City-based software tester and home chef Rashna Engineer tells us about growing up in Ahmedabad, where she learnt how to cook the centerpiece of a Sunday Parsi lunch: Dhansak
A meal of dhansak and rice easily takes about three hours to cook. The mutton needs to be marinated for about an hour in ginger-garlic paste, red chilli paste and salt, and we’re not even counting the four hours of soaking time needed for the three kinds of dals that go into the dish. The caramelised rice that dhansak is served with needs one’s full attention — a goopy pot of rice can send your appetite straight to hell.
IT professional and home chef Rashna Engineer remembers that her mother, a school teacher who taught Maths and Science at Mount Carmel High School in Ahmedabad, had patience for her family’s dhansak cravings only on a Sunday. “She had to leave home early in the morning every day,” recalls the 46-year-old, “But I don’t remember a Sunday when dhansak was not cooked at our home in Shahibaug.” Along with caramelised rice, dhansak is also served with a salad of finely chopped onion and tomatoes, with a dash of lemon, and garnished with coriander leaves.
By the time she was 16, Engineer had learnt how to make a luscious dhansak, which is also one of the most popular dishes on Rashna’s Parsi Kitchen’s menu, a food service that she launched with her husband, Percy, in 2015. “My husband does the marination of the meat and I do the final tadka to the dal,” says Rashna. Percy, 47, who also worked in the IT industry as a system administrator, got his culinary training a decade ago during a three-month stint in Tokyo. “I was teaching him how to cook on Skype,” says Rashna, laughing at the memory. “All those teppanyaki carts in Tokyo were great and there’s a lot of non-vegetarian food there, but I couldn’t eat out every day. I learnt all the cooking I know from Rashna. Cooking is an essential survival skill.” Their 15-year-old daughter Perzeen, who wants to study hotel management, is happy to have inherited recipes from both her grandmothers. “She is a complete bawa and loves her food,” says Percy.
Every household makes dhansak differently, he adds. “Some like it with a pinch of jaggery, some add a lot more jeero (cumin seed), some add more dhano (coriander seed) and some don’t like it with methi (fenugreek leaves).” But there are few that can rival the dhansak made by the Engineers — silken bits of brinjal, a hint of sweet pumpkin, a note of bitter from the fenugreek leaves and some tamarind for a quick sour punch are flavours that seep into the thick dal and succulent pieces of meat. Like Percy says, there’s only one thing left to do after a dhansak lunch. “You have to sleep. You can’t move.”
Dhansak with caramelised rice
What you need
SERVES – 2 TO 3
250 gms Tur Dal
50 gms Masoor Dal
50 gms Moong Dal
250 gms Rice
500 gms Mutton
1 Potato, medium-sized
3 Onions, medium-sized
2 Tomatoes, medium-sized Brinjal, small
½ cup Pumpkin
20 gms Methi / Kasuri Methi
20 grams Coriander
2 tsp Ginger-garlic paste
2 tsp Red Chilli Garlic & cumin paste
1 tsp Dhano-jeero powder (Coriander-cumin seed powder)
1 tsp Parsi Sambhar (Home made/Mangal brand masala)
2 tsp Dhansak masala (Home made/Mangal brand masala)
1 tsp Chilli powder
½ tsp Turmeric powder
1 tsp Jaggery (optional)
1 tsp Tamarind pulp (optional)
3 tsp Oil
2 tsp Ghee
2 tsp Salt
1.5 ltr Water
How to make it
■ Wash and soak dal for 4 to 5 hours.
■ Wash mutton and then marinate with ginger garlic paste, red chilli paste and salt to taste.
■ In a pressure cooker add dal, peel and cut potato, brinjal, pumpkin, methi, turmeric powder, ½ tsp chilli powder,
1 tsp dhansak masala, salt and 750 ml of water. Pressure cook for 20-25 minutes.
■ In a pan, add 2 ½ chopped onions and stir fry in oil for 10 mins
■ Then add ginger-garlic paste, red chilli paste and stir for a while.
■ Add ghee, 2 finely chopped tomatoes and continue to stir.
■ Add all above mentioned masala and stir for another five minutes.
■ Add mutton and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes.
■ Add jaggery, tamarind and cook.
■ Now add dal to this mixture and again pressure cook for 15-20 minutes.
■ Heat a pan, add sugar and caramelise it. Then add ½ chopped onion to it and fry for a minute.
■ Stir for a while and add rice to it.
■ Add water, 1 tsp oil and salt. Steam the rice till required
█ I don’t remember a Sunday when dhansak was not cooked at our home in Shahibaug. My brother demanded that the dish be made every weekend