"Dhansak is our emblematic Parsi dish," Niloufer Ichaporia King writes in My Bombay Kitchen. "The one we're named after by anyone who characterizes people by what they eat."
That would be people just like me. And so Dhansak seemed like the perfect way to end the Parsi fortnight.
King's Dhansak recipe covers three pages of My Bombay Kitchen and involves putting sixteen ingredients -- two kinds of legume, many vegetables, chilies, and some herbs -- in a giant pot and letting them boil away until they essentially collapse. After that, you run the murky potage through a food mill, and to the resulting puree add some onions you have fried with Dhana Jiru and Sambhar Masala. Then you cook the Dhansak for another hour while you scramble around trying to assemble the side dishes. (Sorry Mark -- this post will definitely be prolix.)
In my case the Dhansak banquet started with papads -- the spicy, paper thin Indian crackers -- which I tried to toast on a gas flame. This is the method King recommends if, to paraphrase, you don't want to become incredibly fat. "You will have to sacrifice one or two victims until you work out your papad choreography," King warns. I could not get the hang of flame-toasting and finally said, screw it, heated oil and started frying. Excellent decision! You buy packaged papads at Indian markets; I have no idea how one would make them from scratch.
What else. . .
Oh God, there was so much else. I made the delicate caramelized fried rice and sweet-and-sour onion kachumbar -- a wonderful relish full of tangy tamarind and rich brown jaggery -- that are the traditional accompaniments to Dhansak. I fried some spicy, crusty kebabs and mixed up a batch of banana raita. King's is an eccentric recipe for banana raita, instructing you to add dry mustard powder to the yogurt "until you get that wasabi feeling in the back of your head."
Still wondering: Do I want that wasabi feeling in the back of my head?
To help us eat this gargantuan meal, Justine, Michael, and Stella kindly agreed to come over, providing thoughts, compliments, poison of delight, and photography assistance. I've offered my own assessments of many of the specific dishes, but I have not commented on the Dhansak itself.
It is painful to admit that the Dhansak was a huge disappointment. For all that chopping and food milling and boiling, it struck me as nothing more than an olive-drab, harshly-spiced lentil soup. I've read other recipes that include lamb, or chicken, so maybe it is not Dhansak I don't care for, but this recipe. It's such a symbolically sad way to end the mostly happy Parsi era by disliking the "emblematic" Parsi dish.