Lamb with lentils and vegetables, or dhansak, is an ages-old Parsi family recipe. It has something for everyone – lamb, lentils, pumpkin, eggplant, and a creamy texture. Another family-oriented comfort food recipe.
The Parsis have been in India since the 8th century CE. They left Persia and settled on the western coast and Gujerat regions. There is an article in this blog about the wider aspects of their cuisine, but suffice to say it is very compatible with Western taste. Although restaurants are hard to find, it doesn’t matter because the recipes are best prepared at home.
This dish would be served as the centrepiece of a family gathering. It should be served with brown rice and a kachumber. Brown rice is actually white rice, cooked with caramelised onions. Kachumber is a salad of onion, tomato and sometimes cucumber in a vinegar dressing, which helps cut though the creaminess of the pumpkin and toor dal.
This is not an easy dish to make. The preparation is not hard, but getting the balance between sweet, sour and hot requires some patience and constant adjustment. Use salt sparingly. Saltiness will absolutely spoil this dish, but you do need some to bring out the lentil and vegetable flavours. You may consider adding extra jaggery to increase the sweetness, but we find that using butternut pumpkin and the stated amount of jaggery makes the dish sweet enough without altering the balance between sweet, sour and heat. If you use pumpkin other than the sweeter varieties you will almost certainly need to use some extra jaggery.
This is a lamb dish, with a thick lentil and vegetable coating. It is not a lentil stew with some lamb floating in it. The quantities shown in this recipe work for me, but you may need to adjust the balance as there is such a variation in moisture contents of food.
This is a special dish, served for special people every week. It is a great winter dish, as it is wholesome, hearty, and quite healthy.
Take your time, allow some hours to cook it, and you will be rewarded.
- 800 g lamb leg trimmed and cut into 3cm cubes
for the dal
- 60 g split pigeon peas (toor dal)
- 60 g split red lentils (masoor dal)
- 60 g split black lentils (urad dal)
- 1 small eggplant chopped into small chunks
- ½ small butternut pumpkin chopped into small chunks
- 1 brown onion chopped into small chunks
- 1 tsp jaggery
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ cup coriander stalks coarsely chopped
- ½ cup mint leaves coarsely chopped
for the paste
for the lamb
- ½ cup coriander leaves chopped
- ½ cup mint leaves chopped
Put all the lentils, vegetables, onions, salt, chopped coriander and mint into a pan with 500ml of water. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 20 minutes until the lentils have softened. Set aside.
Toast and grind all the dry spices for the paste.
Place the spice powder into a blender with the garlic, ginger and chillies and blend, adding as little water as possible to make a thick paste.
Heat the mustard oil on a medium heat and fry the chopped onions for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, or until they are golden brown.
Add the spice paste and turmeric and fry for a few minutes until golden.
Add the tomatoes and tamarind then stir for about five minutes until the masala is thick and glossy. The oil should be separating from the paste.
Add the lamb and coat with the masala. Fry for two minutes, stirring often. Reduce the heat and simmer the lamb, uncovered, stirring often, for 40 minutes or until cooked through and tender.
Puree the reserved lentil and vegetable mix, and add to the lamb. Bring the mixture up to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently to stop lentils sticking to bottom of the pan. Taste and add salt, if required.
Remove from heat, place in warmed serving dish, sprinkle with coriander and mint leaves and serve.
- The jaggery can be substituted by brown sugar.