Dhansak is the most well-known Parsi dish. The Parsis fled to India from Persia to avoid religious persecution in the 13th century. Quite a few Parsis settled on the Western Coast in Gujarat as well as in Mumbai.
It is often eaten on Sunday lunch and the word Dhansak literally translates to rice and vegetables. It is a stew of sorts and don’t be put off by the many ingredients – it comes together easily and you will have plenty of leftovers. I made a vegetarian version by simply omitting the chicken and replacing the chicken stock with vegetable stock.
1.2kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs (cut in half)
150g red lentils
50g split mung beans
100g channa dhal (split chick pea)
50g tamarind pulp
7cms piece of ginger, peeled and chopped fine
6 plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
300g onions, chopped
200g pumpkin, peeled and chopped
150g eggplant, chopped
150g potato, chopped
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 cup coriander leaves
20 leaves fresh mint
4tbsps vegetable oil or ghee
2tsps dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
300g tomatoes, chopped
1tbsp brown sugar
6 green chillies
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1tbsp coriander powder
2tsps Dhansak masala (available in Indian grocer or recipe given below)
1tbsp Parsi sambar masala (recipe given below)
2 cups chicken stock or water
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste
Rinse all the lentils and soak in water for half an hour. Soak the tamarind in 50ml hot water.
In a large cooking pot, put the soaked lentils along with onions and other vegetables, turmeric, half of the ginger and garlic, a couple of tablespoons of coriander leaves and half the mint leaves. Pour in a couple of cups of water and simmer until the lentils are very soft. You may add additional water if it is drying out.
Use a stick blender and liquidize until it is creamy. Season with salt.
Make Parsi sambar masala mix by mixing 1tsp fenugreek powder, ¾ tsp mustard powder, ½ tablespoon chilli powder and ¾ teaspoon ground pepper.
Make Dhansak masala mix by combining 2tsps garam masala, ½ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder and a couple of pinches of ground nutmeg.
While the lentils are cooking, heat the ghee or oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan. Fry the remaining chopped ginger, garlic, coriander leaves, mint leaves, dried fenugreek leaves, Parsi sambar masala, dhansak masala and cumin and coriander powders. Fry continuously for two minutes. Add the green chillies and tomatoes and fry for a further two minutes. Toss in the chicken thighs, increase heat to high and sauté for a few more minutes.
Squeeze the tamarind pulp out of the soaked tamarind.
Add the lentil mix to the chicken along with the chicken stock, a cup at a time to check on consistency. Add the brown sugar, tamarind water and salt. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Squeeze lime juice and serve with steamed basmati rice. Serves 8 as a main.