Dhansak (vegetarian), Parsi style

A vegetarian Parsi dhansak is a one pot, thick stew made up of lentils and vegetables. It is a perfectly balanced flavourful dish that can be enjoyed with an aromatic rice or a crusty pav.

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Sunday afternoon calls for a leisurely lunch and what can be better than a perfectly balanced dhansak with a whole spiced long grain rice caramelized with onions, a cutlet/kabab and some fresh, crunchy kachumbar. That is how most Parsi celebrate this much loved and popular meat and lentil dish, dhansak on a Sunday. Traditionally it was slow cooked that would take hours for the meat, veg and dal to become come together in a thick stew and thus a lunch more suited to be made on a weekend.

I call it a balanced dish because it has everything…in terms of flavour as well as nutrition. The lentils give the creaminess to this dish while the vegetables like pumpkin give an underlying sweetness to counter the bitterness of methi leaves. Whole spiced basmati rice caramelized with onions carries the dhansak flavours well while the fresh kachumbar add loads of texture to this dish.

Secret to an authentic dhansak lies in its wet or dry masala and the secret vinegar that is sourced from Navsari, Gujarat. Parsi vinegar – kolah no sarko, is a sugar cane vinegar that adds a distinct sweet-sour profile to a traditional, authentic dhansak and is a must have pantry ingredient in a Parsi household. Dhansak masala can be either a wet masala made up of garlic, tomatoes, onions with the whole spices or a dry powder one made up of a thoughtful blend of spices like cumin, coriander seeds, whole red chilies, fenugreek seeds etc. Just like kolah no sarko which is an age-old family-owned brand, Motilal Masalawala Mangal’s dhansak masala is a ready dhansak masala trusted by most Parsi households over the years.

Dhansak (vegetarian)
Dhansak (vegetarian)

There are several variations to dhansak and as my Parsi friends inform me, this recipe varies from house to house. The types and number of lentils used, the vegetables and even the masala differs but what remains constant is the balance and the depth of flavour in this dish. And in my opinion, dhansak is like the mint flavoured water that we make for pani puri. Longer it sits, tastier it gets!

The leftover dhansak is most often served with eggs and ladi pav or the famous Irani bread, brun pav which has a crusty top and a soft, chewy crumb. Being away from home we miss Irani bakeries and somehow the vegetarian version reminds me of the texture similar to pav bhaji so I often serve it with brun pav or ladi pav and a crunchy salad made up of green apple, cucumber and onion. The sour profile is essential to this recipe and the green apple and the lemon juice do that beautifully in absence of the parsi vinegar in this recipe.

Some other recipes that may interest you:

  1. Eggless mava cake with leftover mithai
  2. Softest rava dhokla 
  3. Fada ni khichdi (dalia khichdi)
  4. Golden bhel
  5. Crispy coconut and lemon rice (tahdig)

 

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