#CookingNOPI: Spiced Buttermilk Cod with Urad Dal

The other day, I did something that I should not have. I challenged Ottolenghi. Stop shaming me, because I know that’s what you are doing right now. The whole incident started out with onions. There were three onions, if I can be exact. Three, eye-searing, tear-inducing onions. This is where our story begins. 

For this week’s Nopi Challenge, I decided to cook the Spiced Buttermilk Cod with Urad Dal. The cod is marinated in a little, wading pond of buttermilk and spices for a few hours, and finally baked and broiled. Urad Dal are just black lentils, which I was able to find at the bulk section in Whole Foods.

I have read a few reviews on this recipe, and one recommends you to marinate the cod overnight. This is something that I would – er – probably not do. The cod is marinated in buttermilk and, since buttermilk is brimming with acid, marinating it for longer than six hours would break down the fish. The cod might get irritated, and say something along the lines of, “Disrespect the life, that’s a no-no.” Because in my world, fish can quote Young M.A.


Before the cod is finished marinating, you can make the urad dal. This is where our three onions come into play. If three onions sounds like a lot,it is. Plus, it looks like a lot more when you finish thinly slicing them. I have a small kitchen, and to avoid needing windshield wipers for my eyes, I had to put the onions in separate bowls and move them into my living room. Then, I stared at them for a while, angrily. This is too many onions. I know it is. The man has lost it. 

The first mistake I made was believing I could cook down onion mountain in a regulation-sized saute pan. I’ll save you some time, you can’t.

“You bumbling fool! We aren’t going to all fit in here,” the onions said. So, I had to move the entire mixture into my dutch oven, which worked out much better. Also, onions apparently sound like Disney villains in my world.

I was initially surprised about how quickly the onions caramelized, but I’m pretty sure the use of ghee over oil helped. Ghee is just clarified butter that comes in a jar. You might feel slightly crazy pouring four tablespoons of solidified butter into a pan, but then you will smell the onions. Onions smell good cooking on their own. But now we have added three of them, and are cooking them in steaming, hot bath of butter. It’s just glorious and perfect.


Tomatoes are then added to the pot with the onions and lentils, and cooked down for a another few minutes. There’s also a little zip of ginger, and a few red chiles for a gentle heat. Then, the whole mixture is blitzed in the food processor. Now is the time where I can admit how wrong I was about these onions.

The urad dal is incredibly complex and rich. The onions caramelized down in dense, sticky heap, which was offset by the spicy warmth of the ginger and chiles. Just before serving, stir in a knob of fresh spinach, which wilts and gives the dal a clean addition of greens.

The cod has been kissed with the flavor of cardamom, red chile flakes, fennel seeds, cumin and coriander. The cod is the neat and tidy addition to the gusty, audacious urad dal. They’re perfect together. They’re like the Will and Kate of dinner plates.


So, moral of the story: never mistrust Ottolenghi again. The man is a fairy godfather, and only has our best interests in mind.

Spiced Buttermilk Cod with Ural Dal
Difficulty: 2



  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 3.5 Tbsp buttermilk
  • 2 lbs cod fillet, skinless and boneless, cut into 6 pieces, each measuring about 8cm x 12cm
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, to serve
  • 1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges, to serve
  • coarse sea salt and black pepper

Urad Dal

  • 2.5 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 4 Tbsp ghee
  • 1/2 cup urad dal, rinsed
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 8 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 7cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 red chillies, de-seeded and finely diced
  • 5 stems fresh curry leaves
  • 8 plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach

Directions (Taken from Nopi Cookbook)

  1. In a frying pan, toast the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds until their aroma is released. Transfer to a spice grinder, along with the chile flakes, cardamom, 1/2 tsp of salt and pepper. Grind to a powder and transfer to a mixing bowl. Pour over the buttermilk, stir to combine, then add the pieces of cod, making sure all of the fish is submerged. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge to marinate for 4 to 6 hours. Do not leave overnight or the fish will break down.
  2. To make the dal, place a small pan for which you have a lid over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the mustard seeds and cover with the lid. When you hear the popping begin, after about 1 minute, remove the pan from the heat and give it a little shake. Leave the lid on for another minute before transferring the seeds to a bowl and setting aside.
  3. Place the ghee in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the urad dal and fry for 2 minutes stirring often, until fragrant. Add the onions along with 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and cook over medium heat for 8 minutes, until they are soft but have not taken on any color. Add the garlic, tomato paste, ginger, chiles, and curry leaves and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, adding a tablespoon or so of water to the pan if the mixture starts to stick to the bottom. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time until they have broken down and started to caramelize. Add the toasted mustard seeds, pour over 1/3 cup of water, and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring once or twice until the tomatoes have completely softened. Transfer the mixture to the large bowl of a food processor with 2 teaspoons of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Pulse a few times then return to the pan and set aside until ready to use.
  4. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
  5. Take the cod out of the marinade and lay the pieces on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast for 8-10 minutes, then broil for a final 2 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.
  6. Return the dal to the heat just before serving, and add the spinach. Stir for 30 seconds, just to wilt the spinach, and spoon onto individual plates. Top with cod, finish with a drizzle of olive oil, and serve with the lemon wedges.


Give it a try and let me know how it came out by tagging #CookingNOPI online!

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