Parsi dhansak

Parsi dhansak

Anjum's Indian Vegetarian Feast
Emma Lee

Dhansak is a fantastic dish from the Parsi community, made from lentils and vegetables. If you are a fan of dhansak, it might be worth buying the ready-made masala available in most Indian shops (even Parsis use it), though I’ve given my own recipe here (see note). I like to serve this with simple basmati rice. The traditional vegetables used are pumpkin, aubergine and potatoes, but I often add other seasonal greens for a one-pot meal (blanch green vegetables before using). Starchy vegetables such as sweet potato, turnips and so on can be added straight to the lentils.


Quantity Ingredient
100g split pigeon peas
50g red lentils
50g yellow lentils
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
15g root ginger, roughly sliced, (peeled weight)
4 fat garlic cloves, peeled and roughly sliced
1 tomato, roughly chopped
salt, to taste
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
3/4-1 teaspoon tamarind paste, dissolved in a little water, or to taste
2-2 1/2 teaspoons caster sugar, or to taste
4 tablespoons dhansak masala, or to taste (see note)
2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves, crushed between your fingers
large handful coriander leaves, chopped

Vegetables I have used (for other options see above):

Quantity Ingredient
125g squash or sweet potatoes, in 2.5 cm cubes
125g japanese aubergines, topped, tailed and cut across into halves or thirds


  1. Place the pigeon peas and both types of lentil in a bowl and wash in several changes of water, until the water runs clear.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and sauté until just browned on the edges. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté gently for one to two minutes. Add the lentils, tomato, salt and turmeric and stir for a few minutes. Pour in enough water to cover by 5 cm and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 25–30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. Stir occasionally, as the lentils will settle on the bottom of the pan, and add water from the kettle as necessary.
  3. Blend until smooth (I plunge my stick blender into the pot). Add the vegetables with a good splash of water and cook for five minutes. Now add the tamarind, sugar, dhansak masala and fenugreek and cook for another five minutes, or until the vegetables are just soft. Taste, adjust the seasoning, sugar and tamarind, stir in the coriander and serve.


  • To make dhansak masala, place 2 tablespoon of coriander seeds, 1 cm of cinnamon stick, 3 cloves and 1 star anise in a dry frying pan and place over a medium heat, shaking to brown the spices evenly. After 30 seconds, add 1½ teaspoon of cumin seeds and ½ teaspoon each of caraway, mustard and fenugreek seeds and roast, shaking the pan often, until the fenugreek and cumin seeds darken, another 30–40 seconds or so. Tip into a spice or coffee grinder, add 8 black peppercorns, ¼ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg and 1–2 dried chillies. Grind until smooth. Store in a jar in a cool, dark place. This should make enough for the recipe above, allowing for more to be added if you want it.
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