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.’
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.
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.
- 2 cinnamon sticks, two inches each
- ½ tablespoon each of green and black cardamom, or 1 tablespoon of either
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorn
- 2 teaspoons whole cloves
- 2 medium bayleaf
- 2 star anise
- ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 small whole nutmeg, cracked open
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1½ teaspoon Shah Jeera (smaller more fragrant cumin seeds, can be replaced with regular cumin)
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon til seeds (optional)
- Grind all the spices in a spice grinder (I've been using this Krups grinder for ages.)
- 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.
- The spice blend can be stored for 6-9 months.
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
- 4 tablespoons Dhansak Masala Spice Blend, homemade as per recipe above or store bought
- 1½ teaspoon ground red chili or Cayenne pepper (Note: Don't add if store-bought blend already has this ingredient)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup jaggery (or 2 tablespoon sugar)
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste (or 2 teaspoons amchur/ground dry mango or ¼ cup lime juice)
- 2 cups chicken stock or water
- 2 tablespoon cider (red) vinegar
- 1 lb chicken thighs or mutton/lamb, cut in large chunks
- Chopped cilantro, for garnish
- 1 cup toor lentil or yellow pigeon peas
- ½ cup split yellow moong lentils (can be replaced with toor lentils)
- ½ cup chopped red onion
- 1 cup or 1 large potato, cut in cubes (see notes)
- 1 cup chopped spinach leaves (see notes)
- 1 cup butternut squash or pumpkin, cut in cubes (see notes)
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 cups chicken stock or water
- 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.
- Use a hand blender or a large spoon to blend the slow-cooked vegetables and lentils, making sure there are no chunks left.
- On the stove, heat oil in a pan. Fry onion and ginger garlic paste till the onion is brown.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve Parsi Dhansak steaming hot over caramelized Basmati rice with a Kachumber salad.
- 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.
- 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.
- Using a hand blender or a large spoon blend until vegetables and lentils are smooth with no chunks.
- Heat oil in a large stock pot. Fry onion and ginger garlic paste till the onion is brown.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve Parsi Dhansak hot over steaming caramelized rice and Kachumber salad.
- 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.
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1½ tablespoon sugar
- 2 stick cinnamon, 2-inches each
- 4-5 whole cardamom
- 6-8 whole cloves
- 10-12 whole black peppercorns
- 1 star anise
- 1 medium bay leaf
- 2 cups long grain Basmati rice, washed and drained
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups water
- 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.)
- In about one minute or sooner, the sugar will turn dark brown and you'll get the aroma of whole spices.
- 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.)
- Turn off the flame and do not uncover the rice, leaving it to cook further in its steam.
- 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.
- 1½ cups chopped red onion
- 1 cup diced cucumber
- 1 cup diced tomatoes, seeds removed
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 1 small Thai chili/ ½ Serrano pepper, finely chopped (optional for a spicy kick)
- ¼ cup cider (red) vinegar
- ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper
- 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.
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