Tofu dhansak

Dhansak makes use of lentils to create a thick and somewhat sweet sauce that’s not very hot so everyone can enjoy it. Usually made with mutton or chicken, I’ve switched the meat for extra firm tofu and the ghee for plant-based margarine to make this a vegan dish.

This recipe has a lot of ingredients and it will take some prep work. You will also find it much easier if you have a blender (you could push it though a sieve but it’ll take longer). A pestle and mortar will also be handy, you’ve always wanted one, here’s the reason to get it.

If you prefer chicken to tofu then that’s easy, just cook off the chicken in a separate pan at the beginning and then re-add to the pan at the same point the tofu would go in. This means you could split the mix into two pans and add tofu in one, chicken in another so vegans and omnivores are both catered for.

I’ve shown this served with rice but it would go just as well with some flatbreads.

Serves: 6

Main Ingredients

  • 100g spinach
  • 100g red lentils
  • 100g yellow lentils/split peas
  • 250g sweet potato. peeled and cut into 1cm/0.5″ chunks
  • 4 red onions, peeled and cut in half then sliced
  • 200g tomatoes, roughly shopped
  • 100g dairy free margarine
  • 450g extra firm tofu, cut into 2cm/1″ chunks
  • 1.2 litres water

Masala 1 ingredients

  • 2 green chillies, deseeded
  • 3 red chillies, deseeded
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cooking wine / dry sherry
  • 3 cloves of garlic

Masala 2 ingredients

  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 0.5 tsp cinnamon
  • 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
  • 0.5 tsp ground cloves
  • 0.5 tsp fennel seeds
  • 4 cardamom pods, just the seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds


  • This can get tricky if you don’t prepare properly so get 2 small bowls and one large bowl out to help.
  • Put the lentils and water in a pan and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Masala 1 – Put the Masala 1 ingredients in a blender and blitz them, put in a small bowl for later.
    • Make sure you remove the seeds from the chillies or the dish will be far too hot
  • Masala 2 – Using a pestle and mortar, partially crush the fennel, cardamom and mustard seeds. They don’t need to be finely ground, just cracked.
    • If you don’t have a pestle and mortar then use two tablespoons. Place the seeds in one of the spoons, lay the over on top so the ‘spoon’ together and grind them as best you can.
  • Place the seeds in the other small bowl and add the rest of the masala 2 ingredients; coriander, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper and cloves.
  • When the lentils have finished their initial 15 minutes cooking, add half of the onions, all of the sweet potato, spinach and tomato. Cook for another 25 minutes until the sweet potato is soft.
  • Blend the pan contents to a puree, you can leave some of the texture if you want but you want most of it to be like a paste. Put it in the large bowl for later.
    • No blender? You’ll have to push it though a sieve or a chinois.
  • Melt the margarine in the pan and add the onions. Cook until the are just starting to colour, about 8 minutes, stir frequently to avoid it catching on the bottom.
  • Add the tofu chunks and stir gently. Cook for about 2 minutes.
  • Add Masala 1 and stir for a minute before adding masala 2. Again stir for a minute.
  • Add the blended lentil, sweet potato and tomato from the large bowl. Stirring well to fully coat the tofu. Cook for a few minutes to ensure it is piping hot and ready to serve.
The tofu, onions and masala before the lentils go back into the pan.

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