Beef dhansak

Beef dhansak

A few weeks ago, after an evening’s star gazing at Oxford University’s Physics Department (I know, I’m super cool), some friends and I went out for dinner. After much wandering the cold, rain-slick streets of Oxford at prime dining time on a Saturday, we finally found a table at Qumins, an Indian restaurant on St Clement’s. There I had my first encounter with dhansak.

Now, I like to think of myself as fairly knowledgeable when it comes to Indian food. And yet, I don’t think I’d ever tried a dhansak before – or at least not one as magical as this. Dhansak is a Parsi dish, a curry usually made with meat, vegetables and lentils. For some reason, I just couldn’t get enough of the meat-lentils combo, so when M came to stay I decided to see if I could replicate it at home.

And I’m so glad I did. A dhansak is typically made with lamb or goat meat, and squash, but what we had were beef and potatoes, so beef dhansak with potatoes it was. Sadly, my picture of this delightful dish does make it look like some brown slop in a bowl but it got high praise: everyone loved it. I think it was the last-minute addition of mango chutney and vinegar what did it. But anyway, give it a try and let me know what you think!


Serves 8

Cooking time: 1 hr 45 mins

What you need

6 black peppercorns

1 tbsp cumin seeds

Seeds of 8 cardamom pods

2 tbsp oil

1 onion, finely sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 x 5cm piece ginger, finely chopped

1 red chilli

1 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp turmeric

500g braising steak, chopped into small pieces

600ml stock

2 tbsp passata (tomato puree will just as well)

220g red lentils (masoor dahl)

3 medium-sized potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into 1 cm dice

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp mango chutney


How to make it

  1. Crush the whole spices except the cinnamon and star anise in a pestle and mortar, until you have a rough powder.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over a low heat, then add the onion. Fry until golden and starting to caramelize – about 10 minutes.
  3. Next, toss in the ginger, garlic, chilli and star anise, and fry gently for about 3 minutes until aromatic. Then add the ground spices, the cinnamon and turmeric, and stir fry until well-combined.
  4. Next chuck in the beef, and turn up the heat, stirring until the juices begin to release. Then pour in the stock, the passata and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover the pot and leave for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. While the beef is cooking, prepare the lentils. Place the lentils in a fine sieve and rinse well in plenty of water, picking out any stones. Put them in a small sauce pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook gently for 15 minutes, until soft. If scum develops on the surface of the water and the pan threatens to boil over, skim it off and add a dessert spoonful of oil. Once cooked, drain and set aside.
  6. After 30 minutes, check the curry and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Throw in the diced potatoes and the cooked lentils, stir well and allow to simmer for another 30 minutes or so, until the beef is cooked.
  7. Now add 1 tbsp of mango chutney and 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, and stir carefully. Allow to simmer for another 10 or so minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to rest. This lets the flavours properly infuse. Before serving, spoon off any oil that’s gathered and reheat gently until piping hot once more.
  8. Serve with a bright green salad, rice and fresh naan breads.