Saturday, January 19, 2008

Indian Takeaway - Chicken Dhansak

Chicken Dhansak is the third in our trio of reverse-engineered British Indian Takeaway curries. Dhansak uses lentils and peas to make a terrific multi-textured sauce. The red lentils completely fall apart while the yellow split peas stay distinct even when completely tender. You don’t need much chicken meat - you could even substitute chickpeas for the chicken if you would like to avoid meat completely.

We start with our curry base sauce and then stir in the cooked lentils and peas - I always find it funny how cooked *red* lentils end up looking pale and oatmeal-like.

Pineapple added near the end gives a nice sweet-tart flavor. If you've made the base sauce ahead of time, dhansak is nice and quick, taking less than 45 minutes from start to finish (that's quick for me).

Chicken Dhansak

Fresh pineapple works in place of the canned; just use about 3/4 cup fresh fruit pieces and whiz up an additional 1/2 cup of pineapple pieces in a blender for use instead of the juice.

2 1/2 cups (approx. 1/3 recipe) Ubiquitous Curry Base Sauce
3/4 cup dried yellow split peas
3/4 cup red lentils
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or concentrate plus water)
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (bite-sized to 1-inch cubes)
2 small handfuls cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small can pineapple pieces, drained and liquid reserved

Soak peas in cold water for 10 minutes. Rinse peas several times, then drain and place into a medium saucepan with 2 cups cool water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Skim foam from the surface occasionally. When the peas have cooked for 20 minutes, most of the water should be gone and the peas should be nearly tender. Cover and reduce heat to very low.

While the peas are cooking, rinse the lentils in cold water. Drain well, place into a small saucepan and add 1 1/2 cup vegetable broth. Heat to a boil and cook 10 minutes. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook about 5 minutes more to absorb the extra liquid. The lentils will basically turn to mush and look rather like oatmeal.

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, heat the base sauce to a simmer. Add the add the cooked lentils, chicken chunks and pineapple juice. Simmer for 5 minutes. Check the peas. Turn off the heat and uncover when tender (don’t worry if there is extra liquid).

Add cumin, chilli powder, half of the peas (drained), the pineapple, and 1 small handful of cilantro to the curry mixture. Cook gently another 10 minutes.

A few minutes before serving, add remaining peas, cilantro and salt (to taste of course!). Serve with rice (plain Basmati or Pulao) and flat-bread.


  1. loved making this, 1st time making a curry at home. But what did i do wrong it look right, but tasted bland.!! what did I miss. Dont like my curry too hot but usually order a Dhansak and like the sweet/hot taste

  2. Glad you enjoyed making the curry! Our version of Dhansak is a fairly mild curry - it is the most mild curry we make.

    No reason you can't up the heat, though - just add more chili powder. Also be aware that chili powders vary in how hot they are - there is a discussion of this in the comments at the end of our Chicken Pathia post.

  3. I've had a go at this a couple of times - it's a great little starting point to try to re-create the local takeaway version.

    First up, I took out the pineapple (kinda because I'm allergic!) and they don't use it in my local - which is handy!

    To substitute for the pineapple, I put in some sugar (or splenda) to taste and a little bit of white wine vinegar - there's a good amount of sourness in the coriander to balance against but a touch of vinegar seems to help.

    I also double up on the chilli powder - which gets it to a nice medium/hot and throw in some bay and a few cardamom pods (too be removed before eating) to add a little depth.

  4. We also tend to add more chile these days when we make this curry. The dhansak we got from our takeaway was definitely quite mild, but I'm all for more heat.

  5. I have to say I have been trying for YEARS to reproduce indian takeaway food. I am a fully paid member on a variety of forums and have yet to find anything that is the same or as near as to the real thing. Im from the North East of england where most of the curry houses taste more or less the same. It give me GREAT pleasure to let anyone thinking of trying the Chicken dhansak Recipe with the base gravy detailed here know. THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS. what a find . thanks.

    1. My hubby and I are originally from the NE and we don't half miss the chicken dhansak from the Indian at the Barnes Hotel in Sunderland! We have lived away for years now and have never had anything like it since. We live in Australia and it is every Pommys' dream to find a good curry house, so will definitely be making this!

  6. Thanks for the glowing endorsement, Ian - glad you liked the curry!

  7. The endorsement is the least I could do, I didn't see the donate button or I would be glad to. This recipe will save me a small fortune.

  8. Can`t wait to to try this but what should i use for the v/ broth bit,sj

    1. Hi sj - you should be able to find vegetable broth in your grocery store, either in a can or in a carton. You can also use vegetable stock concentrate that comes in cubes or granules - Knorr is one of the major brands.

  9. scott ,markyate, ukJuly 14, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    just wanted to say thanks for this and the pathia recipe....very good indeed!

  10. Just to add, i'm loving the indian takeaway recipes by the way, here in the UK, one of our major supermarkets (Waitrose) sells a jar of onion base (onion/garlic/ginger/chilli) which once you've added half a tin of tomatoes to and blended, makes a great base for further experimentation. In case anyone fancied a go....!


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