No Indian miracle

A healthy and delicious Parsi meat and lentil curry

lamb-dhansak.jpgThwarted by the early summer we are having in London, I stayed out too long and missed the only thing worth watching this week on TV.

It was an investigation into India’s rise as a superpower and economic miracle on the one hand, while being mired in poverty on the other.

It was aired on the same day The Sunday Times reported Calcutta-born Lakshmi Mittal as the fastest growing fortune in Britain with an average annual growth rate of £621million. And the day other media reported that ethnic minorities are twice as likely to live in poverty than white Britons, with some 30% of Indians in Britain living below the poverty line.

Ironic, that.

Britain’s interest in India doesn’t end in questionable economic miracles and Z-list Bollywood stars, we have the many curry houses to think about too. It’s been a while since I had a rant about the sludge passed off as Indian food in this country.

Lamb dhansak is a case in point. It’s a rich, healthy and delicious curry contributed to our cuisine by Parsis, which British curry houses have bastardised beyond belief with the addition of pineapple, spinach and other dubious ingredients.

Normally, a dhansak would be beyond the realm of my quick Indian comfort zone because of the long list of ingredients involved. But the recent purchase of a pressure cooker and a well-stocked cupboard made me tread where I dare not before.

Besides, it clearly has some kudos as a hearty weekday meal with vegetarian potential, so why not?

There are lot of recipes for dhansak, but there are few main things to remember:

  • It is meant to be hot, sweet and sour. Use as much chilli (fresh green and dry red) as possible
  • All recipes use pumpkin. This is not in season right now so I substituted it with sweet potato. Butternut squash would also work well
  • Make sure you use large chucks of lamb so they don’t melt into the lentils
  • Use whatever combination of red and yellow lentils you like. It won’t make a difference to the end result

My suggestion would be to cook this as a one-pot stew and eat it with steamed rice. Oh and don’t get put off by the long list of ingredients – think how much fun it’ll be telling your local balti where to dump their dhansak.

This recipe serves 4 hungry people:

500 gm boneless lamb, diced into large chunks
2 small tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 medium onions, roughly chopped

1 tsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp oil
Salt to taste

Lentil mixture

One-third cup toor dal
One-third cup masoor dal
One-third cup urad dal
1 small aubergine, chopped
1 small sweet potato, chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
10 mint leaves
Handful of coriander
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp oil


6 cloves garlic
1″ ginger
2 red chillies
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1″ cinnamon
4 green cardamoms
4 whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp kasoori methi or 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
5 sprigs of coriander
Half a star anise
Half tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Put all the ingredients for the lentil mixture in the pressure cooker, bring to the first whistle and then simmer for 20 minutes until the whole mixture is overcooked. Uncover and mash wth a wooden spoon to get a semi-smooth mixture.

While the lentils are cooking, grind all the paste ingredients in a blender. Heat the oil and when hot, fry the two chopped onions until pale brown. Add the spice paste and the tomatoes and fry for five minutes, stirring regularly.

Then add the lamb and fry until they are brown all over and well coated in the masalas. When the lentils are done, put the lamb mixture into it and pressure cook again for about 15 minutes.

Open the pressure cooker, mix in the tamarind paste, add salt and enjoy.

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, just cook it on the hob. It will take more time, but you could be running chores while the dal and lamb cook.


    This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 1st, 2007 at 6:05 am and is filed under Cooking to impress, Entertaining, Lamb, Meat. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.