The Incredible Parsi Dhansak with Caramelized Basmati Rice and Kachumber Salad

If it were better known globally, ‘Dhansak’ a Parsi Cuisine specialty of lentils, vegetables and meat would easily win the award for ‘Incredible One Pot Wonder.’

Classic Parsi Dhansak Flavored with Indian spices and Inspired by Ancient Persian Cooking Methods Brings Together Hearty Vegetables, Meat of choice and Wholesome Lentils in One Delicious Pot of Goodness.

Classic Parsi Dhansak Daal Brings Together Hearty Vegetables, Meat of choice and Wholesome Lentils in One Delicious Pot of Goodness.

Another stalwart of the Parsi Cuisine, Dhansak Daal (better known as just ‘Dhansak’,) flavored with Indian spices and inspired by ancient Persian cooking methods, manages to draw attention to its impressive manner of bringing hearty vegetables, a meat of choice and wholesome lentils together in one delicious pot of goodness.

And the two traditional accompaniments to the worthy Dhansak Daal are long grain rice like Basmati cooked in caramelized oil with whole spices, and a Kachumber salad (which will remind you of Mexican ‘Pico de Gallo’ with cucumber and a dressing of red vinegar in place of lemon.)

Although Dhansak is a generations-old Sunday lunch tradition for our family, grand-moms and moms rarely measured their ingredients; family recipes being a set of dabs-smidgens-dashes in place of cups-tablespoons-teaspoons.

So last October, my mom and I took on the mission to create a Dhansak recipe for the ages, starting with a homemade-from-scratch Dhansak masala spice blend followed by the real deal Dhansak Daal (made in a slow cooker and the traditional way) with all the fixings’ of caramelized Basmati rice and Kachumber salad.

Countless tryouts and many Dhansak meals later (no complains!) here it is, an ode to my ancestors ready for public consumption.

Lentil Vegetable and Meat Parsi Dhansak with Traditional Accompaniments of Caramelized Basmati Rice and Kachumber salad

Lentil Vegetable and Meat Parsi Dhansak with Traditional Accompaniments of Caramelized Basmati Rice and Kachumber salad

For readers with a lesser-endowed spice pantry, I’d suggest the simple modern day convenience, which I often use too, of purchasing store bought Dhansak masala (spice blend) from an ethnic Indian store or online (here’s one I found on Amazon from a brand I trust.) And also check out Parsicuisine.com’s recent video on making Parsi Dhansak.

In case you missed it earlier, my article on Parsi Food written for Live Encounters has more tidbits on the Parsi Dhansak and a truly interesting fact about Dhansak’s relevance in Parsi homes.

Homemade-from-Scratch ‘Dhansak Masala’ Spice Blend
Bring together some of Indian food's most aromatic spices into a homemade ground spice blend for the popular Parsi Dhansak, a one pot wonder of lentils, vegetables and meat. This spice blend recipe yields 8 tablespoons.
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cinnamon sticks, two inches each
  2. ½ tablespoon each of green and black cardamom, or 1 tablespoon of either
  3. 1 tablespoon black peppercorn
  4. 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  5. 2 medium bayleaf
  6. 2 star anise
  7. ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  8. 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  9. 1 small whole nutmeg, cracked open
  10. 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  11. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  12. 1½ teaspoon Shah Jeera (smaller more fragrant cumin seeds, can be replaced with regular cumin)
  13. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  14. 1 teaspoon til seeds (optional)
Directions
  1. Grind all the spices in a spice grinder (I've been using this Krups grinder for ages.)
  2. Mix all the ground spices together in a big tray and fill the Dhansak spice blend in a glass bottle to be used as required in the Parsi Dhansak recipe below.
  3. The spice blend can be stored for 6-9 months.
Peri's Spice Ladle http://www.perisspiceladle.com/
The Incredible Parsi Dhansak Daal
Serves 4
‘Dhansak’ a Parsi Cuisine specialty filled with aromatic Indian spices and inspired by ancient Persian cooking method, manages to draw attention to its impressive manner of bringing hearty vegetables, a meat of choice and wholesome lentils together in one delicious pot of goodness.
Print
Ingredients
Dhansak Tempering Base or 'Vaghar' (as us Parsis call it)
  1. 1 tablespoon canola oil
  2. ½ cup chopped onion
  3. 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
  4. 4 tablespoons Dhansak Masala Spice Blend, homemade as per recipe above or store bought
  5. 1½ teaspoon ground red chili or Cayenne pepper (Note: Don't add if store-bought blend already has this ingredient)
  6. 1 teaspoon salt
  7. ¼ cup jaggery (or 2 tablespoon sugar)
  8. 2 tablespoons tamarind paste (or 2 teaspoons amchur/ground dry mango or ¼ cup lime juice)
  9. 2 cups chicken stock or water
  10. 2 tablespoon cider (red) vinegar
  11. 1 lb chicken thighs or mutton/lamb, cut in large chunks
  12. Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Dhansak Lentil and Vegetable Preparation
  1. 1 cup toor lentil or yellow pigeon peas
  2. ½ cup split yellow moong lentils (can be replaced with toor lentils)
  3. ½ cup chopped red onion
  4. 1 cup or 1 large potato, cut in cubes (see notes)
  5. 1 cup chopped spinach leaves (see notes)
  6. 1 cup butternut squash or pumpkin, cut in cubes (see notes)
  7. ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  8. 1 teaspoon salt
  9. 5 cups chicken stock or water
Directions
Slow Cooker Method
  1. Wash the lentils and add them to a slow cooker insert. Chop and add all the vegetables, ground turmeric and salt to the lentils, along with the stock or water. Cook on a high setting for 2-3 hours.
  2. Use a hand blender or a large spoon to blend the slow-cooked vegetables and lentils, making sure there are no chunks left.
  3. On the stove, heat oil in a pan. Fry onion and ginger garlic paste till the onion is brown.
  4. Add homemade (as per recipe above) or store-bought Dhansak masala, ground red chili or Cayenne pepper and salt, along with jaggery/sugar. Add ½ cup of stock or water to cook the spices well for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Then add the meat, tamarind paste/amchur/lime juice and red vinegar along with the remaining 1½ cups of stock or water. Cook for a couple of minutes and add this tempered base or 'vaghar' to the blended lentils and vegetables in the slow cooker.
  6. Slow-cook for another 2 hours on high setting till the meat is done. Check for salt, adding more if required. The final consistency of Dhansak is like thick ‘Daal’ with a rich chocolate brown color.
  7. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve Parsi Dhansak steaming hot over caramelized Basmati rice with a Kachumber salad.
Traditional Pressure Cooker Method
  1. Wash the lentils and add them to the pressure cooker bowl. Chop and add all the vegetables, ground turmeric and salt to the lentils, along with the stock or water.
  2. Cook on a high flame for two pressure whistles, reduce the flame to low and cook for 15 minutes. Let it stand till pressure is released.
  3. Using a hand blender or a large spoon blend until vegetables and lentils are smooth with no chunks.
  4. Heat oil in a large stock pot. Fry onion and ginger garlic paste till the onion is brown.
  5. Add homemade (as per recipe above) or store-bought Dhansak masala-spice blend, ground red chili or Cayenne pepper and salt, along with the jaggery/sugar. Add ½ cup of stock or water to cook the spices well for 3-5 minutes.
  6. Then add the meat, tamarind paste/amchur/lime juice and red vinegar with the remaining 1½ cup of stock or water. Mix the blended lentils and vegetables from the pressure cooker into the tempered base or 'vaghar' in the stock pot.
  7. Cook covered, adding water or stock as required, until the meat is done. Check for salt, adding more if required. The final consistency of Parsi Dhansak is like thick ‘Daal’ with a rich chocolate brown color.
  8. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve Parsi Dhansak hot over steaming caramelized rice and Kachumber salad.
Note on Vegetables
  1. Dhansak is versatile in its use of vegetables. The above vegetables can be replaced with your choice of 3 cups vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, kale, any hard squash, fresh fenugreek leaves and sweet potatoes.
Peri's Spice Ladle http://www.perisspiceladle.com/

Generations-old Sunday Lunch Tradition for our Family, Parsi Dhansak with Traditional Accompaniments of Caramelized Basmati Rice and Kachumber salad

Generations-old Sunday Lunch Tradition for our Family,
Parsi Dhansak Daal with Traditional Accompaniments of Caramelized Basmati Rice and Kachumber salad

Caramelized Basmati Rice
Serves 4
One of the traditional accompaniments to the worthy Parsi ‘Dhansak’, caramelized Basmati rice is long grain rice like Basmati cooked in caramelized oil with whole spices. This rice also makes a great side to any of your favorite meat or vegetable.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 tablespoon canola oil
  2. 1½ tablespoon sugar
  3. 2 stick cinnamon, 2-inches each
  4. 4-5 whole cardamom
  5. 6-8 whole cloves
  6. 10-12 whole black peppercorns
  7. 1 star anise
  8. 1 medium bay leaf
  9. 2 cups long grain Basmati rice, washed and drained
  10. 1 teaspoon salt
  11. 4 cups water
Directions
  1. Heat the oil in a sauté pan with a tight fitting lid. Add sugar and once it starts turning light brown, add the spices (make sure the spices are measured and ready to go, before turning on the flame.)
  2. In about one minute or sooner, the sugar will turn dark brown and you'll get the aroma of whole spices.
  3. Add the washed and drained rice, salt and 4 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, cover with a tight fitting lid and cook the rice on a low flame for 15 minutes (set the timer if required.)
  4. Turn off the flame and do not uncover the rice, leaving it to cook further in its steam.
  5. After 15-20 minutes, uncover and fluff the rice with a fork and discard the whole spices, as desired. Serve fresh caramelized Basmati rice as a base for Parsi Dhansak with Kachumber salad or side to any of your favorite meat or vegetable.
Peri's Spice Ladle http://www.perisspiceladle.com/
 Caramelized Basmati Rice is Long Grain Basmati Rice Cooked in Caramelized Oil with Whole Spices

Caramelized Basmati Rice is Long Grain Basmati Rice Cooked in Caramelized Oil with Whole Spices

Kachumber Salad
Kachumber salad made with raw onion, cucumber, tomatoes and cilantro along with the spice kick of green chilies, in red vinegar dressing is a traditional accompaniment to the Parsi Dhansak, and side salad to many other Indian preparations.
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1½ cups chopped red onion
  2. 1 cup diced cucumber
  3. 1 cup diced tomatoes, seeds removed
  4. 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  5. 1 small Thai chili/ ½ Serrano pepper, finely chopped (optional for a spicy kick)
  6. ¼ cup cider (red) vinegar
  7. ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper
Directions
  1. Bring all the ingredients together in a serving bowl. Keep refrigerated for at least 2 hours for the flavors to blend, prior to serving along with Parsi Dhansak and caramelized Basmati rice, or with your favorite meat or vegetable.
Peri's Spice Ladle http://www.perisspiceladle.com/

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Comments

  1. says

    Shall definitely make the spice mixture as per your recipe. So far I use the store bought one, with a few other spice powders like Parsi sambhar and Dhaniajeera masala powders .

    • says

      Thanks…It’s an awesome flavor to have fresh Dhansak masala, hope you enjoy it! Though I often carry back some from India; we use the ‘gangar’ spice vendor in Mumbai for our spices, really good:) out here, I pick the Badshah one…

      • says

        Hi, making dhansak for guests this week, and your recipe looks really good. I’ve brought back the Gangar dhansak masala, as I am from Dadar and trust their authenticity as well. Is there a substitute to the methi leaves? Also what about the kebabs to go with it? Thanks

        • says

          Gangar masalas are the best, I make sure my stock is always filled. I don’t general use methi leaves (although they work well in Dhansak.) I prefer spinach leaves but they can be left out completely or substitute with any dark greens like Kale or more of the other vegetables. I believe that is the beauty of Dhansak, it’s so versatile!

          Aha, the kebabs! So yum. No measured recipe here and many versions of them in my family! Here’s my simple one which even my kids love- ground lamb or beef, ginger garlic paste, red chili garlic paste (or more red chili and garlic) usual ground spices, garam masala, cilantro, green chili (I avoid that is kids are eating,) breadcrumbs (or stale bread dipped in water and squeezed out) marinate and broil/bake at 400F for 8 minutes (beef) and 10 minutes (lamb.) Hope this helps.

          Enjoy! Thanks for the trying the recipe:)

    • says

      Time to try that out:) I like giving spices blend recipes cause sometimes all the ingredients are right there in your spice collection! Caramelized rice with whole spices pair really well with Dhansak! Hope you like it…

  2. says

    So, this is what I’ve been missing as I’ve cut back on my blog reading. We’ll, I’d better get back to it. :-)

    The caramelized rice is fascinating. I absolutely love basmati (well, actually, most any rice) and am always looking for ways to make it more interesting. Have you made this as a pilaf as well? Adding onions or other veg before the rice? I bet it would be really nice…

    • says

      Wonderful to see you again, been awhile:) You know, I haven’t been getting your updates in my reader either, I’m gonna sign up with my email…

      This rice is absolutely wonderful (often make just as is for my kids) and as a reader has suggested in one of the comments, caramelizing onions with the spice and sugar mix will render a browner color to the rice and a smoky taste. And yes, absolutely go ahead and add vegetables of choice. Using this technique in one of my global recipes (this one), I’ve used quinoa in place of Basmati and added nuts and vegetables to it…a must-try:)

  3. says

    I came across a recipe the other day in one of my notebooks – a dhansak, and read with interest that it was a Parsi dish, and here you are with your Parsi dhansak. I’ve saved your recipe as I adore the combination of lentils, vegetables and seasonings. Thank you

    • says

      A great coincidence, Claire:) with Dhansak, you can really work with your palate, switching around the vegetables and meat, as desired. The wonderful blend of spices and the cooking techniques are key to its success. Hope you can try someday:) thanks!

  4. says

    Hi Peri, Anything Dhansak and it instantly piques my interest…. I remember the days when it would the only choice to make would be either Jimmy Boys, Ideal corner or Brittania…. what to order was a given and then the drive back to K Rustomjee’s…. Thanks for the wonder ful post Peri.. you make the otherwise distant Parsi cuisine so accessible…

    • says

      How wonderful, Elson, to hear those memories of jimmy boys (where I ate recently last summer and nothing’s changed, love it!) ideal and Britannia (can you believe they still close shop so early in the day!)…and a visit to KR is a must…Well now, Elson, Dhansak is at hand for you with this recipe and a ‘virtual’ Parsi friend:) Enjoy the Dhansak experience…

  5. says

    For the rice – a small suggestion. Instead of sugar you could also use browned onion slices. this will give the color but avoid a sweet taste to the rice when using sugar. Another point is the sugar get caramelized fast, which could lead to a bitter taste. We do this at our home.

    • says

      Love the suggestion, Boman, and you are so right! Thanks for bringing the onion vaghar into the picture for that lovely deep brown in what we grew up calling ‘brown Dhansak rice’ (not to be confused the modern brown rice, which is a whole grain.) I stopped adding onion around our place since many friends with global palates (& my kids) liked the sweetness of the rice to combat the spice of Dhansak daal. I know mom still adds onion, I’m gonna try it again:)

    • says

      Thanks Nandoo, wonderful to see you here, gave me a chance to check out your site! Love Kerala food and you may easily recognize most of the spices here:) Dhansak is unique, delicious and worth every bit effort involved in making it!

  6. Zareen says

    You said it , Peri ! Dhansakh on lazy Sunday afternoons, with a glass of chilled beer for the adults, and a diluted ‘shandy’ for the kids….followed by a great afternoon siesta…and then waking up to a promise of a good movie at Regal Cinema…followed by K. Rustoms ‘kufi’ !! Day made in heaven !
    Ahhhh ….those were the days my friend ( as the song goes )
    Thanks for the nostalgia.
    Hugs,
    Zareen

    • says

      Dear Zareen, you’ve just created a masterpiece visual of a perfect Sunday! The kulfi at KRs is literally the icing on the cake:) Isn’t it just amazing how Dhansak always bring back happy food memories for Parsis and all who know Parsis! Thanks a ton…

  7. says

    Lovely post Peri, so many delicious flavors here. I always learn something new thru your wonderful posts, and now it is Dhansak, what a delicious tradition – look forward to trying these delicious recipes! Ozlem xx

    • says

      Thanks my dear Ozlem, a pleasure to hear that…our cuisine’s history suggests that Dhansak aptly puts Parsi food into perspective, by using a Persian method of cooking lentils, vegetables and meat but in a complete blend of Indian spices with sweet and tangy elements for well-rounded flavors! Xx Peri.

  8. Hilla D. says

    Peri, I can actually get the aroma of Dhansak wafting around the room !!!! It’s a toss-up whether Dhansak made the ‘bawas’ famous or the other way round ;-) One thing for sure, it’s more fun (& enhances the flavor !) with friends and family on a Sunday afternoon. Here’s to Dhansak this Sunday………..

  9. Nazneen says

    Yum yum yum yum YUM! I feel weird craving Dhansak at 7am but I can’t wait to incorporate your tips into my next pot.

  10. Aditi says

    Thanks so much… Brings back fond memories of summer at Kasmiras home..my best friends place….spicy Parsi food and good times:)

    • says

      So glad to bring back delicious memories:) I always say, if you know a Parsi person, you have to know Dhansak! LOL. Here’s to more good times with with friends and a bowl of Dhansak, rice and kachumber…

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