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No fewer than three restaurants in Delhi’s thriving standalone space serve Dhansak, an iconic Parsi dish. It is often described as a one-pot dish, but that doesn’t tell the whole truth. One element is the rice that has been browned by gentle sautéing, another is kuchumber that has to have the sour tang of lime in it and a third is minced mutton kababs. Finally, there’s the dal. Many Parsis would agree that the dal is the most critical element. Kainaz Contractor, owner of what could be the smallest restaurant in the NCR – Rustom’s – says that the masalas have to have the trademark aroma, but not overpower the other elements, while the consistency of the dal-vegetable mix has to be creamy.
Three kinds of dals and at least as many vegetables have to be cooked over a low fire, then be whisked till no texture remains, before the meat and stock are added along with the spices. According to Mohit Balachandran whose SodaBottleOpenerWala produces a great version of Dhansak, it is not only the dhansak masala but the sambhaar masala too (completely distinct from the South Indian sambaar masala) that have to come from an impeccable source. SodaBottleOpenerWala buys their’s from a Parsi family, while Contractor’s own aunt is a well-known supplier of spices that blends with the community. Balachandran feels that the humble kuchumber works like a game changer: finely diced onions, tomatoes and cucumbers with enough lime to perk up the entire dhansak.
Riyaaz Amlani of Social has Dhansak on his menu as ‘Aunty Nina’s Dhansak’, Nina being the name of his (Parsi) mother. Amlani considers the meat and its tenderness to be the defining element in the dish. According to him, there’s a precise ratio of bone to meat that the community appreciates, and marrow is vital!