Updated: Jun 24
The Parsis are a small community who migrated to India from Persia (Iran today) in the 8th century. This community has had tremendous impact on Indian history and culture. Here is a more detailed writeup on this community.
When we talk about Parsi cuisine, dhansak, is the most quintessential dish. It is a perfect blend of ancient Persian cooking technique and Indian spices. This dish is a meal to itself, filled with lentils, tons of vegetables and meat making it both nutritious and delicious. It is always served with caramelized rice pilaf and onion kachumbar, both recipes are included here.
I was eating dhansak after probably 30 years, the first time at a dear friend's home. I may have ordered it at a restaurant in-between, but do not remember enjoying it as much. This dish always reminds me of him, our fun times as college students in Mumbai and young adults.
The dhansak has a complex flavor profile from the multitude of ingredients and the kachumbar adds the touch of acid on the palate to the otherwise dense dish. This dish is quite a bit of work to make, mainly in the prep stage, but the recipe turned out well and made the effort all worthwhile.
This is a wonderful cookbook that highlights Parsi cuisine. It is packed with traditional recipes from the community, with a short narratives about the history, dish or culture. It tends to favor the Bombay (Mumbai) style dishes that are famous, as well as, some of home recipes from the authors family kitchen. It is a wonderful specialized cookbook.
For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.
For the dhansak:
1/2 cup pigeon peas, toor dal
1/2 cup red lentils, masoor dal
1/2 cup split chickpeas, chana dal
1/2 cup split green mung beans
1 cup potato, peeled and diced
1 cup sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 cup pumpkin, peeled and diced
1 cup eggplant, diced
6-8 green chilies, sliced
8-10 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup scallions, sliced
2 cups spinach, washed well and tough stems removed
1 cup fenugreek leaves, or any bitter leaf, well washed
1 cup gongura, or any sour leaf
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cup cilantro, leaves and tender stems, minced
1/2 cup mint
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Salt, to taste
Water, to just cover the ingredients
2-3 tablespoons oil or ghee
1 onion, finely minced
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic paste
1 1/2 tablespoons ginger paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
3 teaspoons sambar powder
2 teaspoons chili powder, or to taste
1 lb chicken breast or boneless thigh
1 small bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
2 green cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon sambar masala
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 teaspoon ginger paste
4 cups water
Salt to taste
For the onion kachumbar:
2 large onions, thinly sliced and the petals separated
1 tomato, finely diced
1 small cucumber, peeled and finely diced
2-4 green chilies, finely minced
1/3 cup cilantro, minced
Lime juice, to taste
Salt, to taste
For the caramelized rice pilaf:
2 tablespoons ghee or oil
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 whole cloves
1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
12 black peppercorns
1 small onion, or 4 shallots, minced
3 tablespoons sugar
Salt, to taste
3 cups basmati rice
To make the dhansak:
Add all the ingredients from the toor dal to the water to a large pot, slow cooker, or pressure cooker. Cook on the stove for 90 minutes, in the pressure cooker on the dal setting, or slow cook for 5 hours. I prefer to slow cook this potage so the flavors have time to come together.
Puree the mix till smooth using a hand blender or in a regular blender till smooth. set aside.
Heat the oil on a medium flame in a small saucepan. Add the onions and sauté till lightly golden. Add the garlic and ginger pastes and continue to fry till cooked, about 1 minute. Add the dry powders and sauté for 30 seconds. Pour over the pureéed mix and stir in. Simmer for 10-12 minutes.
The vegetarian version of the dish is ready. Proceed for the chicken version below.
To cook the chicken, add all the ingredients in that section to a small saucepan and simmer for 40-45 minutes. Make sure the water does not evaporate completely. However, you want as little water as possible.Cool and shred the chicken between your fingers.
Add the chicken and remaining liquids to the dhansak, mix in and simmer for 15 minutes.
To make the onion kachumbar:
Mix all the ingredients together tossing them well. Allow to sit for at least 2 hours, or if you sit it overnight the onions will pickle a bit. Some folks like the onions fresh and strongly flavored, and some folks prefer it milder, it is your choice.
To make the caramelized rice pilaf:
Heat the ghee/oil in a saucepan. Add the whole spices and sauté for 30 seconds till the spices release their aroma.
Add the onions and sauté till the onions are deeply colored. Add the sugar and continue to sauté till the sugar is caramelized, about 45 seconds. Add the rice and sauté to coat the rice with the oil. Add the salt and water and cook. If cooking on the stovetop, add water to the first joint of your finger, salt and mix well. Simmer till cooked. I generally transfer this to the rice cooker and have the device finish the rice for me. Fluff the rice gently after it has finished cooking to prevent it form caking.
Serve the dhansak with the rice and kachumbar.