Kainaz Contractor may not know it, but she’s a mini celebrity to me. Food writer turned restaurateur, I’ve been following Kainaz’s recipes in BBC GoodFood India for almost as long as I know how to cook, and they’re super reliable. In the digital space, it’s becoming increasingly hard to address a recipe’s genuineness because the internet is so saturated with recipes and certain dishes made by certain cooks get such a vast following while others – even if delicious – don’t gain the traction they deserve. Bee Wilson addressed this in a more recent, heavily insightful Guardian article.
Food writer Diana Henry in the same article laments about how certain recipes lack personality. She is not interested in recipes that don’t come from somewhere, because a good recipe is like “the capturing of perfume”, of a particular time and place. This comforting Parsi recipe for Dhan Dar Patio does just that.
First published in the December 2012 issue of GoodFood, and many years later in India Today, this recipe for sweet and sour prawn curry served with toor dal and rice is an instant classic and plenty authentic. I know this because of the many trips I’ve had to make to Belgaum Ghee Depot near Grant Road Station for the Auntie brand of Parsi Sambhar Masala and sugarcane vinegar (E F Kolahs), both essential to make a good Dhan dar Patio. Most of the recipe that follows remains unchanged:
Kainaz Contractor's Dhan Dar Patio
"One of my absolute favourite dishes, this combo of white rice, yellow dal and prawns in a sweet and sour curry is the ultimate comfort food. Primarily cooked on festive occasions for lunch, the tart flavours of the patio go surprisingly well with the dal, which has been minimally tempered with fried onions and garlic"
- Kainaz Contractor
Rice 2 cups, soaked, preferably long-grain
Water 3 1/2 cups
Salt 2 tsp, plus more to taste
Shahi jeera (optional)
Toor dal 2 cups, soaked for at least an hour
Turmeric powder 3/4 tsp
Ghee 4 tbsp
Ginger paste 1 tsp
Garlic paste 2 tsp
Onion 1 cut lengthwise and fried till crispy
Oil 4 tbsp
Onions 4, medium, very finely chopped
Garlic paste 1 tbsp
Coconut 1/3 cup, finely ground
Tomatoes 6, medium, finely chopped
Cumin powder 1 heaped tsp
Turmeric powder a large pinch
Chilli powder 2 tsp
Parsi Sambhar Masala 1 tsp (Auntie’s brand)
Jumbo Prawns 16 (leave the tails on for a better flavour)
Water 1 cup
Sugarcane vinegar 2 tbsp (E F Kolahs)
Sugar 1 tbsp, or more to taste
Coriander leaves a small bunch, chopped
Wash the rice multiple times in water and keep soaked till it’s time to boil it. Bring a pot of water to the boil and add 1 3/4 tsp salt, or to taste. Add the rice to the water and cook over high flame till the rice is done. Rinse the rice under cold water and drain. Set this aside and let it cool before sprinkling over some shahi jeera, if using.
In a pressure cooker, add the soaked toor dal, a bit of salt and adequate water to cover. Pressure cook for 12-15 minutes and once cooled, blend the dal into a puree with turmeric powder. Add more water to loosen the dal as per what you like and add the fried onions and bring back to a boil for a few minutes. Set this aside.
For the tempering, heat 4 tbsp of ghee and sauté the ginger and garlic pastes. Add this to the dal with the rest of the crisp fried onions on top just before serving.
For the prawn patio, heat oil in a pan and fry the onions to a light brown. Add in the garlic paste and fry for 2 minutes before adding in the coconut. Continue to fry this for a few more minutes, sprinkling in water at intervals and stirring so as brown the paste but not let the mixture in the pan burn.
Add in the tomatoes, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder and the sambhar masala. Stir and lower the flame. Let this cook till the oil separates. Add in the prawns and cook for a minute more.
In a cup, mix together the sugarcane vinegar and sugar and stir it into the patio. You want to taste the patio at this stage for a proper balanced sweet and sour flavour. Cook for 4-5 more minutes, take it off the flame and sprinkle freshly chopped coriander on top to finish. Serve the rice, dal and patio together.