I had been wanting to participate in the Paper Chef event for some time now. This weekend I even remembered to check the list of ingredients posted by Owen at Tomatilla but there was only the running list. Then I checked again on Monday. Nothing. As I began to wonder if I really understood the rules…there was the list of ingredients on Tuesday, finally!
1. Barberries – or any berries.
3. Spinach (or any other green), and since Paper Chef #22 had ended up starting on a slow note, the topical ingredient was going to be
One look at the ingredients and I thought ‘Dhansak’! The first time I cooked this was just a couple of weeks back using a combination of Nandita’s (of Saffron Trail, and someone who seems to be getting mentioned here all the time!) and this recipe. Curried lentils cooked with vegetables, served with rice, what else can you ask for. I knew this was a keeper.
And this time’s Paper Chef event seemed to be calling out for a version of the delectable Parsee Dhansak. The Parsees have contributed to the variety in Indian cuisine in no small way. Their food traces its uniqueness to its roots in ancient Persia (remember Mesopotamia?).
To evade religious persecution in a changing Persia (present day Iran) they fled to friendlier lands and landed at the shores of Gujarat, India. Legend has it that the reigning Raja asked them their intentions. The leader of the Parsees, followers of Zoroatrianism, promised the Raja to assimilate into the locals like ‘sugar in milk’–adding sweetness without being perceived as separate. A promise the Parsees continue to keep. A very educated community whose contributions to art and culture, industrial enterprise, and philanthropy are models in the Indian society. And food is but an important expression of all this…
This recipe is adapted from the one posted by Liza in a forum at Mamta’s Kitchen. The Dhansak uses a number of (everyday) Indian spices such as the coriander, black pepper and cumin and combines them with the less used fennel. The tang comes from the tamarind and the jaggery provides the undertones of sweetness. It is usually cooked with mutton (goat meat) and also includes vegetables such as the pumpkin and eggplant, as also fenugreek greens. So far, so good.
I had to work in some kind of berries. There are no berries in season here in Delhi. To tell you the truth, mulberries are the only ones that grow locally. Dhansak is sweet and sour…why not craisins, sweetened dried cranberries, all the way from the US of A! I still had a couple of handfuls in the bag!
And, while if I am making changes, I might as well add some coconut! After all, it does so well in the South Indian Koottus, which also build on lentils and vegetables. I refrained from the kadi patta (curry leaves) or else it would’ve moved too south of Bombay, away from the present Parsee ‘homeland’. After being around Maharashtrians so long (and on the coast) some Parsi must have definitely thrown some in!
About the slow part. Well, I did take all week to make up my mind, what with Divali round the corner and all the spring cleaning and the goodies that I must make. But, I just could not get it out of my mind. So, at 5 in the evening, I decided there was no getting out of this one.
The dals soaked while I went shopping for the vegetables. The spices were put together for the slow roasting, and the house was filled with their spicy aroma (I heard a few sneezes, I think 🙂 ). The lentils simmered gently with the spice paste…And I cooked some brown rice. Delicious dal over chewy, nutty rice. Hmmm…Yum (don’t let the unflattering picture convince you otherwise). The occasional craisin added an interesting burst of tangy-sweet which was really nice. Next time, I’m doubling the amount (to 1C)!
Here’s the recipe.
1/3 C toor dal (yellow lentils)
1/3 C moong dal (split, skinned moong beans)
1/3 C masoor dal (red lentils)
3/4 t turmeric
2 medium onions, sliced
1 large tomato, chopped
spice paste (see below)
200 gms pumpkin, peeled and cubed
3 C shredded fresh spinach
1 C shredded fresh fenugreek greens (or 2 T dry kasuri methi)
1/2-1 C Craisins (sweetened dried cranberries)
1 t coriander powder
1 t cumin powder
2 T thick tamarind juice
1 T ghee (or butter or vegetable oil)
Soak and cook the lentils (in 3 cups of water) with the turmeric in a pressure cooker for 8-10 min, till soft.
Brown the sliced onions in ghee on slow heat, stirring constantly. Add the spice paste and cook till aromatic (5 min). Add the tomatoes and keep stirring. Add a little bit of the salt here to help cook the tomatoes without needing more fat. The salt sweats the tomatoes and helps in making them mushy faster. Add the coriander and cumin powder. When the paste mix begins to move as a big lump, add the cooked lentils, the vegetables and the craisins. Season with salt. Simmer for 30 min. Add a little jaggery (or molasses) if you would like it sweeter. Mix in the tamarind juice and stir. Sprinkle with lots of chopped cilantro and serve over rice.
If I had some mutton, I would have certainly added that. But there was none in the freezer and no time to go to the butcher. I would stir fry it in a tad bit of oil or ghee (Indian meats are too lean to be cooked in their own fat), and cook with the lentils.
For the Spice Paste
4 dry red chillies
1 t cumin
2 1/2 t coriander seed
1 t black mustard seed
1 bay leaf
3 t fennel seed
2 1″ sticks of cinnamon
15 black peppercorns
1/2 t fenugreek seed
1 green cardamom
1 black cardamom
Dry roast the above ingredients and grind to a paste with
1 T grated ginger
8 small (0r 3 large) garlic cloves
1/2 C fresh grated coconut + water (as needed)