Dhansak – A Parsi Favorite

  • Servings : 10
  • Prep Time : 30m
  • Cook Time : 1:10 h
  • Ready In : 1:50 h

For those who’ve never heard of it – Dhansak is an Indian dish, especially popular among the Parsi Zoroastrian community. The main ingredients are lentils and with vegetables, spices, cumin seeds, ginger, and garlic together with meat and either gourd or pumpkin, it makes for long cooking time and a very heart meal. So in most Parsi homes, dhansak is traditionally made on Sundays owing to the long preparation time, eaten for lunch with a special brown rice and followed by a long, deep siesta.

While many people from outside the community consider Parsis and Dhansak almost synonymous, most probably haven’t heard of this one… Yes, we have dhansak very often, but it’s actually a dish reserved for the fourth day after a death. For four days we poor Parsis show our intense grief by making the greatest sacrifice and going vegetarian, and on the fourth day break our fast with a rich, non-vegetarian feast of dhansak. It’s assumed by then that the dearly departed is happily on his way to the heavens and won’t mind. For this reason dhansak is never served at weddings, though we do have a similar masala dal that we eat with our pulao. But that’s another recipe. Let’s get back.

Dhansak is one of those ubiquitous dishes that all Parsis are supposed to make expertly and love eating. Every Parsi family has it’s own version of dhansak, and every family probably has a ‘short-cut’ method that’s used for ‘just family Sundays’ and another more elaborate method for showing off. This particular recipe is a sort of combination of all the ‘special’ dhansaks I’ve had and the simplicity of the short-cut methods. Here goes…


Step 1

Soak the tamarind and jaggery in a cup of hot water. Set aside.

Step 2

Put the fenugreek leaves into salt water for about 20 minutes to remove bitterness. Squeeze out water when the time is done and set aside.

Step 3

Marinate the meat with the ginger-garlic paste and a teaspoon of salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Step 4

Meanwhile chop the onions fine and all the vegetables into 1 inch large chunks.

Step 5

Put the meat on the stove, add a cup of water and cook until tender, and a little gravy is left.

Step 6

Wash all the lentils well, then add the chopped vegetables (except the onion). Put in enough water to cover by about and inch and cook.

Step 7

Meanwhile heat the oil and fry the onions till transparent. Add all the spices - red chilies, tumeric, dhansak and sambhar masala powders and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add a little water and fry some more.

Step 8

When the lentil / dal is cooked, let it cool and then pass it through the mixer till smooth. Mix in the cooked meat.

Step 9

Now add all the cooked meat and lentil mixture to the fried spices.

Step 10

Squeeze the tamarind through a strainer to remove any fibers. Add it to the lentil and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes so that all the tastes combine. Check the salt, and add water to get the desired consistency.


  • 1 kg lamb cut into 1" pieces with bone
  • 1 cup pigeon peas ( tur dal )
  • 1/4 cup husked green beans ( moong dal )
  • 1/4 cup husked Bengal gram ( channa dal )
  • 4 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste
  • 2-3 green chilies, seeded
  • 2 tablespoons chopped coriander
  • 100 grams ripe red pumpkin
  • 1 medium sized bringal
  • Half a bunch fenugreek leaves ( methi )
  • 2 large onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 6-8 red chilies, finely ground
  • 2 tablespoons Dhansak masala powder
  • 2 tablespoons sambhar masala powder
  • 1 tablespoon jaggery
  • A fistful size of tamarind
  • Oil to fry
  • Salt to taste

Serve piping hot with brown ‘vagharela’ rice and an onion salad. Use lime liberally if you like it.
Other vegetables you can add to this in small amounts include 6 spring onions, 1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves, and 1 tomato.

You can also replace lamb with chicken. Or simply remove all the meat, make a vegetarian version and then serve the dish with mutton kababs on the side, another popular way to eat it.

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