From Iran to Irani Cafes: Journey of Parsi Cuisine

Parsi food is unique with its Persian characteristics by the creation of new dishes after adopting local ingredients, spices and a blend of sweet-and-sour Gujarati cuisine. Parsis, or Zoroastrian Iranians who fled religious persecution and arrived in India centuries ago, are rice-eaters and most of the food is non-vegetarian. The food has a distinctive flavour with the use of spice combinations different from other Indian regional cuisines.

The arrival of Udipi and Chinese restaurants in the 1960s in Mumbai spelt trouble for the much-frequented Irani cafes where a brun muska (bread and butter), sweet cake and other items on the menu were low priced and one could spend a few hours in the black-and-white tiled cafes and while away one’s time.

Closure of many Irani cafes, however, did not dim the flavours of Parsi cuisine and as artisanal foods are coming in vogue, restaurants serving this unique cuisine are proceeding to establish a foothold in major metros of the country.      

 

DHANSAK

A popular Parsi dish, made by cooking mutton with a mixture of dals and vegetables

Servings: 4   Cook Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup toor dal
  • ¼ cup moong dal
  • ¼ cup masoor dal
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp red chilli
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp dhansak masala
  • 2 tsp methi seeds
  • 1 small slice pumpkin
  • 1 small capsicum
  • 2 small brinjals
  • ½ kg mutton, washed and cleaned
  • Salt, to taste.
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Method

  1. Soak the toor, moong and masoor dals in water, marinate meat in salt, ginger-garlic paste overnight or 4-5 hours before cooking.
  2. Finely chop pumpkin, capsicum and brinjals.
  3. In a pressure cooker, saute onion with oil and a tsp of ginger-garlic paste until onion turns golden brown. Add the garam masala and dhansak masala and the salt. Stir.
  4. Add chopped vegetables and stir fry.
  5. When vegetables are covered in masala and turn semi-soft. add the dals with 3-4 cups of water.
  6. Close cooker and let it cook for about 3 whistles plus 10 minutes on simmer.
  7. In another pressure cooker, heat a little oil and add the mutton pieces.
  8. Add 4 cups of water to the cooker, close lid and let it steam-cook for 15–20 minutes.
  9. After the dal is ready, mash it to make a smooth paste. Add cooked meat along with its soup.
  10. Squeeze in juice of one lemon and let the dhansak simmer on the stove for 10-15 minutes.
  11. Serve with brown rice and bawa kachubar (onion salad).

For Dhansak Masala

Recipe Servings: 4       Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 250 gm coriander seeds (dhania)
  • 125 gm cumin (zeera)
  • 125 gm red chillies
  • 10 gm caraway seeds (shahi jeera)
  • 10 gm mustard seeds (rai)
  • 10 gm fenugreek seeds (methi dana)
  • 10 gm blackstone flower (phool pathar)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper (kali mirch)
  • 30 gm poppy seeds (khus khus)
  • 30 gm cinnamon (dal chini)
  • 30 gm cloves (laung)
  • 30 gm bay leaves (tej patta)
  • 30 gm star anise (chakr phool)
  • 1/8 tsp mace (javitri)
  • 1 nutmeg (jaiphal)

Method

  1. Grind all the ingredients together.
  2. Strain and store in airtight container.

 

PARSI SALI KEEMA

A Parsi-style lamb mince served with potato straws (sali or aloo lachchas).

Servings: 4   Cook Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 400 gm lamb mince
  • 10 gm turmeric
  • 50 gm ginger-garlic paste
  • Salt, to taste
  • 50 ml oil
  • 1 gm cardamom
  • 1 gm cinnamon
  • 1 gm cloves
  • 5 gm cumin seeds
  • 10 gm garlic
  • 100 gm onions
  • 100 gm tomatoes
  • 5 gm green chillies
  • 5 gm turmeric
  • 5 gm chilli powder
  • 20 gm coriander powder
  • 5 gm garam masala powder
  • 20 gm coriander leaves
  • 75 gm apricot puree
  • 20 gm fresh mint leaves
  • Potato straws (aloo lachchas), to garnish

Method

  1. Boil the lamb mince with turmeric, ginger-garlic paste and salt.
  2. Chop onions, tomatoes, garlic, coriander leaves and mint.
  3. Slit the green chillies lengthwise.
  4. Heat oil in a pan and add cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.
  5. Add cumin seeds and when they crackle add garlic and saute until golden.
  6. Add onions and brown slightly, add tomatoes and remaining ingredients.
  7. Saute for 5 minutes on a slow flame and add the boiled lamb mince.
  8. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
  9. Serve garnished with potato straws.

For Potato Straws

  1. Cut 6-7 large potatoes into very thin straws.
  2. Soak them in chilled salty water for a few minutes.
  3. Drain water and dry the straws.
  4. Deep fry straws in boiling ghee or oil, until golden brown.
  5. Remove excess oil from potato straws and serve.

 

PATRANI MACHI

A Parsi steamed fish preparation where fish is coated in a coconut chutney mixture, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed.

Servings: 6    Cook Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 4 banana leaves
  • 1 kg fish
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 tsp salt

Method

  1. Marinate the fish in lime juice and salt for 30 minutes.
  2. Coat the fish pieces on both sides with the chutney.
  3. Wrap the fish pieces in banana leaves and secure with string.
  4. Steam bake for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Serve hot garnished with lime wedges.

For the Chutney

  • 1 grated coconut
  • 6 green chillies
  • 50 gm coriander leaves with stems
  • 1 tbsp mint leaves
  • 1 tsp ground cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt, to taste

Combine all the chutney ingredients and grind until a smooth paste is formed.

 

PARSI SALI MARGHI

Chicken curry with fried potatoes

Servings: 4   Cook Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp ginger, chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic paste
  • 1½ cup tomato puree
  • ½ tbsp red chilli powder (for colour)
  • ¼ tbsp turmeric
  • 1 green chilli, chopped
  • ½ tbsp garam masala
  • 7 -8 chicken leg and thigh pieces)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Water as required
  • 1½ tbsp zeera powder
  • Deep fried potato lachchas (Sali) to top dish

Method

  1. In a deep pan heat oil. Add chopped onions, ginger-garlic paste. Saute until onions are golden brown.
  2. Remove from stove, strain extra oil, add tomato puree and cook for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add chilli powder, turmeric, green chillies and garam masala. Saute till the oil comes on top.
  4. Add chicken pieces. Coat them with the masala and add salt.
  5. Add enough water to cover chicken pieces, cover the pan and simmer chicken for 20-25 minutes.
  6. Remove lid, sprinkle zeera powder. Mix well. Cook till the gravy thickens and the chicken is cooked.
  7. Before serving top with a handful of fried potato straws. (See Parsi Sali Keema recipe for potato straws).

 

SALI BOTI

A mutton preparation with the jaggery added to give it a sweet tinge.

Servings: 6   Cook Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 kg mutton, cut into very small cubes
  • 4 chopped tomatoes
  • 4-5 finely chopped onions
  • 3-4 chopped green chillies
  • 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1½ tbsp vinegar
  • 1½ tbsp Jaggery
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee or oil
  • 2 cups water
  • Coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • Salt, to taste

Method

  1. Heat oil or ghee in a pan.
  2. Add onions and saute until golden.
  3. Add chilli powder, turmeric powder, and ginger-garlic paste.
  4. Stir for about one minute.
  5. Add mutton cubes and cook until meat turns light brown in colour.
  6. Add chopped green chillies, tomatoes, water and salt as required, and stir.
  7. Bring to a boil.
  8. Let it simmer for 30-40 minutes.
  9. Add jaggery and vinegar.
  10. Cook again for about 5-6 minutes.
  11. Remove pan from stove.
  12. Serve hot, garnished with fried potato straws. (See Parsi Sali Keema recipe for potato straws).

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