Sunday, May 1, 2011


This is a traditional recipe of the Parsis, almost always served along with paatra ni macchi at a wedding.

The recipe is long and complicated, and is going to take the better part of a day. However, only those that have eaten the real deal can appreciate why the CC loves it made the traditional way.

The title literally means "wealth (=dhan) of vegetables (=saak)", and as you can expect from the title and the context, it consists of a rich stew of lentils, cooked with vegetables, and meat (traditionally lamb but frequently goat), served alongside with a spicy caramelized rice. There are traditional accompaniments — a cucumber-tomato raita and/or kachumber (diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions with salt), and fresh slices of salted cucumber and carrots.

The ingredient list is long so the CC will break it up into its functional components. The CC will try and indicate what actually makes the dish the dish, and what parts are frequently substituted by local fresh vegetables, etc.

The spices are absolutely critical (do not deviate!)

A quick note about the spices. They are really a combination of two spice mixtures in a 3:2 ratio. If you're just making this recipe, you can combine them because they follow the same procedure (roasting + grinding) but just be aware that they really are two logically different spice mixes that just happen to be combined in this specific recipe.

(Yes, this is anal-retentiveness of a superlative nature. Deal with it!)

Please read the instructions. If you read them carefully, you can streamline the recipe. In the modern day with modern equipment, you will not need to spend all day in the kitchen. However, that requires more than a little attention to detail.

There is nothing like this in the literature — caramelized rice with heavily spiced lentils and lamb with the occasional complimentary hit of sweetness from the pumpkin and carrots.

Routine recipes are all fine and dandy but this one is for the betterment of your soul.

Magic awaits!



1/4 cup vaal (absolutely critical!)
1/4 cup whole masoor (brown french lentils — also absolutely crucial!)
1/4 cup toovar (pigeon peas.)
1/4 cup whole moong


1 lb lean lamb (cut into bite-size pieces)
1 cup yogurt
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 tbsp garam masala
4 tbsp ginger-green chilli paste


1 tiny pumpkin (chopped coarsely — traditional)
2 eggplants (chopped coarsely — traditional)
1 carrot, etc. (chopped coarsely — seasonal)
2 tomatoes (chopped coarsely — seasonal)

Fresh Spices

1 large red onion
2" ginger
8-10 Thai green chillies (substitute by 5-6 serranos)
1 tbsp turmeric


Dhansaak Masala

1 stick cassia
2 tbsp coriander seeds (critical!)
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
8 dried red chillies
1/2 tsp poppy seeds
1/4 tsp cloves
4 green cardamom
1 black cardamom (badi elaichi)
1/2 tsp caraway seeds (shahi jeera)
1/2 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 strand mace
1 tsp dagad phool
1 tsp naag kesar

Parsi Sambhar Masala

1 tsp chilly powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
1/4 tsp cloves
1 star anise
1 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 stick cassia


1/2 cup cilantro leaves (chopped fine)




1 cup basmati rice
2 large red onion (cut into thin half-moon rings)
1 stick cassia
6 cloves
10-12 peppercorns
6-8 tbsp brown sugar
2 cups water


Wash and soak the four lentils overnight in an excess of water. The excess is necessary since they absorb a lot more than you think they will.

For the meat, blend the ginger and green chillies with the cilantro leaves, and toss with the lamb, yogurt and garam masala. Refrigerate overnight or at least for 6-8 hours.

In the morning, drain the water from the lentils. Re-soak.

If you have a pressure cooker (highly recommended!) toss the lentils in with some water, and salt. Pressure cook for no more than 10 minutes. Set aside.

Please be aware that the vaal and the toovar are going to "decompose". This is part of the point of the recipe. The "stew" portion, if you will.

(If you don't have one, cook them until the hardest two lentils — masoor and moong are edible. Roughly 60 minutes.)

Meanwhile, chop the fresh spices (ginger, green chillies, onion) in a food-processor. They should be coarsely chopped not ground to a paste because you need to fry them. Set aside.

Heat a dry skillet on medium-heat till it's hot. Dry roast all the spices — the trick is to toss them in order of size, and add the next batch before the previous is well-done. This is a skill, and needs some experience. You could just roast each one separately but that wastes more time. Make sure you don't burn the poppy seeds.

Put them in a bowl, and allow them to cool. When cool, grind to a fine powder in a coffee grinder. Set aside.

First, make the lamb.

Heat some oil in a skillet. When it shimmers, toss in the lamb pieces straight out of the marinade into the oil. The yogurt will look very disturbing interacting with the oil. Ignore this. Keep adding the lamb with the yogurt coating, and letting it cook with the oil. Slowly, toss in the rest of the marinade. Roughly 6-8 minutes in, you will notice that the lamb is well-done, and there's a lovely brown slurry in your skillet. Set the whole thing aside.

Heat some oil in a stock pot. When it shimmers, add the onion-ginger-green-chilli paste, and fry languidly. When it's fried but not caramelized, toss in the vegetables and fry for a bit. Add the lentils. Mix together, and let it heat up. Add the spices. Then the lamb and the sauce.

Let it all simmer together at very low heat for at least 15-20 minutes. The lentils must be "melting" but the vegetables must still retain their identity.

Now, we make the rice.

Fry the onion half-moon rings in some oil. When limp, add the sugar, and coat and let it cook till they are nicely caramelized. Toss in the spices, and the rice, and let the caramel and oil coat the rice grains. Add in water to let the rice cook, and let it cook at a medium-low heat covered till the rice is done.

Serve the rice along side the stew garnished with cilantro leaves.

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