Mamma's daal: Dhansak Recipe

Dhansak is arguably the most famous Parsi dish. Yet you will never get it in a Parsi Wedding or navjote or other happy feasts. For it is a funeral dish. So your best hope to get an authentic dhansak is to get invited to a Parsi house. The thing with Dhansak is that it takes four hours and a granny’s love and patience to cook it.
This is my wife’s granny’s dhansak recipe. The Late Manijeh Kerewalla, known as Mamma in the family. Suitably customised for Modern Times where no one has four hours to cook a dish. We got the recipe from her son who wrote it down for us. He also gave us a treasure trove recently. Recipes painstakingly written down by Mamma with her own hands. Yellowing, crumbling sheets of paper which hide a million stories within them.

Ingredients for Mamma's Dhansak Daal,:

·         Toor daal : 125 g
·         1 small brinjal
·         1 piece of pumpkin
·         1 chopped onion
·         1 large potato cut into cubes
·         1 teaspoon methi seeds
·         1 teaspoon dhan jeera masala or Dhansak masala
·         1 teapoon turmeric powder
·         1 teaspoon chilly powder
·         1.5 teaspoon ginger garlic paste
·         Salt
·         1 teaspoon pepper powder
·         1.5 teaspoons butter
·         2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves
·         Wash and soak the toor daal for half an hour in two cups of water
·         Put all the spices,  and the vegetables in it
·         Put the mixture in a pressure cooker and cook on a high flame till there are three whistles. Put it on low flame for half an hour after that
·         Open the cooker when it cools and the steam is released
·         Add a bit of water to loosen the daal and mash it with a spoon (only the mutton pieces should remain whole)
·         Add pepper powder and coriander leaves and let the mixture simmer for five minutes. Stir gently so that no lumps are formed
·         Add the butter or ghee on top of the dal, shut the gas and keep the dhansak covered for five minutes so that all the flavours infuse in
This should be had with rice caramelised with deep fried onion  
PS: Traditional dhansak has mutton in it. You can cook some mutton and add it to the dal when you take it out of the cooker.

Talking of grannies, this is what Siti of Malaysia had to say in a conversation at  the Finely Chopped Facebook Page 

Siti Nurkiah Denni hey ^^..
whoa.. u did try it! the curry xD
well, mostly our curry slightly different from ur country of course =)
im good on cooking the curry. i learn from my mum and grandma.. they know everything from cooking to baking..
sadly, my grandma already passed away and i dont have chance to dig her knowledge about cooking.....

And further when I told her about my granny in Calcutta

Siti Nurkiah Denni aww~ dats soo sweet! =)
better take the chance, learn with her,

Thanks Siti, I look forward to going back to your wonderful country in a few days.

By the  way Banu and I made quite a decent dhansak today. Mamma's grand daughter, Kainaz, approved of it. The colour and consistency looked close to the original. And yet it wasn't the same.

This is what I instructed Banu to do;

  • Soak 250 g Toor daal in water
  • Put in a  100 g piece of pumpkin and 2,3  peeled small aubergines in the dal and water and put it in the pressure cooker
  • Shut the lid and cook on high till there are three whistles
  • Let it simmer on a low flame for ten minutes
  • Take it out and blend the mixture in the Mixer Grinder
What follows from here was a deviation from Mamma's recipe and as per the instructions on the pack

  • Heat a tablespoon of chopped onion in oil
  • Add the dal to this, two tablespoons of Dhansak masala (which you get at grocers at Mumbai) and a tablespoon of salt
  • Let it cook for five minutes
  • Add some chopped coriander leaves, cover with a lid and close the flame
Banu later told my Mom that she used to cook dhansak for 'Parsi Aunty' in our building. The recipe she described was similar to Mamma's... boil at one go version. This octogenarian, Freni Irani or Parsi Aunty, is very ill and in a hospital. Do keep her in your prayers.

We had this with fried surmai or king fish. Mamma would have approved. My mom, who is visiting us from Calcutta, liked it too


Sharmila said…
I want to know about that dhansak masala which I assume is the main thing ... either what is it made of or where can I get it. :-)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
At Sharmila was testing the post when I got your comment. You would get the masala in stores at Pune for sure. They have a decent Parsi population
Sharmila said…
Haan .. so I see .. that snap of the masala packet is a help .. will remember the name. :-)
k said…
if you want to make mamma really happy, i suggest the reapeat include mutton
Ushnish Ghosh said…
Dear kalyan
Ate lot of Dhansak (with meat) but never tried to make. Now I must get the Masala in Delhi and will go for it.
Ha ha what is the meaning of " Siti" in Malaysia ? Find out and let let me know. and dont laugh :-)
Reading the article was great treat as usual
bjalo theko
Ghosh kaku
Lazy Pineapple said…
I have tried Dhansak in a Parsi Restaurant in Pune..was quite sad.

Will try this...seems to be quite easy :)
Anonymous said…
I was searching for this one. Thanks for this recipe.
Jaya M said…
Thank You for a treasure recipe Kalyan, and have linked back to this recipe..hope it's fine with you :-)..