Prawn Dhansak – a spicy taste of the Islands. Woolworths & MasterChef SA Week 13

I love using herbs and spices in traditional recipes and in ‘experimental’ ones.

I think often one can travel to far and exotic destinations, just by using new or unexplored spices in the kitchen. It’s one of my greatest joys when travelling to bring back spices that are indigenous to or grown well in a country. It’s true that most spices can be found at home in South Africa now, but it means more to me (Customs allowing) to bring back a crumpled brown paper bag of spices, a favourite “local mix” or dried herbs than it does to bring back a touristy souvenir. Though, I do have a thing for fridge magnets and try to restrict myself to a maximum of two. For holding up treasured photos and recipes, you know.

I must admit, I was thrilled at this week’s recipe brief: Spice Challenge. Combining seafood, spices and fruit as the brief required, made me think of the spice Islands Mauritius and Zanzibar.

I visited Zanzibar and its spice plantations where a large variety from tamarind to vanilla are grown. Cloves were the most popular spice from Zanzibar a few centuries ago- did you know? It is a fascinating romantic island, with an exotic blend of Indian, Arabic and European architecture and influence and a mixture of crumbling buildings and palaces, sadly juxtaposed.

Zanzibar was at a stage a melting pot of cultures due to it being ideally positioned on the Spice Route during the 16th century and heavily influenced by the Persians, Chinese and Indians amongst others. The spicy cardamom Zanzibari coffee available everywhere is one example of how the country loves and incorporates spices in a popular everyday drink.  I’ve written a short guide on the Darajani Food market and the Forodhani Night market  in a earlier post on the blog.

Stone Town, Zanzibar is also famously the birth place of rock band Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara and of Parsi origin. One of his family’s houses still stands on Kenyatta street (now a gift shop). I thought a dhansak, which is a Parsi dish, or credited to the Parsis at least would be fitting for this challenge.

Dhansak is a curry dish using lentils and would traditionally be made with goat or lamb. Chicken and vegetarian dhansaks are also popular these days.

I used Tiger prawns in this one, pureed mango and pineapple and served it over basmati rice with a mango and pineapple salsa.


4-6 servings

2 T ghee

2 T olive oil plus extra

2 medium onion, finely sliced

1 t cumin seeds

1 large cinnamon stick, broken in half

2 star anise

5 curry leaves

1/2 t turmeric

2 green chillis, split lengthwise*

2 red chillis, split lengthwise *

4o ml fresh ginger, finely grated

40 ml fresh garlic, finely grated

2 x 410 g tins chopped, peeled tomatoes, blended

1/2 – 3/4 cup vegetable stock

2 t tamarind paste, preferably made fresh

125 ml mango chunks

125 ml pineapple chunks

1 x 410 g can cooked brown or red lentils, rinsed and drained

1/2 t sugar (if needed)

1/2 small lime

salt, to taste

12 Tiger prawns/ 16 King prawns, deveined and rinsed, shells on

handful coriander leaves, rinsed

* Adjust chilli, depending on heat and preference


In a large pan or wok, heat olive oil and ghee on medium heat. Fry onions until translucent and soft. Remove onions from heat and puree carefully with a stick blender. Set aside.

In same pan, add cumin, cinnamon, star anise and curry leaves and fry for a few seconds on medium heat. Add the turmeric, chillis, ginger and garlic. Stir to avoid sticking to bottom of pan. Add a splash of oil if needed.

Add onions,  pureed tomatoes, vegetable stock and tamarind and allow to simmer on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring.

While the sauce is cooking, blend the mango and pineapple chunks using a stick blender. Add a little water if needed.

Add lentils to the sauce at the end of the 10 minutes.

Add pureed mango and pineapple to the sauce. Add salt and taste. If needed add 1/2 t sugar to balance flavours and stir well.

Cook for a further 10 minutes on low heat.

Add Tiger prawn and cook for 5 minutes, until the shells turn pink and prawns are cooked through.

Add lime juice, more salt and a handful of coriander.

Serve with basmati rice and a mango and pineapple salsa

Mango and Pineapple Salsa


1 cup mango chunks

1 cup pineapple chunks

1/2 green chilli, finely chopped

6 mint leaves, finely chopped

1/2 lime

1/2 t sugar



Finely dice mango and pineapple.

Toss all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Serve with the dhansak or spicy dishes.



This post forms part of the series of recipes I am preparing for Woolworths, the food sponsor for MasterChef SA. It is a Food and the Fabulous Endorsed project and I will be remunerated for it




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