Lamb dhansak

Lamb dhansak

I Love Curry
6, can be halved
Jonathan Gregson

Dhansak is sweet, sour and always contains lentils, though you can use whichever vegetables and meat you like. Traditionally, the vegetables are cooked in the lentils and then all is pureed together, although leaving the pieces of butternut squash intact in this recipe adds texture and little morsels of sweet earthiness. The Parsi serve this with lightly sweetened pilaf: they caramelise sugar in a small pan, add water and simmer while frying whole spices in ghee. The rice is added to the spices, then the syrup, covering with enough water to cook the rice. Plain rice or any other pilaf work just as well.


Quantity Ingredient
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2/3 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 star anise
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 3/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
7 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
15g ginger, peeled weight, roughly chopped
4 fat garlic cloves, roughly chopped
500g lamb, in large cubes
70g split pigeon peas, washed well
70g red lentils, washed well
1 small tomato, roughly chopped
200g butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled and cut into 5cm cubes
1 japanese aubergine, or normal aubergine, cut into 6 crossways
2 handfuls fresh coriander salt, to taste
1 teaspoon tamarind paste, or to taste
1 rounded teaspoon sugar, or to taste
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 rounded teaspoon fenugreek leaves, crushed between your fingers


  1. Using a sturdy mortar and pestle, grind together the whole spices to a fine powder. Add the remaining powdered spices (except the garam masala) and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté for a minute. Now tip in the lamb and brown for three or four minutes, or until lightly seared. Stir in the spices and a splash of water and cook for two minutes more.
  3. Add the pigeon peas and lentils, tomato, vegetables, a handful of fresh coriander and salt, stir well and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer gently for 45–55 minutes, or until the lamb is tender. Now you can decide if you want to leave the vegetables whole in a more rustic sauce, or to blend them to a smooth result. If you would prefer the latter, remove the lamb with a slotted spoon and set aside. Blend the sauce until smooth (I stick in my hand blender), then return the meat.
  4. Stir in the tamarind, sugar, garam masala and crushed fenugreek leaves. Taste and adjust the seasoning, balancing the levels of sweet (sugar) and sour (tamarind) to your taste. Chop the remaining fresh coriander, sprinkle it over, and serve.
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