Dhansak is a famous Parsi dish. Little bit of history. The Parsis were from Persia and migrated to India to escape persecution in or around the 10th century. That’s the beauty of history. People move around. They bring their cooking with them. Don’t mean to oversimplify but immigration is good for food. Diversity. Variety. Ideas. Indian restaurant dhansak curry is adapted from the traditional. But lentils and a bit of sweet and sour remain.
My guess is this dish started out as a way to stretch a relatively rare and expensive ingredient – meat – with plentiful and cheap lentils. It’s a wonderful dish done the original way. Try that some time. It’s also really good done the indian restaurant dhansak curry way. Try that too. The lentils are cooked until they disintegrate. They disappear into the sauce but they bring body and smoothness. The sweet and sour notes come from tamarind sauce. If you don’t want to get tamarind sauce use a bit of sugar and fresh lemon juice. Don’t worry – it will still qualify as Indian restaurant dhansak curry.
This curry works well with chicken, lamb or beef. It’s great as a vegan lentil dish. Increase the lentils to about a cup and just don’t add any meat. That’s actually better depending on your mood. Could be the best lentil dish ever.
Do your prep before you get started. Make your curry base and have some heated and ready to go. Pre-cook your meat. Measure out your ingredients. Have everything ready. Put on some old clothes – a bit of splatter is part of the fun.
If you read the guide to Indian restaurant technique yet, do it now. It has pictures to help you understand the recipe. There’s also a guide to Indian ingredients in that post.
- 2 tsp indian restaurant spice mix or curry powder
- 1 tsp kashmiri chili powder or ¼ tsp cayenne mixed with ¾ tsp paprika
- 1 tsp kasoor methi
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- Make the spice mix.
- Dilute the tomato paste with enough water to get to the consistency of passata.
- Heat your frying pan (don't use non-stick) briefly over medium heat. Add the oil. Use all the oil specified. It's important.
- When the oil starts to shimmer add the garlic ginger paste. Add it into the pan and cook it, stirring constantly, until it stops sputtering.
- Turn down the heat and add the spice mix. This is the critical step. Stir it constantly for 30 seconds. If it starts to darken lift the pan off the heat. You want the spice mix to cook in the oil but not burn.
- Turn the heat up to medium high. Add the diluted tomato paste and stir until bubbles form (the oil will likely separate). This takes around 30 seconds to one minute depending on the heat.
- Add 3 oz of curry base. Stir until bubbles form (little craters really), around 30 seconds. Watch the edges of the pan. The curry can stick here.
- Now add 6 oz of curry base and stir briefly. Let it cook until the bubbles form again. This takes 1-2 minutes.
- Add the rest of the curry base and let cook until the bubbles form. Turn the heat down to low. Add the tamarind sauce to taste.
- Stir in the lentils.
- Now add the pre-cooked lamb, beef or chicken. For a vegetarian version add the paneer and/or pre-cooked vegetables.
- Let the curry simmer for about 5 minutes. If it gets too thick add a bit more curry base. Don't add water.
- Garnish with a bit of chopped fresh cilantro and serve.
Cooked lentils are the key ingredient in this recipe. Plan on making this one on a day when you are also making a masoor lentil dahl - just set a few spoonfuls aside.