Persian Lentil Stew
170 Min

Persian Lentil Stew

This decadent lentil and vegetable stew is one the best examples of what can emerge as a happy consequence of migration and the mingling of different cultures, in this case Indian and Persian. The Parsis, who live by the motto, ‘Good words, good thoughts and good deeds”, emigrated to India from Iran, due to religious persecution, over a millennium ago and made a home there. While most Persian stews tend to be on the milder side, this one turns aromatic and assertive with a generous sprinkling of spices.

One of my best childhood friends in India was a Parsi and I enjoyed this stew with her family, traditionally called Dhansaak, most Sunday afternoons. We would wolf it down it with a caramelized onion pilaf, a simple cucumber salad on the side and pass out for long naps afterwards. Dhansaak is usually made with meat, goat or lamb, sometimes bone-in chicken but many times, my friend’s mom would make a vegetarian version, which still had plenty of complexity and flavor. Just like most Indian curries, it has a lot of leeway in adjusting what vegetables, beans or spices you use.

Every winter usually during the colder weeks, I make this stew at least once or twice and enjoy it for a couple of days. It almost amplifies in flavor the next day. You could add a little more water and serve it like a soup with crusty bread or as a stew topped with roasted vegetables and rice. If you do choose to put meat in it, add it when making the masala and finish cooking it in the stew as long as needed so the juices go back into it for added flavor. 

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Cook Time

2 hours 50 minutes



Step 1
Rinse the lentils 2 to 3 times in warm water, then soak for a couple of hours. Drain. In a large stockpot, combine the drained lentils, vegetables, ginger, garlic, cloves, turmeric, cumin, and salt. Add 6 to 8 cups of water or stock and bring to a boil. If any scum from the lentils rises on the top, remove with a slotted spoon and discard. Cover the stockpot and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Turn the heat off and let the mixture rest for another 30 minutes to an hour.
Step 2
Using a blender, puree the lentil mixture and pour back into the stockpot.
Step 3
To make the masala, warm the ghee or olive oil in a small frying pan. Add the onions and cook on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes until they are caramelized and golden in color. If adding meat chunks or chicken pieces, add it with the onions and let it cook alongside. Next, add the chile powder, coriander seeds and fenugreek leaves and cook for just a few more seconds. Transfer this mixture into the lentil base and bring to a soft simmer. Simmer for just a few minutes and add the garam masala.
Step 4
In the meanwhile, to prepare the roasted vegetable topping, preheat the oven to 450°F. Toss the vegetables with ghee, black pepper, amchur and salt and spread on a baking pan. Roast in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes then turn the temperature down to 300°F and cook for another 10 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through.
Step 5
Serve the stew with the roasted vegetables spooned on top. Garnish with mint leaves and pomegranate seeds.

Lentil base:

1 1/2 cups lentils (preferably equal parts toor, channa and moong)

4 cups of vegetables, rough chopped *

2-inch piece of ginger, rough sliced

8 to 10 cloves of garlic

1 teaspoon of whole cloves

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons toasted ground cumin

2 teaspoons salt


1/3 cup of ghee or olive oil

1 cup minced onions

2 teaspoons red chile powder

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed

1/2 cup dried fenugreek leaves

2 teaspoons garam masala

Roasted vegetable topping:

4 cups 1-inch chunks of green vegetables 

4 tablespoons of ghee

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon amchur

1 teaspoon salt


1 cup of fresh cilantro and mint leaves

½ cup pomegranate seeds

Notes & Variations

  • The best vegetables to use for the lentil puree are pumpkin, squash, carrots, eggplant or tomato. For the topping, use quicker cooking green vegetables like Romanesco, asparagus, green beans, or fennel.
  • While most Dhansaak recipes will call for specific lentils, almost all lentils, from black to yellow will work well with it. Occasionally, I’ve used whole beans as well – they just need more time soaking and cooking.
  • Garam masala is an aromatic finishing spice blend – if you do not have it use a combination of ground cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg or mace.
170 Min

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