Thursday, February 28, 2013

Vegetarian Dhanshak - A Parsi Dal with vegetables

It never occurred to me that someday I would be cooking up “dhanshak” in my kitchen, but then life is as such –“unpredictable”. I was watching  this YouTube video, which has nothing to do with cooking, so when the lead actress- a Parsi girl by herself, showed her “lunch dabba –Tiffin” it had dhanshak and rice. Since then, my mind was pushing me hard to cook dhanshak with whatever ingredients I had in my pantry. But I waited, waited till I got this ready-made dhanshak masala powder packet in Indian grocery super-market here in UK.Now, imagine a Bengali woman cooking up a Parsi recipe and that too in a "phoren" land, globalization has introduced many new features in to our home, and with it many new “zara hat ke” recipes.

But, somehow I felt a strong urge to pen it down , type it down, as this was quite a surprise for me. And I didn’t want to loose any account of it or wake up someday and realize that I have completely forgotten about dhanshak recipe, the one I cooked, so a hurried post that you see now. I felt like if I read it some three years down from now on and try to recall what was going on my mind while cooking up dhanshak, it should sense all genuine, what ingredients were missing, what should have been part of cooking dhanshak recipe or how it was received at the dinner table by my folks. You know in-depth analysis of everything, but then you may ask why I should bog you down with my ramblings. I think ramblings are eternal part of any recipe that is being cooked up in any kitchen I guess. That says “adda” and Bengali two inseparable entities, what goes in a Parsi home that is not known to me as I have no Parsi friends over here, oye! I don’t even have any in India as well. My sole source of hope was the internet, and with so many recipes out in net, I could not just decide, the correct way of cooking up traditional dhanshak recipe; it all looked very hotched-potched to me like cobwebs, but even cobwebs have some patterns.

So, I took the “traditional cook “part out of the cooking board and made her sleep for a while, and meanwhile the “experimental cook” took the baton and proceeded for the time being. I happen to zeroed down these two – one is authentic as it sounds as it comes from another Bengali who is married to a Parsi Mamas Dal at Finely Chopped and another is a name one can reckon with – Khana-Khazana-Dhanshak recipe…with these two recipes as my guide in this unknown territory that I was about to venture out, in a deep ocean and I was left dabbling, trying to paddle up before it’s too late.

Whatever, my introduction to Parsi cuisine or for that matter Parsi Culture and nice people, was only through Bollywood movies or may be up to an extent Freddie Mercury-Queen fame or Zubin Mehta.Yes, you read it right; a faint image comes to my mind whenever I try to capture a Parsi way of life- Pearl Padamasee –“Nargis”making a cup of tea for her onscreen husband Ashok Kumar –“Homi” and then the brewing tussle between their children. Khatta_Meetha_(1978_film)” was epic- Who needs Oscars anyway, just dig into old archive of Bollywood movies, there are many such decent stories. See even the name of Bollywood movie has something to do with eating- “khatta” means sour, “mitha” means sweet .When they sang "Thoda hai Thodi Ki Zaroorat Hai".. 
I thought, that is how one’s life should be, but for every people that “thoda part” is different. you know for some “thoda means—“thoda!!" and for some this thoda means - "thoda!!"…..

Isn’t it same for the red pepper powder or salt in our day-today cooking—my "thoda" can be little different from your "thoda" or vice versa…

If a Parsi bhai/bahan is reading this recipe, then please do not judge on the grounds of recipes or cooking styles that you all are familiar with or might have seen your mother or grandmother cooking up. This Bengali lady is trying to capitalize the ingredients that are now readily available near her neck of the woods for that matter and believe her when she says she adores dal/chawal, that includes dearly dhanshak as well. Now somebody would even question the significance of dhanshak in a Bengali kitchen. But this is not Navroz/Nowruz as the Parsi New Year I guess has still some time- may be in the month of March but official holiday as I happen to check is in the month of August.
Anyhow,if you really care to know,then traditional dhanshak as customary is served in funeral get-to gathers.

But please, as I said I have put the traditional cook to sleep and the experimental cook has taken over, and this recipe is what my folks liked. Although I would welcome all suggestions to improve this recipe and constructive criticism is always welcome but be kind to it .I know you all will be.

Now to the vegetarian dhanshak recipe made in our apartment kitchen
Dhanshak- Vegetarian way 
Recipe requirements
  • 1 cup of masoor dal/pink lentils or red lentils 
  • ½ cup of toor dal/arhar ki dal/yellow split pigeon pea lentil 
  • 1 small brinjal/eggplant/aubergine
  • 2 cups of pumpkin cube pieces-1*1 inch cubes
  • ½ cup of bottle gourd pieces or any squash-1*1 inch cubes
  • Roughly about ½ cup of fenugreek leaves 
  • 1 medium size potato
  • 1 medium size onion
  • 1 inch ginger root
  • 3-4 fat clove garlics
  • 2 tsp of red pepper powder(adjust heat as per personal preference)
  • 1 tsp of turmeric powder
  • 3 -4 tsp dhanshak masala
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 3-4 tbs of mustard oil or any cooking oil
  • 2 tsp of ghee

  • Wash and clean the dals/lentils - masoor, toor dal and then soak them in water for about 1hr.Clean the dals/lentils well in several changes of water. Many times other dal/lentils are also used in addition to toor dal.But Toor dal or arhar ki dal as we know it by common name is the base lentil for dhanshak and in addition to this masoor dal is also used.
  • Now add in ample water in a pressure cooker, to fully submerge the lentils and at least up to the mark up three fingers up the level for lentils. Now add in all the chopped vegetables- pumpkin, brinjal, bottle gourd, potatoes etc .Check the water level if it’s still above three finger mark, if not then add in about 2 cups of water. When I say cups- I mean tea cups, not large coffee mugs.
  • Secure the lid and pressure cook it for two-three whistles. Now let the pressure subside.
  • Meanwhile we will prepare the tadka/phoron/tempering
  • Heat up a fry pan, add in cooking oil, and add in finely chopped onions, ginger and garlic. Many times I do grate them with the help of mandolin.
  • Now fry them well for about 5-7 mints or till the rawness of onion, ginger and garlic fades away.
  • Add in finely chopped fenugreek leaves and tomatoes now.
  • Adjust with seasonings- turmeric powder, red pepper powder, salt, sugar and dhanshak masala.I always use ready-made dhanshak masala powder available here. Although if you can, then go ahead with the basic masala for dhanshak recipe. I use Mangal brand dhanshak masala.
  • Add this fried masala with the cooked dal.Actually before adding the fried masala, check if the cooked dal needs to be made little thin, as with all the vegetables and lentils and that too pressure cooked, turns it very thick. Add enough water to make normal gravy like consistency, and then add the above fried dhanshak masala.Add in finely chopped coriander leaves as well. Adjust salt and sugar if required.
  • Let it simmer for 5-7 mints or till the entire things gets well mixed up. Add in ghee. Actually dhanshak without ghee is unimaginable.
  • This is the very basic way of making vegetarian dhanshak, but dhanshak with meat is the traditional way of preparing Parsi dhanshak .You may add in small cube size pieces of mutton, when frying onion, ginger and garlic and let it cook with the dhanshak masala.Then transfer this cooked mutton with all the fried dhanshak masala to the lvegetables, lentils and pressure cook it for three-four whistles.

This entire process can alternately be done on a slow-cooker.

The dhanshak recipes that are served in many restaurants here in abroad, add many other unnecessary things like –pineapple, spinach etc.Now I am not sure if traditional dhanshak recipe calls for it. However when ever I made it , I always skip these fruits and vegetables- basic vegetables as to my knowledge,that goes in to dhanshak recipe are- pumpkin/butter nut squash, brinjal, fenugreek leaves, bottle gourd and sometimes potatoes as this add up to the volume of gravy. The lentils that go in to making this dal are toor dal/arhar ki dal and masoor dal.And a compulsory accompaniment is Brown rice, if you like eating it. 

For more reference of Dhanshak - 

Happy Cooking Friends


  1. Healthy curry,looks so good,prefect with rice.

  2. Never heard about vegetarian Dhansak. But it is truelly lipsmacking good Jaya. Delicious and healthy.

    today's post:

  3. Long ago i remember making chicken Dhansak from a book, love your vegetarian idea.

  4. Its been a while i cooked Parsi dishes, dhansak looks highly inviting, have to make some again.

  5. Hi. You have given perfect cooking instructions for preparation. I have never cooked Dhanshak. Will definitely try this week. Nalini Bhatt London


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