“Some of us live to eat, but Freddie was one of those people who ate to live.” That is what Peter Freestone, who was Freddie Mercury’s personal assistant for many years, said in his blog when a Mercury fan asked him about Freddie’s eating habits. According to Peter, Freddie did enjoy good food, never had he heard the enigmatic Queen frontman say the words “I’m stuffed”. Food, to Freddie Mercury, was just another one of the necessities, and not something he relished indulging in.
The lead vocalist of the British rock band Queen and lyricist for many of their songs, Mercury was a man of many talents. From being known for his four-octave vocal range, to creating the logo for their band, to being the man who was responsible for breaking all conventional norms of a rock frontman and instead bringing in a flamboyant streak to Queen’s stage presence, Freddie Mercury had more than a few artistic tricks up his sleeve.
Born Farrokh Bulsara, in the then British colony of Zanzibar (now a part of Tanzania) in 1946, to Parsi-Indian parents, Freddie Mercury received most of his primary and middle school education in an English school in India. He returned to Zanzibar but shortly after his family moved to England. Mercury was an Englishman in spirit even before he arrived at the country but, after settling in England, Freddie found a new life for himself which fit perfectly with his personality.
Even then, growing up in a Parsi household left subtle traces of his heritage in his daily lifestyle. One of the things that stays with him was traditional Parsi cuisine. And what do you know, even amongst all the influences of English culture (food was a part of it, of course), Mercury kept going back to his Parsi roots when it came to his comfort food. Chicken dhansak, a traditional Parsi dish, consisting of a preparation of different types of lentils and vegetables with a side of chicken or goat meat, was one of Freddie’s most favourite dishes.
With the lockdown still going strong and the monotony of having to stay in our homes becoming a source of distress with each passing day, it demands some sort of recreation. What better to do than to try out a new dish and especially one that’s also one of Freddie Mercury’s specialities? Never mind if cooking isn’t your forte, just have fun.
Here’s the recipe for Freddie Mercury’s chicken dhansak.
25 gm chana, 25 gm moong, 25gm red and 50 gm toor lentils
125 ml oil
650 gm boneless chicken 2cm cubes
3 med onions
2 cloves garlic
410 gm tinned tomatoes
1 medium aubergine chopped
1 large potato chopped
115 gm spinach (frozen)
100 gm fresh coriander
50 gm fresh mint
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 brown cardamom
5cm cassia bark
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon chilli powder
Salt (to taste)
“Wash the lentils thoroughly, making sure you remove all the grit and residual husk. Soak together overnight.
The following day, cook the lentils in twice their volume of water for approx. 30 minutes. While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and fry the meat at a high temperature for 5 – 10 minutes until browned. Remove from the saucepan and keep in a warm place.
Fry the cumin seeds, cardamom, cassia bark and mustard seeds adding the onions, garlic and salt. When they have turned a golden brown, add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 more minutes.
Add the remaining chopped vegetables, mix and cook for 10 minutes.
Add the lentils and roughly mash everything together.
Add the meat and rest of the spices. Mix well and cook gently for a further 40 minutes.
Add the fresh coriander and mint and cook for at least 10 minutes.