remaining Serrano. Reduce heat to medium-low, so that the sauce stays simmering, and slide in the pieces of cod. Serve over red lentils with a side of steamed spinach.

For the red lentil dal:

In a medium-size pot, bring to a boil the water, onion, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes. Add the lentils and let them come back up to a boil. Skim off the scum from the top. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer with the lid on, 20-30 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.


  1. You are right. Everyone does get into a cooking rut now and then. That’s when I go digging out my old cookbooks! But this is a great recipe. Often when you cook Indian food you need to come up with a a lot of new spices. With this one I have most of it on hand. Thanks!

  2. As I was making this I thought something was up with it as the spices weren’t cooked through. Unfortunately it all ended up in the bin as it really wasn’t good at all. Please avoid!

  3. Tried this recipe after looking at the impressive presentation. But it didn’t turn out so good. The sauce was quite plain and missing the texture. Instead of cooking with oil I used foil baking with applying little oil on fish. By the way the mentioned quantity of seasme seed is really high. I guess the author should recheck. I used less than quarter for 1 lb fish.
    My rating: 2/5

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