Dhansak is a famous Parsi dish. Indian restaurant dhansak curry is adapted from the traditional. But the big flavours, lentils and a bit of sweet and sour remain.

Dhansak gets it roots from Persian cuisine

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.

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.

Indian restaurant dhansak curry in a karai bowl from above.

The lentils give the sauce it’s body

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.

Tamarind sauce is not the same as tamarind paste

This recipe calls for tamarind sauce. Specifically I use Maggi Tamarina. I don’t like to call out product names if I can avoid it. But this is pretty important.

There are different tamarind products out there. You can get a block of tamarind and make it yourself. That’s hard.

You can buy tamarind concentrate or tamarind paste. That’s pretty much pure tamarind and has a far stronger tamarind flavour.

If you want to substitute tamarind paste use 1 tsp or 2 tsp sugar. That should give you about the same flavour profile. Not exactly the same. But close.

Make it with chicken, lamb or beef –  or serve it as a lentil 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. Creamy lentils with in your face dhansak flavours.

Big spoon full of Indian restaurant dhansak curry .

Always do your prep for Indian restaurant style cooking

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. Restaurant style Indian curries take about 10 minutes to cook. There is no time to fiddle once you get started.

Oh, and put on some old clothes.  A bit of splatter is part of the fun but turmeric stains are murder to get out. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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.

Indian restaurant dhansak curry is a great dish. Creamy from the lentils with a great balance of savoury and sweet. If you are a fan of Indian food this one hits the spot.  Just really, really tasty.

Indian restaurant dhansak curry, chana masala and flat bread table scene from above.
Indian restaurant dhansak curry in a karai bowl from the front.
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indian restaurant dhansak curry

Indian restaurant dhansak curry adds a little bit of cooked, pureed lentils for texture.
Course Main
Cuisine Indian
Keyword dhansak
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 2
Calories 536kcal
Author romain | glebekitchen


The spice mix

  • 2 tsp indian restaurant spice mix or curry powder – recipe link below
  • 1 tsp kashmiri chili powder or 1/4 tsp cayenne mixed with 3/4 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp kasoor methi – dried fenugreek leaves
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

The curry ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp oil
  • 1 Tbsp garlic/ginger paste – recipe link below
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste with enough water to dilute to the consistency of pasatta
  • 15 oz curry base
  • 1-2 Tbsp tamarind sauce (not the same as tamarind paste) – more will crank up the tart/sweet nature of this curry. If you want to substitute tamarind paste see the note below.
  • 5-6 Tbsp cooked masoor dahl – make a tarka dahl and use a bit of the lentils in the dhansak
  • 10-12 oz pre-cooked chicken or lamb


  • 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.


Tamarind sauce is a sweet sauce based on tamarind. Maggi makes one that’s pretty commonly available. Tamarind paste or tamarind concentrate is not the same thing as tamarind sauce. If you want to try substituting tamarind paste use 1 tsp of tamarind paste and one or two tsp sugar (creep up on it so you don’t wind up too sweet). Won’t be exactly the same but it will be close.
The recipe for curry base is here.
The recipe for indian restaurant spice mix is here
The recipe for garlic ginger paste is here.
If you haven’t read about Indian restaurant technique yet, do that before you start cooking.
Have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go.
If you are making multiple curries, have your curry base warming in a pot on the stove. If you are just making one, microwave it to warm it up right before you start cooking.
Indian restaurants pre-cook their meat so it’s ready for service. This recipe assumes the same. To pre-cook chicken, simply simmer it with a bit of curry powder and salt in chicken stock for about 10-15 minutes – until it’s barely cooked.
To pre-cook lamb or beef, do the same but plan for 1 to 1/2 hours for lamb and 2 hours or more for beef. You are making stew meat so you are braising until tender. You will need to keep an eye on the level of the stock. For beef use beef stock.
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.


Serving: 2servings | Calories: 536kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 41g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 90mg | Sodium: 1024mg | Potassium: 1030mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 565IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 50mg | Iron: 3.9mg
Make chicken dhansak curry just like they do in Indian restaurants.

33 thoughts on “indian restaurant dhansak curry

  1. I loved your little history lesson, Romain! I totally agree– diversity is good for food. It allows us to learn about other cultures and broaden our horizons through one of the most basic things that connects us all: eating. This dish looks outstanding. I love all the flavors you have going on here. Can’t wait to try it!

  2. I lived in New York City for many years and I loved the melting pot of different cuisines from all over the world. It was my favorite part of living there. I love that you always share such authentic recipes and techniques. And I love lentils!!

    • Lucky you. I love NYC. It’s absolutely electric! I imagine you used to be able get every ingredient known. That would be fun.

  3. It’s insane how many different types of curries are out there. I love learning about it from you 🙂 Before you, I only knew of less than a handful of very common curries! It almost feels like I’m tapping into a wealth of culture and knowledge from you, it’s awesome. I have only had lentils in a soup and I loved how it had almost a natural umami to it so I can imagine this would be an a very flavourful dish. I will need to try this soon!!! 🙂

    • You are right. There are almost endless curry variations out there. The restaurants all tend to stick to a formula for some reason. I will be posting some less conventional restaurant curries before too long.

  4. I absolutely love cooking with lentils! Can’t wait to give the vegan version of this curry a try. Love that you include different ways to make this dish and your excellent guide to Indian restaurant cooking, very helpful! Pinning for later!

  5. What is tomato paste? Is it the same as what we call tomato puree here in uk?

    And can i just use passata instead of tom.paste + water?

      • I think tomato puree is correct, I tried it as per your recipe and the resulting tomato sauce was exactly like passata. Tomato puree comes in a toothpaste like tube and is very strong in flavour.

  6. I stumbled across this fantastic website by accident when I was searching for a recipe for chicken Dhansak and I made it following the instructions and it was the best Indian Dhansak I’ve ever tasted it’s superb so tasty and far better than my local Indian takeaway ,thank you and what a wonderful website and very well detailed and so easy to follow. I’m here in Northumberland England and just had a small problem converting the ”cups” to ounces,apart from that the website is very well done and so helpful Thank You.

    • I’m afraid it doesn’t quite work that way. Restaurant style depends on high heat caramelizing the onions in the curry base. If you double the recipe it is very hard to get the pan hot enough to accomplish this. Best approach is to make it twice. Keep the first portion warm in a saucepan while you make the second portion.

    • As much as any other curry I suppose. I have heard it works but I have never tried. I do freeze the curry base and thaw that to make curries when I want them.

      • Pineapple is a british dhansak thing. You’ll never find a restaurant version without it- it adds the sweetness that makes this dish so delicious! Thanks for your recipe, love the curry base. Tried it this eve… very good and so easy!

        • So glad you liked it. I don’t get the pineapple thing but understand that many people do. That’s the great thing about food. Everyone has little things that just make dishes special for them! I love that.

    • Curry base is a lightly spiced onion preparation that Indian restaurants use as the foundation on which to build the different curries they serve. There are links to the curry base recipe in both the text and notes as well as a link to a description of the whole Indian restaurant curry making process in the post above.

  7. Totally agree with Jill Collington. The First Dhansak I had many years ago in an Indian restaurant in London is my benchmark and every new restaurant I visit I will try the Dhansak. I have tried to make it myself over the years but have failed and no other restaurant has come close to my first Dhansak. Followed this Recipe and adjusted to feed six and WOW. Absolutely fantastic

  8. This is an excellent recipe and the third dish from the restaurant series here that I have cooked. It takes a little preparation time – make sure you have the basics ready – like ginger garlic puree, the liquidised onion spice base, pre-cooked lentils, pre-cooked meat. If you cook Indian often, prepare them all in bulk and freeze them, it makes the cooking a breeze.

    I put everything into little dishes before I start cooking as the restaurant style is very fast – when you start cooking then it’s about 10-15 minutes per dish. That’s what makes this fun – getting to super high quality results without spending 3 hours slaving in the kitchen!

    The tamarind is a critical part of the dish – I experimented with it to get to the right level of “tart” or “sour” and 1 tsp of tamarind paste (that’s way more concentrated than the tamarind sauce Romain mentions, which I can’t buy here) did the job. Next I may try a tiny bit more tamarind and add some sugar to get a more “sweet and sour” taste.

    BTW, from Q above, tomato paste is more concentrated than tomato puree, for anyone nerdy enough to be interested there are international definitions! I suggest stick to paste, passata is way less concentrated and this dish doesn’t need extra fluid.

    Romain’s tip to make a dhal beforehand and use the lentils from that for this dish is really smart. You can also have the dhal as a side dish and/or freeze it…

    I very highly recommend this recipe, it delivered an authentic restaurant style dhansak that the whole family enjoyed. And, having got the garlic/ginger, base sauce and dhal prepared and in the freezer, it was amaaazingly fast to cook. Loved it. Keep up the great work!

  9. I’ve made 3 dishes from the glebe recipes and they’ve all come out really lovely. Dhansak my favourite much better than some restaurants and take aways I’ve had. In fact I wouldn’t buy another take away my wife’s favourite is the karahi and another favourite of mine. I’ve made a dhansak for my son and daughter and both said stunning flavours. I highly recommend glebe kitchen recipes

  10. My wife’s favourite Indian and I’m persuaded to make this on a regular basis. Tastes great using the Tarka Dahl recipe elsewhere on here – I make up a batch and freeze into appropriate 6 Tbsp portions.

    • Great idea. Little lentil portions just ready to go into dhansak on demand. I’m going to start doing that.

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