Lamb Dhansak

This is a really hearty Parsi recipe.  Although there are many variations of the dish, it has three core elements – lentils of some form; pumpkin/squash, and a protein (I’ve used Lamb, but chicken, mutton, goat all work well – it can even be made without meat).  The final dish is a filling, moreish casserole dish that is perfect for a cold day.  I may not have done this in the ‘traditional’ manner, but I’ve gone with a combination of my Western cooking and traditional Parsi methods to, hopefully, give you a good result.  I’ve cooked mine in a slow cooker, but you can equally cook this in a casserole dish and slow cook it in the oven.  Let’s get into it!

Ingredients:

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1kg of cheap cuts of meat – I’ve used lamb neck here, but anything that can be slow cooked to tenderness is perfect
1 can of tomatoes (or 4 medium sized fresh tomatoes, if in season)
1/2kg of pumpkin, cubed into 2cm chunks – I’m using a Crown Pumpkin here, but butternut squash would also work very well
1 lemon or lime
1 medium onion, chopped
200gms of mixed dals – I’ve been fancy and used three different dals, but if you just have the yellow toor dal or some pink lentils, that’ll work fine
2cm of ginger root, grated
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
2 tablespoons of plain white flour
6 green cardamoms seeds
1/2 teaspoon of cloves
2 teaspoons of chilli powder (or smoked paprika, for a milder curry)
4 sticks of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of tamarind puree (if you have it – it’ll add a great sourness to the dish)
Oil for frying
Salt & Pepper for seasoning

Method:

Start by soaking your lentils in some boiling water.  Ideally you’d leave your lentils overnight to bulk up, but an hour in boiling water will do the trick.

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Once soaked, rinse your lentils until the water runs clear.

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Next, coat your meat with your cumin, chilli powder, garlic, ginger and flour.  Make sure all the pieces of meat are well covered and set aside until it’s time to fry.

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In a deep saucepan (or a slow cooker, like me), gently fry your onions with a little oil and the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.  Let your onions fry slowly until translucent, but don’t let them burn.

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When your onions are ready, sear your meat in a hot frying pan with a little oil.  Don’t fry for too long or the meat will burn – we’re just trying to get the milliard effect going. Cook on one side…

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Then flip over.  Cook in batches, if needed.

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Place your meat in with your onions.

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Add in your lentils that have been soaked and rinsed through.

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Add in enough water to cover all the ingredients – you can use a beef stock to give a stronger flavour, but I found this a bit overkill and the only stocks I had available gave it too Western a taste, killing the Indian/Parsi spices.

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Add in your can of tomatoes…

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And your tamarind paste.

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Add in your pumpkin cubes and stir all the ingredients together…start wishing that you had a bigger pot!

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Bring your dish to the boil before turning the heat down to a simmer to slow cook for 3 hours until the meat is tender…or, if you’re lazy, pressure cook for 10-15 minutes.

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If you’ve pressured cooked your food, it may be a little thin, so you need to simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, to reduce the gravy to a thicker consistency.

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Take about half of the pumpkin out of the pot and mash.  Some recipes say to take out all the pumpkin and the lentils and blitz them in a blender.  For me, this killed all the texture and turns the dish into a bit of a slop – not the most appealing.  But mashing a little of the pumpkin will give you a smooth texture in the gravy as well as allow the texture in the lentils and remaining pumpkin cubes to remain.

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Add your pumpkin mash back into the pot and mix to combine.

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Season REALLY well.  We have a lot of ingredients that have a very base flavour, so the dish needs lots of salt and pepper to bring it to life.

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Finally, add in a squeeze of lemon/lime for some added tang.  If you added this in at the start you’d get a bitter taste, so leave it for now.

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Serve with some fluffy basmati rice or freshly cooked rotis.  Enjoy!

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