Chicken Dhansak

This recipe is my homebrew attempt at synthesising my favourite restaurant/takeaway curry in a quick-to-make form, since all the dhansak recipes I’ve seen are very involved and don’t read like they’d produce anything very similar to the curry I know and love.

This is not my curry, but it looks pretty much like it.

As with all my cooking, quantities are very approximate: I never measure or weigh anything, so the amounts I’ve specified below are just my rough guesses at the amount that I tend to slop in. Although I work this way due to laziness, I argue that it’s positively a good thing, since the subtly different proportions every time you cook the same thing stop the palate from getting so used to it that it becomes boring.

Anyway, this recipe serves about four people as specified here, but it’s easy to do half quantities for two, or quantities-and-a-half for six. It should take about half an hour.

  1. Boil some water, add salt, and cook two good handfuls of red lentils in it for maybe twenty minutes. That can be going on quietly in the background while you get on with the rest of the recipe.
  2. Heat up two tablespoons of oil in a pan, and fry two heaped teaspoons of cumin seeds in it for one minute. (Groundnut oil is best if you have it, but vegetable or sunflower oil is fine.)
  3. Add a cubic inch of ginger root, finely chopped, and fry for one more minute.
  4. Add four to six fresh or pickled chilies, finely chopped and fry for one more minute. (Optional.)
  5. Add three to five cloves of garlic, finely chopped, and fry for one more minute.
  6. Add 300-500g chicken meat, in bite-size pieces, and stir-fry for about five minutes, until it’s all gone white, with the cumin, ginger, chili and garlic mulch sticking to it.
  7. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and put it to one side, leaving most of the oil and mulch in the pan.
  8. Add two more tablespoons of oil together with spices: one to two teaspoons each of garam masala, paprika, cumin seed and general-purpose curry powder — or whatever you happen to have around the house. Mix them all up, and stir-fry for a minute or two.
  9. Add two big onions, very finely chopped, to the pan, mixing thoroughly with the oil, mulch and spices. If you think that more oil is needed at this point, feel free to add it.
  10. Leave this onion-and-spices mixture to fry for ten minutes or so, moving it around occasionally to prevent sticking. If it seems to be drying out, add some of the liquid from a tin of pineapple.
  11. This step is optional, depending on how you like your curry texture: put about half of the onion-and-spices mixture into a blender or food processor, and whiz down into a coarse paste. Then add it back into the pan.
  12. Your lentils should be cooked by now. Drain off the excess cooking water.
  13. Add the chicken back into the pan, together with half a tin of chopped pineapple, a cubic inch of thinly sliced ginger, a dozen or so whole black peppercorns and the drained lentils. Add a good squirt of lemon juice to taste.
  14. Mix in some coarsely chopped coriander leaf. (Optional.)
  15. Leave to simmer gently for ten more minutes, adding more liquid from the pineapple tin if necessary.

That’s it, you’re done. You can either eat this straight away (you did remember to boil some rice while you were doing this, right?) or you can let it cool down and re-heat it the next day (adding water as necessary to get the texture right after the overnight evaporation.) For some reason, this — like many curries — is actually rather better the next day.

How authentic is this recipe? Who knows. Probably not very.

How good does it taste? Mmmmmm.

Note that this was lightly modified from a previous recipe of mine.


4 responses to “Chicken Dhansak

  1. This looks tasty. There is a bit of irony involved, I think… “curry” is not a thing in India, but is a purely Western idea which for a long time revolved around pre-mixed spices in dusty tins. In that sense of the word I wouldn’t consider this a curry, and I mean that as a compliment.

    But of course the word curry has now been re-purposed to include the charming aspects of Indian cooking that an old tin of curry powder cannot provide. There’s something lovely about picking the spices you’ll use, their proportions, deciding how you will treat them, and combining them in a final dish that is unique because of the small decisions made along the way.

    My mother’s family is mainly Scots, but we spent a long time in India. My great-grandmother was born at Madras in 1888, and I think both her parents were born in India as well. A New Year’s curry (and even back in the 70s my mother knew better than to use curry powder) was one of the family traditions I grew up with. Not an Indian tradition, exactly, but a colonialist tradition.

  2. Btw, on re-reading my previous comment I realized that I misspoke a bit, in a way that might be misunderstood. I wasn’t criticizing the _use_ of curry powder (used in your recipe) to provide a base of flavor. Indeed, my mother did that as well. I just meant that things are much better when you also roast some of your own spices, in the ratios you prefer, instead of just dumping some curry powder in a dish and calling it done.

  3. Will give it a shot; I make a lot of quick ‘curried’ stir frys for diety and yummyness, but mine are super quick .. chop veggies (‘whatever is in the fridge’ (red and green peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, snow/snap peas, whatever), toss in a protein (optional; dice up half a debrizene sausage say, or some chicken thats already cooked, or .. whatever), fry it up (no oil needed, the veggies will generate just enough water to keep it from sticking .. but feel free to add a bit of oil if you like.) After the veggies hit that ideal point, strt heaping in some yellow curry powder (for taste), and some dried ground chillies (for heat); a touch of tumeric if you want some bitter zing. … I tend to dice in some red chilies or thai hot peppers as werll for heat, but the above is all very fast, so dried grouind hot peppers works a treat — they activate with moisture, so you’;ll get a lot of heat fur not much effort.

    Ioften toss in a bit (few table spoons) of tomato sauce (pasta sauce say), or sdtrained otmatos, etc, to give it a bit of sauciness.

    This is an extremely low cal approach, that is pretty good tasting, and extremely fast to cook up with zero previous preparation; start to finsh, is maybe 20-25 minutes. You can make as low cal as you like (just veggies) or adding in the sausage or chicken, you can have an _enormous_ meal, in no time, that is tasty and yummy smelling, and 200-500 calories.

    Mikes is a lot more effort (imho), but probably 20x tastier .. I’ll give it a whirl :)

  4. Thanks, Tagore! Don’t worry, I understood what you were saying about curry powder. In fact my favourite among the curries I make is probably this one, precisely because the emphasis on whole spices gives it such a distinctive flavour. Curry powder has its place as an element in cooking; just not as a substitute for cooking!

    Jeff, your quick-and-dirty recipe sounds tasty, but not at all what I would think of as a curry. It sounds more Chinese-influenced than Indian. (Side-point: in the UK, “veggie” is never used as an abbreviation for “vegetable”, only for “vegetarian”; so whenever I read something like “chop veggies (whatever is in the fridge)”, I picture some hideous cannibalistic ritual.)

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