Dhansak is an Indian meat and lentil curry. A Parsi dish, it traditionally has been made using goat meat and served with brown rice. It has become common to find dhansak made with chicken or lamb, and it can even be a vegetarian dish.
Like many curries, there is some flexibility in the ingredients that are used in making dhansak, but the basic elements are the same and produce a rich, spicy, sweet-and-sour curry. As well as a protein, the dish typically includes pumpkin or eggplant, although other vegetables might be substituted. Oil, onion, salt and tomatoes are also always included.
Lentils, or dhal, are a very important component of dhansak, giving the gravy a rich, nutty flavor. The lentils normally are purchased split and skinned, so they generally do not need to be soaked before cooking, although soaking them can help to reduce the cooking time. Lentils that are often used in dhansak include red, yellow, green and black varieties. Field beans and split pigeon peas also are commonly used.
A paste typically is made from garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and cinnamon sticks. This paste also includes fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds, black peppercorns, fennel seeds and red chili powder. Some variations also contain star anise and nutmeg. Other ingredients characteristic of dhansak include garam masala, cardamom, cloves, chilies and tumeric. The sour element of this curry is provided by tamarind paste, and the sweetness is provided by sugar or jaggery.
A common way to make dhansak is to first make the paste by puréeing the ingredients together with a little water. Oil is then heated in a pan and the onion is sauteed until it is soft and golden brown. Salt and the paste are added and cooked for several minutes until all the moisture in the pan has dried up. Tomatoes and a small amount of water are then added to the paste and onions, and the mixture is cooked for several minutes to allow the spices develop their flavor.
The meat is then added to the pan. After the meat has been browned all over, the lentils and some water are added, and the mixture is brought to the boil. After a brief simmering, the eggplant is mixed in and allowed to cook until it begins to soften, at which point the pumpkin is added. The curry is then covered and cooked until the vegetables are tender and the meat is cooked through.
To finish the dhansak, the tamarind paste is stirred in along with the garam masala and jaggery. Often, some of the lentils are then mashed to thicken the gravy. The finished curry is garnished with either coriander or mint leaves and then served.