Dhansak dal

The day I first had dhansak is vividly clear in my mind. I was over at my best friend’s house to work on a project and her mother invited me to stay for lunch. I remember sitting down at the table with her mom deftly filling two plates and putting them in front of us. It looked like rice and dal which made me happy. Varan bhat is pretty much a perennial favourite of mine. But the dal was more the colour of sambar and the rice seemed to be brown rice. I took a bite. I remember my taste buds being going into overload with all sorts of flavour.

I took another bite and just couldn’t stop smiling. My friend’s mom asked me if anything was wrong and I told her this was one of the most wonderful things I had eaten. I remember this thoroughly amused her because dhansak is also considered funeral food. I asked my friend in a low voice that if this was Parsi funeral food, was their celebration food so good that people died in ecstasy eating it. My poor friend laughed so hard she almost choked.

I’ve eaten dhansak many times since then, each time with just as much enthusiasm. I knew the dish well-enough that I was quite surprised when Amey told me he was sure he had eaten it but had no memory of it. It’s one of the big reasons I bought My Bombay Kitchen. I felt as a lover of all things dal, it was essential that Amey taste this gem of its kind.

Let me start out by saying that this recipe makes a lot of dhansak dal. Simply epic amounts. Like call-in-your-neighbourhood-we-are-going-to-eat-like-it-is-going-out-of-style quantities. It does loosely translate into a wealth of ingredients, after all. I wish all my friends weren’t travelling for Thanksgiving because I’d call them over for a dhansak party. As it stands, it is safe to assume that this two person household is going to be eating it for days. Good thing we eat dal like we eat soup and that this meal covers at least three of the basic food groups.

You might look at this recipe and decide this looks like an awful lot of work and time spent over dal. It certainly is more work than you put in for the basic kind. But most of the work is done up front. Then this mixture of veggies and lentils quietly boils away on the stove, with only its quiet hissing and boiling to remind you it’s around. Your nose of course, won’t let you forget it. If you have a pressure cooker you could cut the time taken to cook this into half. I do have a pressure cooker but it is not very large. Yes, I could have cut the recipe in half. This isn’t baking and I know it would have had zero effect on the flavour. But I had a medium-sized pumpkin from my CSA among the various other assortment of veggies that I thought I’d use up in one fell swoop, so I went with Ms. King’s quantities on this one. If you don’t have an army to feed, feel free to cut the recipe in half.

Is it all worth it, you may ask. In my opinion, yes it is. The resultant end dish is complex one, enriched with the mingling of flavours of all of the lentils, vegetables and spices. I cannot recall a dish that tastes this decadent with such a small quantity of oil, with no addition of dairy. If you make a chicken, lamb or mutton version, which involves poaching the meat in water and then using that poaching liquid to cook the vegetables and dals, I imagine the favours would be even more enhanced. Truly, this dal is an embarrassment of riches, one that certainly should be tried in every dal-loving home.

It is traditionally served with vagharela chawal, a sweetened and spiced khichdi type of rice that is a perfect foil for the dal. We made ours with brown rice and then we made the kababs that Ms. King says traditionally accompany dhansak. I’ll post recipes for both shortly.

The recipe asks for Parsi sambhar masala in addition to the dhansak masala. I admit I did think this was just overdoing the masalas for the sake of it. At some point, so my thinking went, you would add so many spices that they would become diluted. But I was wrong, all of the spices come together to create something far beyond their individual qualities. This is an amazing and wonderful dish. Feel free to substitute the kale for spinach or another leafy green. The Parsi dhansak masala that I posted earlier can also easily be found in the shops. The Parsi sambhar masala, I’m not sure about. I made my own. If you don’t have it, I’d skip this and perhaps add another teaspoon of the dhansak masala.

Dhansak dal
Adapted from My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King
Servings: TBD

Toor Dal – 1 cup
Chana dal (split chickpeas), Moong dal (mung beans) and Masoor dal (red lentils) – Any ratio of these three, 2 cups
Sweet potato – 1, unpeeled and chopped into large chunks
Potato – 1, unpeeled and chopped into large chunks
Pumpkin – 1 cup of heaped chunks
Leeks – 3, cut into large pieces
Kale – 4 cups of leaves, roughly chopped
Mint – 1/2 cup of leaves
Tomatoes – 2, coarsely chopped
Fenugreek leaves (Kasoori Methi) -1/4 cup, dried
Cilantro – 1 cup, packed
Eggplant – 1, medium, cut in large cubes
Garlic –  6 cloves
Green chillies – 3
Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
Salt – 2 tsp

Large onion – 1, finely chopped
Ginger-garlic paste – 3 tsp
Dhansak masala – 4 tsp
Parsi Sambhar masala – 3 tsp
Red chilli powder – 2 tsp
Oil – 3 tbsp

– Put everything in the first paragraph of the list of ingredients above in your largest pot with a thick bottom. Cover with 10 to 12 cups of water, just enough to cover all the ingredients.
– Bring the above to a boil, then cover and simmer until the dals are thoroughly cooked, about an hour. If you are using a large pressure cooker, this time could be highly reduced depending on your cooker’s settings.
– When everything is boiled, uncover and blend using an immersion blender until smooth. Alternatively, allow to cool and blend in batches in your food processor or blender.
– In a separate pan, heat the oil. Add the onion and fry until softened.
– Add the ginger-garlic paste, dhansak masala, sambar masala and chilli powder and fry for five more minutes.
– Add the onion mixture to the dhansak. Stir to mix, then bring to a boil. Then turn it down and allow to simmer for another 45 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. You should have a thick but pourable dal.

Serve over rice.

Now, for the giveaway winners. The following numbers were selected via Random.org

Congrats Divya and Kankana. I’ll contact you shortly for your addresses. I’ll be sending you some of the Parsi Sambhar Masala too. Thanks to everyone who participated. I had lots of fun with this masala so I’ve decided I’m going to do one of these giveaways whenever I try new ones. I hope you’ll join me for the next one.



  1. arundati

    looks like just what i need! but am on a grain free diet for 4 weeks to figure out some stuff…. till then… sighing at the pictures and bookmarking!

    • Sharmila

      Hope you have things figured out and can eat grains again soon. Meanwhile, the dal just by itself is also pretty great. (I won’t lie though, it is much better with that rice.)

  2. Priti

    Congrats to the winners! The Dhansak dal looks very elaborate but its worth the effort since it is so healthy. I hate to point this out but for all those who intend to try this, just like the parsi ‘dhana-jiru’ is different than the regular ‘dhana-jeera’ powder one finds in Indian grocery store the parsi sambhar masala is different than the easily found south indian sambhar masala. The author points this in glossary (Pg. 310). One can buy Parsi Sambhar masala from any grocery store near Parsi colony or she directs the reader to its recipe on Page 37 in the book.

    • Sharmila

      Priti, thank you for catching that! Posting late at night for NaBloPoMo makes me forget some of the things I want to talk about and this was an important one. I’m going to edit my post now.

      • Priti

        I think you are doing really great and the NaNloPoMo is such a treat to us readers. I have been looking forward to interesting posts everyday. I thought twice before pointing that out and since it was important finally posted it, I apologize if you felt bad. On my next trip to Mumbai I plan to stock up on this Parsi Sambhar Masala or maybe I should just dust my laziness off and make some myself. 🙂

        • Sharmila

          Gosh Priti, no apology necessary. I appreciated you bringing my attention to my oversight. Please don’t worry about it. It was an honest mistake and I have no problem owning up to that. And thanks to you, it has been corrected 🙂
          I’d make the sambhar masala. It was super simple. I should post that recipe too.
          Looks like with the rice and kabab recipes coming up, this will be a dhansak related week.