Dhansak is a popular Parsi dish, originating among the community centuries back. This is served with caramelized brown rice, which is rice cooked in caramel water to give it a typical taste and color. The dal cooked with mutton and vegetables served with brown rice, altogether is called dhansak.
In Parsi homes, dhansak is traditionally made on Sundays owing to the long preparation time required to cook the lentils and vegetables into a mush (in the days before pressure cooking was employed).
Dhansak is also always had on the fourth day after the death of a near one. There is no meat consumed for three days after the death of a near one. And dhansak is used to break this abstinence on the fourth day. Thus, dhansak is never prepared on auspicious occasions like festivals and weddings.
Dhansak is made by cooking mutton cubes with a mixture of various lentils and vegetables. Traditionally, four lentils Toovar dal, Bengal gram or chana dal, red masoor dal and brown masoor dal are used, but one or more of the lentils may be omitted or substituted. I make my dhansak with Lamb, Goat meat (mutton ) or Chicken. I use Toover Dal only.
The vegetables include potato, eggplant, tomato, pumpkin and coriander, fenugreek leaves: again, substitutions, such as squash for pumpkin, and sweet potato for potato, may be employed: it depends on what vegetables are conveniently at hand. After prolonged cooking in the traditional recipe (or the use of a pressure cooker), the vegetables are more or less homogenized with the lentils, which are also broken down, so that the result is a thick stew rather than a curry.
The dhansak is flavored with a spice mixture called “dhansak masala”, which is similar to “garam masala” except that the spices chosen are more aromatic and sweet rather than pungent. Cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, dried ginger, coriander seed and cumin seed, as well as a pinch of asafetida, are among the spices employed.
Onion and garlic are browned to serve as the stew’s base, and coriander leaves, green chilli and mint leaves are employed as garnish. While “dhansak masala” is sold as a ready-made mixture, the individual cook may make the spice mixture from scratch, altering the combination and proportion of spices based on personal preference. See recipe in this book.
Within the Parsi community, dhansak usually contains goat meat or mutton; it is rarely made with other meats, such as chicken, or without meat, but I use Chicken or Lamb often since my children prefer these meats.
International recipe variants for the dhansak sometimes call for pineapple chunks to provide a sweet flavour, but traditional Indian recipes prefer the use of pumpkin, squash or gourd.
Vegetarians can leave the meat out and make the dal, it comes out very good IMO.
For the Dhansak dal
1 lb. Chicken skinned and washed. (Or Lamb, Goat Meat. Vegetarians can leave the meat out and make the dal, it comes out very good)
1 1/2 cups Tuvar Dal washed and soaked for 30 minutes.
1 large onion chopped.
1 Tomato chopped.
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves chopped.(optional)
1/2 cup fresh methi leaves chopped.(optional)
5 leaves of fresh mint.
3 inch piece of yellow/orange pumpkin.
2 Potatoes peeled and quartered.
2 tsp. salt.
Water enough to cover the contents.
For the Vaghar
1 small onion finely chopped.
2 tsp. Ginger/Garlic/Chili Paste. Make paste by grinding 1 inch piece of gingerroot,
4 cloves garlic and 2 hot Jalapeno chilies.
2 tsp. Dhansak Masala. (See Recipe)
2 tsp. Dhana Jeera (Cumin and Coriander)
Salt and Black Pepper powder to taste.
Put all of the above in a Pressure cooker and cook for 10 minutes only.
Open cooker and remove meat and potatoes.
Mash the dal with electric blender or by hand. Put in a large pot and bring to a simmer.
Next do the “Vaghar”. Fry the onion in hot oil till brown. Lower heat and add the paste. Fry till aroma comes out.
Add the rest of and fry 1 minute on very low heat. Immediately add this Vaghar to the simmering dhansak dal.
Add water if needed.
Taste and add salt/spices to your taste.
Add the meat and potatoes and simmer 5 more minutes.
Serve Dhansak with Hot Brown Rice, Kebab and Kachumber.