Cod, Black Lentils, Fennel and Saffron Yogurt Sauce
There was something fishy going on in the kitchen this evening- but in a good way! Though not the greatest fish fan, I do occasionally enjoy cod, with its firm and juicy texture and mild flavor. I find it to be a versatile and thankful fish when it comes to herbs and spices and works well in almost every combination, in mediterranean, traditional or even more exotic cuisines.
The flavors I used in this dish are all pretty much classics in combination with fish- fennel, lemon, and saffron and lentils are also a frequent accompaniment. So this was traditional, but still somehow fresh and exciting... to me in any case! Maybe it would be something for you, too?
The black lentils I prepared here, are what are known in India as "urad dal" and can be found in most Asian supermarkets. I soaked them overnight and changed the water a couple of times before preparing them- I am not sure if they are actually lentils at all to be honest, but they are sold and classed as such- but will take quite a while longer to cook if you don't soak them first! But trust me- it is worth it! They have a wonderfully rich and "nutty" flavor- totally delicious!
To cook them, I added a handful each of finely diced celeriac, onion and carrot to each 2 handfuls of lentils. I boiled them in twice the quantity of water as I had dry ingredients, with salt, pepper, a little crushed garlic, a clove or two and a small bay leaf. Oh, one more thing- those cloves are tricky to pick out later... so be careful! I brought the water to the boil then reduced the heat and let them simmer for 10 minutes or so.
The next thing I did was to soak a few threads of saffron in a half cup of boiling water, to use later in the sauce- this would give them time to develop their color and flavor.
After 10 minutes, I added some finely chopped parsley, a little lemon juice, a little olive oil and a little more water to the lentils. I then set my steam rack down on top of them and placed in the cod and the fennel slices. On went the lid again for a further 5 minutes... multitasking and time saving! That's the way to do it!
Whilst the fish was steaming, I turned on the oven and the broiler, ready for later, and began preparing the sauce in a small saucepan. To do this I boiled a little milk and added a clove of garlic, a couple of slices of ginger and some coarsely chopped onion. Once it had come to the boil, I reduced the heat to a gentle simmer and let the flavors infuse into the milk whilst I got back to the fish! It was time to take action now!
I carefully lifted the fish out of the steamer and set it on a baking tray. I sprinkled it with a little salt and pepper, and then with some finely sliced lemon zest, finely chopped bread crumbs and parsley. There is no need for any prep work- just sprinkle them on top, then drizzle everything lightly with a good olive oil. And into the oven it went for a further 5 minutes- time to give the lentils one last stir and to put the sauce together!
The next step with the sauce was to take a tablespoon of gram four (chickpea flour), and to stir in the saffron-water little by little, with a whisk or a fork, so as to avoid any lumps- easy. I then fished out the ginger, garlic and onion from the milk and added the saffron, flour and water mix and stirred it in well over a gentle heat. I added a hint of cayenne, a tiny pat of clarified butter and a couple of tablespoons of yogurt. The addition of the gram flour, not only thickens the sauce, but it also prevents it from curdling... super! I added the tiniest squeeze of lemon, turned off the heat- and got busy dishing everything up!
By that time, the bread crumb/lemon and parsley topping was golden brown and lightly crispy- all it too was a few tufts of fennel green and my dish was good to go! Light, tasty, elegant and delicious... all I had left to do was to open a bottle of chilled white wine and enjoy!