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Mutton and lentil potage (Dalcha)

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

Dalcha is core to Hyderabadi culture and one of the dishes that define the culture and cuisine. History teaches us that the dish was first made by the Mughals who originated in the Samarkand region and conquered India. They were fascinated by Indian cuisine and took every opportunity to adapt the local dishes to their palates. This is the perfect dish that tells the story. They assimilated the traditional South Indian Sambhar and added meat to it, as well as other lentils giving birth to Dalcha.

This is another dish from my childhood, I always fondly remember the celebrations and the lovely dinners where this dish m took center stage. There was usually very little else on the table because everyone wanted to gorge on this dish, it remains special to this day. Here is a recipe that is as close to the original as I used to enjoy.

This dish is made on special occasions when guests are invited or at special celebrations. It is a hearty dish with countless variations between households, but at its core, it is a mix of lentils and meat slow-cooked to perfection. Today most folks pressure cook the lentils and meat for speed, but I tend to slow cook them over the stove so that the flavours have time to come together and the lentils retain a touch of structure and texture. The dish has deep flavours, the spices are bold, the dish spicy and the meat should be fork-tender and drop off the bone.

Pratibha Karan started her career as an IAS officer, and after a successful career migrated to authoring cookbooks. She has published a couple of cookbooks, and her work as the Secretary in the Ministry of Food Processing prepared her for this new role. This cookbook is her opus on Nawabi Hyderabadi cuisine, she brings to your table the distinct dishes of the era and culture. From the classic Dum ka biryani to the other lesser-known dishes that she has resurrected, this book is filled with recipes that shine on the table.

For more recipes from this book, click here.


1/2 cup split red lentils (masoor dal)

1/4 cup split pigeon peas (toor dal)

1/4 cup split chickpeas (chana dal), mix all dals and soak in water overnight

5 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

3 tablespoons oil

1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

4 green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon caraway seeds (ajwain seeds)

2 large onions, thinly sliced

1 1/2 tablespoons ginger paste

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic paste

1 teaspoon chilli powder

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 lb bone-in mutton, a mix of rib chops and leg

4 cups water

Salt, to taste

2-3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate

2-3 green chillies, thinly sliced

4-5 tablespoons cilantro, minced + for garnish

For the temper:

2-3 tablespoons ghee

8-10 cloves of garlic

4 dried red chillies

15-18 curry leaves

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

Rinse the dals out with fresh water and bring to a boil with the salt and turmeric. Simmer gently, scooping the scum off the tip. Simmer for 2 hours till the lentils are completely broken down. Check for water to make sure the lentils do not dry out, adding more as needed. You are looking for a thick dal.

Heat the oil in a large pot, one large enough for the entire dish. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and caraway seeds, and sauté for 30 seconds until the spices darken slightly. Add the onions and cook on medium-low heat till the onions are dark golden.

Add the ginger and garlic paste and fry for 30 seconds till the ginger no longer smells raw. Add the chilli powder, turmeric and salt and give a quick stir.

Add the meat and fry on low heat till the meat is sealed and the spices and onions coat the meat well. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 90 minutes. Stir the pot occasionally to make sure the spices are not sticking to the bottom and burning, and check that you have enough liquids in the pot, topping up if needed. By the end of this time, you should have a thick curry that clings heavily to the meat and the oils should be floating to the surface.

Combine the meat and lentils, add the tamarind, green chillies and cilantro and mix in well. Simmer the dal for another 1 hour gently, the lentils should be almost completely broken down at this point. Stir the pot frequently to make sure that the lentils are not sticking to the bottom of the pot. Taste and adjust salt if needed.

To serve, heat the dalcha well and pour it into a deep bowl. Heat a small "vatki" pot with the ghee and add the garlic pods. Fry till they are a light golden. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir quickly. Pour over the dalcha. Serve immediately with Saffron-jeera rice.

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