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Front shot of karahi with veg dhansak, rice and kachumber.
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5 from 7 votes

Vegetable Dhansak

A vegetable dhansak is a classic dal from India's small but culinarily gifted Parsi community. It is made with four types of lentils and flavored with warm spices and pureed vegetables. If you love dals, this is one you will not want to miss, and it's quite easy to make. It's also vegan, gluten-free, soy-free and nut-free.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Main Course/Dal
Cuisine: Indian (Parsi/Zoroastrian)
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Keyword: Vegetable Dhansak
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 216kcal

Equipment

Ingredients

  • ½ cup tuvar dal (arhar dal or split pigeon peas)
  • ¼ cup moong dal
  • ¼ cup chana dal (Bengal gram dal or split Indian chickpeas)
  • ¼ cup masoor dal (red lentils)
  • 1 cup butternut squash (cubed)
  • 2 medium potatoes (yellow or red, cubed)
  • 1 cup methi leaves (fresh fenugreek leaves, chopped. If using frozen use ½ cup. See ingredients list above for substitution)
  • ½ cup cauliflower florets
  • 2 medium tomatoes (roughly chopped)
  • ¼ cup packed cilantro + 2 tablespoons more for garnish.
  • 4 cloves garlic (peeled)
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (you can cut down to 1 tablespoon but 2 really helps brown the onions nicely)
  • 1 large onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 heaping tsp ginger garlic paste
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste

For dhansak masala spice blend

Instructions

Cook the vegetables and lentils

  • Place all the lentils, cauliflower, squash, methi, potatoes, tomatoes, ¼ cup cilantro and garlic in a pressure cooker or in an Instant Pot liner. You can also do this in a regular pan but it will take much longer.
  • Add three cups of water to the pressure cooker or IP (or water to cover by two inches if doing this in a regular pot). Allow three whistles of the pressure cooker, or, if using an IP, set to the "beans" function. Allow the pressure to release naturally or force-release 10 minutes after cooking is done.
  • If you are doing this in a pot, bring the water to a boil, cover and cook, stirring every five minutes or so, until the lentils and veggies are very, very tender. This should take about 40-45 minutes.

Make the dhansak spice blend

  • Place all ingredients for the spice mix, except the turmeric, nutmeg and saffron, in a dry skillet and toast for five minutes over medium-low heat until aromatic. Don't let the spices color too much.
  • Remove the spices to a plate to cool and stir in the turmeric, nutmeg and saffron.
  • Once cooled, place the spices in a blender jar or spice grinder and blend into a fine powder.

Make the dhansak

  • Heat the vegetable oil in a large saute pan or pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions with half a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Saute, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden-brown and well-caramelized. This is really important for your dhansak to get that characteristic brown color and deep flavor.
  • Add the ginger garlic paste and saute a few more seconds.
  • Add the cooked lentils and vegetables to the pot with three cups of water. Mix well.
  • Turn off heat and use an immersion blender to blend the lentils and veggies. I like leaving in a little bit of texture, as is done traditionally, but you can blend to a smooth puree, if you wish. You can also do this by transfering the lentils and veggies to a blender. Be careful when you blend hot liquids and exercise all necessary precautions. If you can't do either, use a potato masher to thoroughly mash the veggies and lentils.
  • Bring the dal to a boil, then stir in the dhansak masala mix you just prepared. Add salt to taste. For more color you can stir in a teaspoon of paprika, if you like. You can add more water if the dal is too thick--I use 4-5 cups in all. Remember, it should be thick but pourable and definitely not soupy.
  • Cover the dhansak and cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure it doesn't stick, until the dal looks glossy. Check seasoning at this time and add more salt if needed.
  • Garnish with remaining cilantro and serve hot.

Notes

  • You can use just one or two types of lentils but for the most flavor it's a good idea to use as many as you can. If you have just two, use two. I'd recommend not leaving out the chana dal.
  • You can add most veggies to a vegetarian dhansak, but there are some you should have in there and some I wouldn't use. Make sure you include some winter squash, potatoes, methi and tomatoes in the recipe. You can also use eggplant, which is traditionally used, sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans and spinach. However, I probably wouldn't add vegetables like cabbage, lettuce or Brussels sprouts.
  • A garam masala can be substitute for the dhansak masala but it won't produce exact results. If using garam masala use two tablespoons and stir in a pinch of saffron and a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg.
  • You can use storebought dhansak masala although nothing beats the flavor of a freshly made spice mix. Some Indian brands do sell dhansak masala blends, and you can find them at Indian stores and online.
  • Dhansak should be served with a caramelized Parsi brown rice and a simple tomato and onion salad called a kachumber. Although you can just use plain rice, I find that nothing enhances the flavor of a dhansak as beautifully as these two classic sides.
  • Dhansak tastes great the next day, so you can definitely make it a day ahead. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to four days.
  • Dals tend to thicken up as they stand so add more water if needed when you reheat. When you add water, always check if you need more salt.
  • You can freeze dhansak in an airtight container for up to three months. Thaw, reheat and serve.

Nutrition

Calories: 216kcal | Carbohydrates: 35g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Sodium: 20mg | Potassium: 508mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 2147IU | Vitamin C: 24mg | Calcium: 68mg | Iron: 3mg