Traditional Parsi Mutton Dhansak and Velveteers

Mutton Dhansak

Hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving with not very pervasive hangovers! :) I'll tell you how our Thanksgiving went when I am back in town! :D. Can't wait to see how it goes!! In the meantime, I wanted to share with you an ethnic comfort food that will be perfect for that leftover turkey/meat - Parsi Dhansak.

Dhansak is the quintessential Parsi dish. It is a stew of lentils and meat flavored with traditional spices and brown sugar or jaggery. The dish is mild and tangy with just a touch of sweet to represent the balance of yin and yang in life.

Now, I am sure you want to know, who/what are Parsis. :) Well.. Parsis are Zoroastrians, originally from Persia who later, fearing religious persecution, took refuge on shores of Western India. Reflecting this confluence of cultures, old and adopted, their cuisine is a meld of Persian origins and Indian influences.

Mutton Dhansak closeup

Most of their dishes have a bit of sour (from vinegar, tomatoes, fenugreek) and a bit of sweet (white or brown sugar). Dhansak is the ultimate comfort food in their cuisine. Every Parsi family has a treasured recipe and getting that out of them is like pulling tooth out. I share with you an authentic family recipe, ours! :)

For Velveteers this month, we chose the challenge of finding a Dhansak recipe, by hook or crook. I share my family's recipe here. There are two major foot notes to this dish. One, the lentils have to be pureed. Parsis will not touch a lentil stew that is chunky. Two, Dhansak is always accompanied by a particular brown rice, the flavor and color of which come from caramelised sugar.

Also, Dhansak is never served on a good occasion.

Mutton Dhansak 1

Mutton Dhansak


  1. You can use any meat in the stew but mutton is most popular for it's flavor.
  2. The pumpkin serves dual purpose. The protease in it will break down the meat proteins making them tender and it adds body to the stew. If you don't have pumpkin, substitute with potato.
  3. The distinctive flavor of the stew comes from the Dhansak masala which is somewhat similar to garam masala but different! :) You can purchase it from any Indian store or make your own.
  4. I use a pressure cooker to cook my lentils and pre-cook the meat. If you don't have one, then cook them in enough water over low heat until the lentils are tender enough to be pureed with a whisk.
  5. If you are using chicken or pre-cooked meat, add it directly to the cooked lentils while cooking the lentils.

1 cup split pigeon peas (toor dal)
6 cups of water
1/2 cup of pumpkin, diced
1 medium to large onion, julienned
1 inch ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tomato, diced
1 lb mutton or other meat, diced 2 inches and salted (you can also use equivalent amounts of leftover meat)
2 heaping tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander-cumin mixture
3 heaping tsp Dhansak Masala
oil and salt as needed

In a pressure cooker, add half the onion, ginger, garlic, tomato, pumpkin and lentils. Add three cups of water. Place the red meat (previously uncooked) gently spread around the bowl. Cook the contents for 5 to 6 whistles. When the steam has cooled off, remove the lid and let any remaining steam escape.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat piece and set aside. Whisk the lentils mixture to a smooth puree. I find a handheld whisk works just as well here. Set the lentils aside.

In a heavy bottomed pan, saute the remaining onions until soft in three tablespoons of oil. Add the ground spices and saute for a couple of minutes over low heat. Add the remaining water and bring to a rolling boil. Gently add the lentil mixture and bring it back to another boil. Add in the meat pieces, bring to another boil and then simmer until the meat is tender.

Dhansak Rice (brown rice)

1/2 medium onion, julienned
2 cups long grained rice
2 tsp cumin seeds
5 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
2 cloves of cardamom, split
5 whole peppercorns
2 tsp white sugar
2 T ghee (clarified butter) sub: brown butter
salt as needed

Over low heat, saute the whole spices in the ghee until the aromas release. Add the onions and saute until soft. Add the sugar and let it caramelise and brown. Quickly add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the rice and salt and cook until rice is fully cooked.


Velveteers was started by Aparna, Asha, Alessio and Pam, who are passionate about different cuisines and food in general. Each month, we will attempt a new dish and share our experiences and the recipes we used. If you’re interested in joining the Velveteers, please feel free to drop by our food blogs and leave a comment or drop me a line at You can also visit our google group, The 4 Velveteers.

Please visit our group to check out what everyone has created this month!