Parsi Recipes from 'My Bombay Kitchen'

Return to Main Feature

When Niloufer Ichaporia King's mother, Shireen Ichaporia, turned 90, King began an account of Parsi food. My Bombay Kitchen chronicles a cuisine and culture that is endangered and fast disappearing. Below are three recipes from the book.

Everyday Dal (Mora Dar)

Colander and dal masher, traditional tools used to make dal. i i

Colander and dal masher, traditional tools used to make dal. David King/Courtesy UC Press hide caption

itoggle caption David King/Courtesy UC Press
Colander and dal masher, traditional tools used to make dal.

Colander and dal masher, traditional tools used to make dal.

David King/Courtesy UC Press

Mora dar chaval—plain dal with rice—is a dish with tremendous significance for Parsis. It may appear anytime, but it has to be eaten on any occasion out of the ordinary. You're supposed to have it for births, birthdays, engagements, wedding days (but not for the wedding feast itself), days of good fortune of any sort, and also, alas, when there has been a death in the household. The underlying lesson is that life cannot be led without experiencing both joy and sorrow in some measure, and we mustn't make too much of either, for both are fleeting. The second lesson is the beauty and value of simplicity. Plain dal sounds as though it might be boring, but it's something that everybody loves, and no one ever seems to get tired of it.

Dal to be served with rice is usually made quite thick, although it can be thinned to a soupy consistency and still taste good. In fact, Gujarati Hindus make a delicious soup called osaman, which is nothing more than the water that dal is cooked in, deliciously seasoned. To signify that there's always enough for an extra guest or two, Indians jokingly say that you can add a bit of water to the dal and everything will be fine.

Serves 6.

Ingredients

1 cup red lentils (masur dal), husked split pigeon peas (tuvar dal), or mung beans (mung dal)

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon (or more) salt

1 onion, quartered (optional)

1 green chile (optional)

4 cups (or more) water

1 to 2 tablespoons ghee or butter

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion or shallot (optional)

• Pick over the dal to remove stones and chaff. Rinse the dal and transfer to a pot; add the turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon salt, quartered onion, and chile, if using, along with at least 4 cups water. Bring to boil; reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, until the dal is tender. (Masur and mung dals soften in about half the time it takes to cook tuvar dal, which needs a good 45 minutes to 1 hour.) Watch out for overboiling, even with the heat down.

• When the dal is soft and mushy, pass through a sieve or a food mill or liquefy in a food processor or with an immersion blender, which saves you the trouble of pouring and transferring. The texture of the dal should be thick, smooth, and pourable. Taste for salt.

• To finish, heat the ghee in a small skillet over medium heat. Sizzle the seeds, garlic, and onion, if using, until the garlic begins to brown around the edges and the seeds start to crackle. These sizzling seeds and garlic are known as vaghar in Gujarati, tarka in Hindi. Tip the vaghar into the dal and stir.

• Dal Soup: Dal without vaghar makes an excellent cold soup. I've served it with a blob of yogurt and chive blossoms, or snipped chives or green onion tops.

Note: In my mother's house, it was considered good practice to send dal to the table in a tureen with the vaghar floating on top, a last-minute affair, although the flavors have a better chance to combine if you stir in the toasted spices ahead of time. If you're having dal as a first-course soup, you can serve individual portions with a little vaghar poured over each one.

Excerpted from My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking Copyright © 2007 by Niloufer Ichaporia King.

New Year's Milk Shake (Falooda)

Niloufer Ichaporia King's falooda, featuring basil seeds, rosewater, milk and vanilla ice cream. i i

Niloufer Ichaporia King's falooda, featuring basil seeds, rosewater, milk and vanilla ice cream. Laura Folger for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Laura Folger for NPR
Niloufer Ichaporia King's falooda, featuring basil seeds, rosewater, milk and vanilla ice cream.

Niloufer Ichaporia King's falooda, featuring basil seeds, rosewater, milk and vanilla ice cream.

Laura Folger for NPR

Faludeh in Iran is a frozen dessert of wheat-starch noodles in a pre-scented syrup. Falooda in northern India is a dish of kulfi (rich ice cream) and wheat-starch noodles. Falooda in Bombay is a glorious milk-shakey affair in a tall glass. At the bottom, there's a layer of soaked basil (Ocimum basilicum) seeds, tukhmuriya ni biya, with a slippery-crunchy texture that's like nothing else. On top of the tukhmuriya ni biya is a layer of translucent noodles made of wheat starch. Both of these layers are seen through intense pink rose syrup, although amber-colored saffron syrup is an option. Milk appears to float over this foundation without disturbing it. For extra luxury, there might be a scoop of vanilla ice cream or kulfi. To eat the Falooda, you stir everything up with a long spoon.

Falooda is supposed to be eaten on March 21, Navroz, the old Persian New Year's Day, but that doesn't mean you can't find it or eat it for the remaining 364 days.

The best places to find Falooda outside someone's house is in Bombay's beloved Irani-run restaurants, often named after British or Iranian royals. Rustom Jeejeebhoy, fountainhead of Parsi lore, used to tantalize me by describing the delights of his favorite Irani restaurant, the King Victoria, hidden away on the edges of the mill district, but he never found himself able to take me there or even come up with the address.

To make Falooda in the United States you need two common things, milk and ice cream, and two slightly more esoteric items, rose syrup and basil seeds. Rose syrup can be found in Indian or Middle Eastern groceries. I suggest the Middle Eastern brands, for a truer rose flavor. For total extravagance, look for exquisite organic rose syrup from Italy. Read the labels to make sure you're not getting an entirely synthetic product. The basil seeds come from Indian or Southeast Asian markets. Buy the Southeast Asian ones; the Indian basil seeds are often sandy.

At Chez Panisse March 21 dinners, we serve Falooda in small glasses as a dessert drink. Instead of ice cream we use ice milk, which keeps things refreshing. Serves 6.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon basil seeds

2 cups (or more) water

3 cups (about) chilled whole milk or half-and-half

1/2 cup (about) rose syrup

1/2 cup (about) vanilla ice cream or ice milk

• Soak the seeds in the water for 1 to 3 hours. A tablespoon doesn't seem like much, but the seeds swell up enormously.

• Line up your glasses, tall or short. First put a spoonful of soaked seeds in the bottom of each glass, 2 teaspoons or so for small glasses, 1 to 2 tablespoons for tall glasses. Then pour in the milk to within an inch of the top of the glass. Follow that with 2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons of rose syrup, depending on the sweetness of the rose syrup, the size of the glass, and your taste. It doesn't seem likely, but specific gravity will cause the syrup to sink below the milk in a neat band. If you do it the other way around, the syrup and milk get mixed and the dramatic banded effect is lost. Last, put a little ice cream in every glass.

Excerpted from My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking Copyright © 2007 by Niloufer Ichaporia King.

Eggs on Potato Chips (Wafer Par Ida)

Eggs on potato chips. i i

Eggs on potato chips. Jane Phillips/The New Mexican Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. hide caption

itoggle caption Jane Phillips/The New Mexican Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
Eggs on potato chips.

Eggs on potato chips.

Jane Phillips/The New Mexican Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
The Parsi food pyramid. i i

Niloufer Ichaporia King's husband, David King, illustrated her book. This is his vision of the Parsi food pyramid. "If I had to draw a Parsi food pyramid, it would rise out of a plinth of potato chips," he says. "In Bombay a potato chip, usually described as a finger chip, is what Americans know as a French fry. American potato chips are known as wafers in Bombay. Parsis take wafers seriously. They are the first thing put onto the banana leaf for wedding and initiation banquets." David King/Courtesy UC Press hide caption

itoggle caption David King/Courtesy UC Press
The Parsi food pyramid.

Niloufer Ichaporia King's husband, David King, illustrated her book. This is his vision of the Parsi food pyramid. "If I had to draw a Parsi food pyramid, it would rise out of a plinth of potato chips," he says. "In Bombay a potato chip, usually described as a finger chip, is what Americans know as a French fry. American potato chips are known as wafers in Bombay. Parsis take wafers seriously. They are the first thing put onto the banana leaf for wedding and initiation banquets."

David King/Courtesy UC Press

"For years I thought that putting eggs on wafers, as we call potato chips in India, was a joke recipe, a loony fantasy or a way of lampooning our Parsi love affair with eggs. Then I tried it. In an ideal universe, your potato chips are homemade or fresh from one of Bombay's several potato-chips works, where a vat of oil is always on the bubble or use the best of the commercial ones available to you. They shouldn't be too brown or the dish will taste burnt." — Niloufer Ichaporia King

Ingredients

1 tablespoon ghee, clarified butter, or mixture of vegetable oil and butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon Ginger-Garlic paste (optional)

2 to 3 hot green chiles, finely chopped

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves

4 good handfuls of plain potato chips from a just-opened bag

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon (about) water

• Heat the ghee over medium heat in a sturdy medium skillet, preferably cast iron. Add the onion and let it soften, stirring occasionally, a few minutes. Before it browns, add the paste if you like and the green chiles, and as soon as the mixture looks cooked, add the fresh coriander. Crumble in the potato chips, tossing the contents of the pan to combine them thoroughly. Make nests in the surface of the mixture—they won't be perfect hollows—and crack an egg into each. Pour a tablespoon or so of water around the edges of the pan to generate some steam, cover the skillet tightly, and let the eggs cook just long enough to set the whites without turning the chips soggy.

• Turn out onto waiting plates.

Serves 2 to 4.

Note: One of my authorities on Parsi food, Firoza Kanga, says, "Oh yes, wafer par ida. Delicious. Next time, try it with a little bit of cream poured over the chips before the eggs go on."

Excerpted from My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking Copyright © 2007 by Niloufer Ichaporia King.

Books Featured In This Story

My Bombay Kitchen
My Bombay Kitchen

Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking

by Niloufer Ichaporia King and Alice Waters

Hardcover, 338 pages | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Title
My Bombay Kitchen
Subtitle
Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking
Author
Niloufer Ichaporia King and Alice Waters

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.