My apologies for going off on a tangent, so back to the Dhansak I was going to tell you about. Dhansak is a stew-like spiced preparation made with lentils, vegetables and some meat (usually lamb, mutton or chicken and even prawns at times) but of course, my Dhansak is vegetarian. Broadly, Dhansak can be described as a sweet and sour curry with a lentil sauce. The hot comes from red chillies/ chilli powder, sweet from sugar and sour from tamarind.
Dhansak is usually served with Brown Rice (a mildly spiced and caramelised pulav/ pilaf) and Kachumbar (an Indian style salsa made of onion, tomato and cucumber). I believe that kebabs are also sometimes served, but I chose to leave that out and make things easier and crunchier for myself by frying some pappads instead.
Apparently when you say Parsi food to a non-Parsi, Dhansak is invariably one of the dishes that come to mind. The things that come to my mind on being similarly prompted, and I shall post them eventually, are Akoori on toast (a Parsi version of scrambled eggs), Ravo (a sweet made of semolina) and Laganu Custard (Caramel custard pudding) but that maybe because I am not a meat/ fish eater!
I read somewhere that Dhansak is part of festive cooking and features in many homes for Sunday lunch. I also read that Dhansak is not celebratory fare, but actually part of funeral cooking!! It seems they serve Dhansak daal at wedding, without the meat. Anyone know which version is the correct one? If you do, I would love to know.
After checking up the many recipes on the web, I put together my version of Dhansak, which follows right below. You will notice that my recipes say oil or ghee as choice of cooking fat. That is because ghee can be a bit heavy if you’re not used to it or would prefer not to use it, so you may use oil. What I do is use half oil and half ghee. This way I don’t lose out on the flavour that only ghee can lend, without the heaviness. Of course, Dhansak and Brown Rice wouldn’t be on my regular cooking menu but on the one I would use for entertaining.
The Brown Rice is more or less a standard recipe, it seems, and most of them seem to require a little more sugar. I wanted my rice to just have a hint of sweet so this recipe is how I made mine. As for the Kachumbar, it’s a standard Indian style salad you would find in most homes and eateries/ restaurants and doesn’t really need a recipe, but here’s my version.
1/3 cup red gram lentils (tuvar dal)
1/3 cup spilt Puy lentils (masoor dal)
1/3 cup split moong lentils (moong dal)
1/4 cup Bengal gram lentils (chana dal)
2 medium sized onions, finely sliced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 medium round eggplant/ aubergine, diced
1 cup red pumpkin, peeled and diced
1 large tomato, chopped
1/4tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
3/4 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tsp jaggery (or sugar)
1 1/2 tbsp oil/ ghee
salt to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander for garnishing
For spice paste:
2 garlic cloves
1/2” piece of ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1” piece of cinnamon
Seeds from 2 green cardamom pods
4 black peppercorns
2 dry red chillies
First make the spice paste. Dry roast the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns and red chillies, one at a time, in a small pan over low to medium heat, till the aroma of each just begins to emanate. Let them cool and then grind these and the rest of the ingredients for the spice paste with a couple of tsp of water into a paste. Keep aside.
Put all the lentils in a bowl and wash them well. Then add enough water and the vegetables (eggplant, potato and pumpkin) and pressure cook till done. You can also do this on the stovetop in a largish thick walled pan.
Once you can open the pressure cooker, remove the cooked lentils and vegetables and mash them well. For dhansak this means that there should be no lumps of vegetables visible, and the mixture should be smooth which is probably as it should be if there is going to be meat in your Dhansak. I wanted a bit of texture in my Dhansak so I mashed everything such that small bits of vegetables could still be seen.
Soak the kasuri methi in 2 tbsp of hot water.
Heat the oil in a kadhai/ pan and add the ginger-garlic paste and the spice paste. Cook for about one minute over medium heat, stirring frequently, seeing that it doesn’t burn. Add the onions. Sauté till the onions till they turn golden brown. Now add the tomatoes and cook till they become soft.
Add the mashed lentil-vegetable mixture, turmeric powder, the soaked kasuri methi with the water, tamarind pulp, sugar and salt, and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Cook till gravy thickens and bubbles. The dhansak should be like a thick stew in consistency. If it starts looking dry and hisses/ spits, add a little water to thin it down a bit.
Garnish with chopped fresh coriander. Serve hot with Brown Rice, Kachumbar and Pappads. This recipe serves 4 to 6.
Parsi Brown Rice
2 cups basmati rice
4 cups water
2 tsp sugar
2 onions, finely sliced
2 pieces cinnamon sticks 2” each
3 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon salt
4 tbsp oil/ melted ghee (or 2 tbsp each of oil and ghee)
Wash and soak the rice in water for half an hour. Then drain the water completely.
While the rice is soaking, heat half the oil/ ghee (2 tbsp) in a pan and, over low to medium heat, sauté the sliced onions till they caramelise (do not burn) to a dark brown and become crisp. Remove from the pan and keep aside.
In a small pan, over medium heat, sprinkle the sugar in a thin layer and let it caramelise till it is quite brown. Do not disturb the sugar while it is melting, but you may stir it a couple of times after it has started turning brown. Make sure it does not burn.
Once the sugar has turned a darkish shade of brown, turn of the heat and immediately (and carefully) pour 1 cup of water into the pan. Stir quickly to dissolve the caramel in the water completely. Keep aside.
Heat the remaining 2 tbsp of oil/ ghee in a largish pan. Add the whole spices and stir for about 30 seconds. Add the drained rice, and stir fry for another minute. Now add about 3/4 of the fried onion (keep the rest for garnishing), the caramel water, the remaining 3 cups of ware and the salt.
Mix well, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes till the rice is cooked, the water is completely absorbed and the grains are separate. Stir a couple of times in between to ensure even cooking but be careful otherwise the rice might break and become mushy.
Serve warm with the Dhansak, Kachumber and Pappads. This recipe serves 4 to 5.
Kachumbar (Indian Style Onion-Tomato-Cucumber Salsa)
2 medium sized onion, diced fine
3 medium sized tomatoes, diced small
2 medium sized cucumbers, peeled and diced small
2 green chillies, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and powdered
2 tbsp each fresh mint and coriander, chopped
juice of 1 lemon/ lime
salt to taste
Put all the ingredients in a bowl and toss together. Adjust to taste, put into a serving dish and serve alongside the main dish of Brown Rice and Dhansak!
This recipe serves 4 to 5.
This was our lunch yesterday and we enjoyed it. The Brown Rice was light with a just a hint of sweetness and so beautifully fragrant. I only wish I had discovered it before. The Dhansak was quite creamy and if I hadn’t cooked it, I wouldn’t have known there was eggplant and pumpkin (not two of my personal favourites) in it! The spices in Dhansak can get heavy and overpowering so it is important not to overdo them, and while it’s a beautiful dish, it is definitely not everyday fare.
The combination of both with the fresh flavours of the Kachumber and the crunch of the Pappads was perfect. If you cannot find Pappads, salted potato wafers are a good alternative. Being the south Indian I am, I think yogurt would have been the perfect way to finish the meal, but then that’s me.
Cooking this meal might seem laborious but it is not. You just need to be organised and have everything prepped and at hand. Then all it takes is putting it all together which doesn’t take all that much time.
The four of us ( Alessio , Asha , Pamela and I) go velveteering , as we like to call our kitchen adventures, with a new dish/ style of cooking/ cuisine every month. Each of us will share our recipes, experiences and verdicts on our blogs.
If you would like to join us, please leave a comment at this post or send me a mail and we’ll get back to you.
This month’s Velveteers recipes:
Sarah: Easy Chicken Dhansak