If it’s Sunday, there’s Dhansak for lunch in a Parsi home. It’s so delicious that one keeps on eating it. No wonder, it became a part of tongue-in-cheek joke in a Parsi home, jibed at cricketers in Team India, in the past. Beyniaz treats us to a delicious Parsi Sunday lunch.
In most Parsi homes, it is the case of “If it’s Sunday, there must be Dhansak for lunch.” Dhan means rice: in this case the rice is brown and fragrant with spices and Sak means lentils mixed with vegetables and meat. Actually Dhansak is made with mutton or lamb cubes. You might use chicken as well. It is a hugely popular dish. I even saw Prawn Dhansak being served in many restaurants in the U.K. However, I have never seen this variation being cooked in Parsi homes.
On auspicious days, my friends generally ask me “What’s cooking, is it Dhansak?” But this dish is never cooked on birthdays, Navroz (Parsi New Year) or anniversaries. It is cooked on the fourth day after a death in the family, when only the closest family members sit together for this non-vegetarian lunch, after abstaining from eating meat before this. On this day, the deceased soul is supposed to pass into the next world.
MUTTON OR CHICKEN DHANSAK:
- 500 grams mutton (or chicken) cut into medium pieces (vegetarians can leave out the meat and enjoy the Masala Dal)
- 1 cup mixed lentils (1/2 cup Tur/Arhar dal, ¼ cup Red masoor dal, ¼ cup channa dal)
- 1 slice red pumpkin
- A bunch of fenugreek (Methi) leaves, chopped
- 2 small brinjals , cut into small pieces,
- 2 medium onions chopped finely
- 3 small tomatoes
- 2 green chilies
- 1 bunch green Coriander leaves
- 1/2 bunch Mint leaves
- Turmeric powder 1/2 tsp
- Onion (chopped finely) 1
- Salt to taste
- 2 teaspoons ginger-garlic paste
- 2 tablespoons oil
Grind for Dhansak Masala: (You can make double this quantity and store in a bottle)
- 1 tablespoon Cumin seeds
- 2 table spoons Coriander seeds
- 6 whole Red chilies
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cardamoms
- 4 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 peppercorns
- 1 star anise
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- ¼ teaspoon shahjeera seeds
In the pressure cooker, put in the mutton/chicken pieces, dals, vegetables, salt, chilies and turmeric powder. Cook till meat and dals are soft (about 20 minutes). Then remove the meat pieces and mash the dals and vegetables really well. Take 2 tablespoons oil in another pan, add the chopped onion, ginger garlic and ground ingredients. Fry till a rich color is obtained. Then add the meat and fry really well. Add the vegetable and dals and simmer on a low flame.
I generally use a short cut while making this dish. I use a pressure cooker to directly fry the onions, ginger-garlic and Dhansak Masala, then add all the vegetables and lentils (which I have soaked for 30 minutes) and put on the lid and pressure cook for about 15 minutes. I take another smaller cooker and cook the mutton or chicken pieces and use some of the stock to thin the Dhansak and keep the rest of the stock for soups. I use a hand blender to churn the dal and vegetables in the cooker after the mixture has cooled, put it in a dish to which I add the mutton or chicken pieces and a cup of the stock, bring to a boil and serve along with kebabs and brown rice.
The thing to remember is that each Parsi family has its own recipe and combination of ingredients. Some only use Tur dal instead of mixing three kinds of lentils, others even put in moong dal, tamarind pulp and a dash of grated jaggery in Dhansak. I have cooked this dish leaving out the ingredients I could not find easily and it has turned out well in each and every case. I have substituted diced potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots for pumpkin and brinjals and made do with whatever whole spices I could find. Dhansak Masala is available in Mumbai and Pune in packets. For those staying elsewhere, use the recipe given.
- 500 grams minced mutton
- 1 medium onion, chopped fine and fried
- 2 teaspoons ginger-garlic paste
- Salt to taste
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon Garam Masala powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 bunch finely chopped fresh coriander
- ½ bunch finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- 2 to 4 finely chopped green chilies, according to taste
- 2 medium sliced bread
- 1 egg
- 1 cup dry bread crumbs
- Oil for frying.
Soak bread in water for 10 minutes, remove from water and squeeze dry. Mix together all ingredients, except bread crumbs, and oil. Cover and keep for 1 hour. Divide mixture into 20 small balls and roll each ball in crumbs till lightly coated all over. In a non-stick pan, shallow fry until brown.
- 2 cups basmati or long grain rice
- 2 onions, finely sliced
- 2 more onions thinly sliced and crisp fried for garnish
- 3 teaspoon sugar
- 2 pieces cinnamon sticks of 5 cm (2 inches) each
- 6 cloves
- 2 bay leaves,
- 5 peppercorns
- 4 cardamoms
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds,
- A pinch of ‘shahjeera’ seeds
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons oil or ghee
Soak rice in water for 20 minutes. Heat oil or ghee in a degchi (pan) and fry onion in it till brown. Add the whole spices. Put in the sugar in and let the onions and sugar turn dark brown. Drain water from rice and add to onion. Cook these for five minutes or till the rice is fried.
Add salt and three cups water. Bring to boil, then cover lower flame and continue cooking till water is absorbed and rice is cooked. Remove in a serving dish. Sprinkle some fried onion on top before serving.
Kachumbar or a salad with an onion base is served with the rice, lentils and kebabs.
- 2 medium-sized onions chopped very fine
- 3 tomatoes chopped very fine
- 1 large cucumber chopped very fine
- 2 green chilies chopped very fine
- 1/2 bunch coriander leaves and ½ bunch mint leaves chopped very fine
- Juice of 1 lime or ½ teaspoon malt vinegar
- Salt to taste
- 1 tsp sugar
Mix all the vegetables together in a large salad bowl. Add the lime juice/vinegar, salt, sugar and chili powder. Mix well and serve.
No dessert is required after this lunch. When we were children and there were still Parsi cricketers in Team India, if they performed badly after lunch break, someone was sure to quip, “He must have had Dhansak for lunch.” This dish is so rich, yet so delicious that one goes on taking helpings even after one is full! One only stops when it is time to take a Sunday Siesta!
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Beyniaz is a Law Graduate from Mumbai; she has Master’s Degrees in Economics and Politics from Mumbai University. She has written many Political Commentaries, Book Reviews, Sports Articles and Features on various Personalities, Travel, Food and Geospatial Technology for magazines and newspapers in India and abroad. She loves flying, adventure sports and cricket. A history buff, Beyniaz’s sparkling wit is a part of her persona.
Her interests include reading, writing, cooking and travelling. She lives in Secunderabad, India.