Friday, December 7, 2007

Parsi Dhansaak

JFI which stands for Jihva For Ingredients celebrates an ingredient every month, it is the brainchild of very talented and thoughtful Indira of Mahanandi. This time around it is being hosted by sweet and generous Linda of Out of The Garden. Every time I look at her passionately cooked Indian food I have to remind myself that this energetic lady is not an Indian! Linda chose Toor daal as the theme for JFI - December.

Toor daal is the backbone of Indian food. It is an omnipresent feature of Indian main course. This is how toor daal is normally made in Indian homes:
1. The basic cooking of this lentil requires cooking it with water and salt (and turmeric many times) till 'done'. The definition of 'done' varies. Some people like their daal to be so mushy that you can't distinguish the grain where as some people prefer it to be firmer. For the large part I think the former is more common.
2. The consistency of the daal varies again! Some people cook it to be very thick whereas in some homes its more diluted and thin.
3. The seasoning - I think daal in every home tastes different thanks to the variation in texture, consistency and mostly the tempering. Tempering/tadka/vaghar is normally prepared with hot ghee/oil, mustard/cumin seeds and asafoetida (basic ingredients), then there is no end to what you can do - use fenugreek (methi seeds), cloves, cinnamon, dry red chillies. Different combinations of fresh ingredients like - tomatoes, tamarind, lemon, green chillies, cilantro, curry leaves, ginger, garlic are quite common. Many versions of toor daal have a hint of sweetness by means of sugar or jaggery. Gujarati daal also contains cooked peanuts, which adds a wonderful flavor and fullness to the normally thin daal.

Toor daal is cooked in combination with a variety of vegetables which adds up to some great nutritive properties and makes some fantastic dishes!
1. Sambhar (that Linda *loves*) is Southern India's delightful gift to the rest of the country! It is made with a special spice mix made with common Indian spices like cumin, coriander, fenugreek etc, fresh vegetables and coconut (sometimes).
2. Daal-palak (Spinach and toor daal) is another lovely combination cooked in a thousand different ways. Silken toor daal works very well with all green leafy vegetables like fenugreek, amaranth to name a couple.
3. Dhansaak (Dhan = Daal + Saak = Vegetables)is a Parsi delicacy made with a variety of daals, vegetables and meat. It can easily be adapted into a vegetarian version. Read more about Parsi cuisine here.

I make toor daal in various ways and just love Sambhar. But I wanted to cook something different for this event and Parsi dhansaak seemed like a good choice!

I used a recipe our sweet friend N sent me and tweaked it to suit our taste and the ingredients I had on hand. If I still remember correctly her recipe was inspired by Tarla Dalal's.

Serves 4 easily
1/2 cup toor (arhar) dal (split pigeon peas)
1 tbsp yellow moong dal (split yellow gram)
1 tbsp masoor dal (split red lentils)
1 tbsp urad dal (split black lentils)
1-2 cups butternut squash chopped
1 tbsp fenugreek (methi) leaves, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp tamarind paste (mine is quite concentrated, if making your own increase quantity to 2 tsp)
2 tsp oil
salt to taste

To be ground into a paste
1 green chilli
3 whole red chillies
2 large cloves garlic
1 stick cinnamon
4 cloves
A small piece of ginger
1 green cardamom
1 tsp coriander seeds
4 peppercorns
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
Handful of chopped coriander

1. Clean and wash the dals.
2. Combine the dals and butternut squash with 3 cups of water and pressure cook for 3-4 whistles. Keep aside.
3. Heat the oil in a pan, add chopped onions and sauté till translucent. Add chopped methi and tomatoes and sauté for 2 mins.
4. Add the prepared paste and sauté for 2 minutes.
5. Add the dal and vegetables, tamarind paste and salt and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Sprinkle a pinch of cardamom powder (the original recipe called for cinnamon, clove and cardamom powder).
7. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve with hot rice.

Dhansaak is traditionally served with brown rice. I did not have time to make it but I can imagine the combination would be wonderful. A delightful kachumbar (salad) made with finely chopped onions, tomatoes, carrots, coriander and seasoned with lime juice, red chilli powder, salt and roasted cumin powder is served as an accompaniment to dhansaak and brown rice.

I think dhansaak is supposed to be made with more vegetables - the original recipe called for potatoes, eggplants, pumpkin and bottle gourd. I just increased the amount of butternut squash. Zucchini, carrots would work well too. Spinach should be a great addition!

Also, according to the recipe - the cooked daal + vegetables were supposed to be pureed, I just couldn't get myself to do that! I'd rather overcook my daal and veggies to a mush :D

Dhansaak was bursting with flavors. Tasted better the next day! I loved it with roti too. We found the taste of garlic a little overbearing, but that is just because we don't like it much. All in all a very healthy, balanced dish with some amazing combination of flavors!


Linda said...

Dear Shweta,

You've written a beautiful description of toor dal in traditional kitchens... I just love this! And your Parsi Dhansaak -- that is something I have always wanted to make and was intimidated by the meat. I'm not total vegetarian yet, but when I cook Indian (most of the time, now!) I don't use meat. Your fearless adaptation gives me the courage to try this delicious dish for myself!

Thank you for a wonderful contribution to JFI Toor Dal :)

DEEPA said...

wow!!! so many dals ...must be tasting great ...very healthy one ...

sagari said...

very nice recipe looks delecious

musical said...

Yummy! This is such a delightful medley of daal and vegetables!

Its been raining here off and on. How about San Diego?


Shweta said...

Thanks Sweet Linda. I am glad you enjoyed the post. Do try dhansaak, I think the recipe is very adaptable to a meatless version. I didn't add too many vegetables but that would be interesting!

Deepa, Yes it indeed is a healthy choice. If you leave the onions out, you could make do with even lesser oil! (Onions could be added while pressure cooking the daal)

Thanks Sagari :)

Musy dear! Here you are! It did rain this weekend and has been quite cold. Friday was perfect for some palak pakodas :) Topped that with hot aloo-methi parathas on Saturday! :D Hope you've been enjoying the rain.

Meera said...

Oh, Dhansaak! I just love it. Looks delicious. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

bee said...

thank you for this recipe. it is one of my favourite dishes. jai has never tasted it, so i ought to make some.

Lakshmi said...

Hi Shweta,

I luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuv punjabi food and you have detailed so many favourite receipes of mine, that I am really tempted to try them :-) Will defn try out the street foods for the Christmas weekend gathering that I am planning on having at home.

Happy Holidays,

Anonymous said...

Hi,i just love the parsi dishes specially DHANSAAK