Dhansak - Lentils with Chicken and Vegetables

Dhansak has its origins in a Parsee dish from the middle-east and Persia) and was probably a very special dish cooked during any holiday. The dish served in Indian restaurants today is based on the addition of a lentil puree to the cooking process. It is described as sweet and sour curry with a lentil sauce.

The service varies from restaurant to restaurant, but often expect a pineapple ring to be included in the curry for added sweetness and contrast. Strength depends on the interpretation of restaurateurs or chef, so you must take the advice from the menu.

Dhansak is an Indian recipe with meat and lentil curry. It is a Parsi dish, which traditionally was made with lamb meat and served with rice. It has become common to find chicken or lamb dhansak, and it can also be a vegetarian dish.

Like many curries, there is some flexibility in the ingredients that are used in making dhansak, but the basic elements are the same and produce a rich, spicy, sweet-and-sour curry. As well as a protein, the dish typically includes pumpkin or aubergines, although other vegetables could be substituted. Oil, onion, salt and tomatoes are also always included.

Lentils, or dhal, are a very important component of dhansak, giving the rich sauce, nutty flavor. The lentils are normally purchased cleaved and peeled, so they generally do not need to be soaked before cooking, although soaking them can help reduce cooking time. Lentils that are often used in dhansak include red, yellow, green and black varieties. Split pigeon beans and peas also are commonly used.

A paste is typically made from garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and cinnamon. This pasta also includes fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds, black pepper, fennel seeds and powdered chili. Some variants also contain star anise and nutmeg. Other characteristic dhansak ingredients include garam masala, cardamom, cloves, chilli pepper and turmeric. The sour element of this curry is provided by tamarind paste, and the sweetness is provided by sugar or jaggery.

A common way to make dhansak is to make pasta first to get pure ingredients with a little water. The oil is then heated in a pan and the onion is sautéed until it is soft brown and golden. Salt and pasta are added and cooked for a few minutes until all the moisture in the pan has evaporated. Tomatoes and a small amount of water are then added to the pasta and onions, and the mixture is cooked for several minutes to allow the spices to develop their flavor.

The meat is then added to the pan. After the meat has been taken all color, lentils and water are added, and the mixture is brought to a boil. After a short simmer, the aubergine is mixed and allowed to cook until it begins to soften, at this point the pumpkin is added. The curry is then covered and cooked until the vegetables are tender and the meat is cooked.

To finish the dhansak, the tamarind paste is stirred in long with the garam masala and jaggery. Often, some of the lentils are then crushed to thicken the sauce. The finished curry is garnished with either coriander or mint leaves and then served.

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