Dhansak is the ultimate Parsi comfort food and evokes powerful emotions. Every family has their own recipe and it’s something all Parsis take pride in. Parsis came to India from Persia around a thousand years ago and landed in Gujarat and till today many of them live in Gujarat and surrounding areas. Parsis ingrained themselves well into the Indian way of life and Gujarat has had a major influence on evolution of Parsi cuisine over the years and Dhansak is one such dish part of that evolution. It’s a dish made from three to four types of lentil cooked alongwith Mutton, served with the Parsi style of Brown rice and Kachumbar. Dhansak at SodaBottleOpenerWala is made the classic way, but we serve it in our own unique style; in metal tiffins.
Parsi recipes aren’t just different across families, there are also variations that’ve crept in over different regions that they’ve settled in across India. Gujarat, Bombay/Pune, Delhi and the North, Kolkata and the East, Hyderabad and the South have all been somewhat influenced by regional influences and we’ve been lucky to go to Parsi homes across different regions to taste these marginal variations. At SodaBottleOpenerWala, we pride ourselves in consistently producing flavours in the same exact manner across the different cities we’re present in, but Dhansak is one exception we’ve made. In Bombay we serve the Bombay / Gujarat style and in the rest of India, we serve a different style, that’s also authentic but with a different inspiration.
Dhansak is never made using one spice mix called Dhansak masala. It’s always made using a combination of two spice mixes – The Parsi Dhana-Jeeru (a combination of Coriander seed and Cumin alongwith with other spices and is quite different from the Gujarati Dhana-Jeeru) and Parsi Sambhaar masala (a flavourful red coloured combination of chilly, spices and garlic). The Dhansak at SodaBottleOpenerWala is made using both spice mixes. Both of which are made for us by Nilufer Dhondy.
Dhansak classically is a Mutton dish and is made with lentil, mutton and vegetables cooked together and served with the Parsi way of making Brown Rice and Kachumbar. Most recipes use three to four lentils (some families make with three and some with four). Some recipes use Tur Dal, Chana Dal and Red Masoor Dal. Some replace Chana Dal with Moong Dal and some use all four. There are probably recipes which use other combinations, but the above mentioned are the most common and acceptable for Dhansak. Most recipes also use Potato, Brinjal, Pumpkin, Onion and Tomato which are blended into the cooked Dal and cooked with Mutton. Some families also add fresh Fenugreek to this
Mutton can be changed to Chicken, keeping all other parameters same. The Vegetable Dhansak at SodaBottleOpenerWala is made by adding veggies to the rice and not to the lentils, which already has vegetables in it and by adding veggies to the lentil mix, we felt would change the basic flavour of the dish. Parsi Cuisine doesn’t have a natural recipe of Vegetable Dhansak and this’s something that we’ve had to adapt. Adaptations are not simple decisions of replacing veggies with meat. One has to be respectful of the thought process of the dish in its entirety, the techniques used and the end result flavours. In our philosophy, adaptations are always made keeping all this in mind.
The Rice served in Dhansak is called Brown Rice. This’s actually white rice is cooked with either Browned onion or caramel or in some recipes, both. The use of Browned onion or Caramel to make Brown Rice has been the cause of many Parsi Saas-Bahu (daughter-in-law and mother-in-law) fights. It’s a serious enough offence in the eyes of either party. But rarely is there a Saas-Babu fight on whether to use White rice or to use Brown Rice (the ingredient) in this dish. The third essential part of Dhansak is the Kachumbar, which’s a salad made from onion, tomato, fresh coriander, lime and salt. Some cut them as batons, as we do at SodaBottleOpenerWala and some cut it long.
As I’d mentioned at the start of this post, Dhansak is the ultimate Parsi comfort food. Traditionally, it’s the first meat dish that’s made after three days of mourning after the passing away of some close. In all Parsi families, Dhansak is an popular Sunday lunch dish that had after the customary downing of a couple of beers. But deep down for most Parsis, it’s a dish that evokes powerful emotions and comforts like none other.
Do try the Dhansak at SodaBottleOpenerWala.
Country Head and Cuisine Director, SodaBottleOpenerWala