Bombay Kitchen: Modern and Traditional Parsi Cooking is an intriguing and unusual family story and the story of
a culture that is struggling to maintain itself. In two or
three generations, this culture will be down in numbers to
the size of a what is considered a tribe. Cook this book.
Go to your farmers market and look for some vegetable excitement.
Cook a green or toast a seed you never have tried. Talk to
the farmer. Ask them to tell you how to prepare it, and if
the food has healthful properties. You never know the stories
and delights that might be held there at that table piled
high with mysterious leaves. You know the motto of the Kitchen
Sisters: Talk to strangers. Especially strangers bearing
Here are a few more of Niloufer's recipes excerpted from her book with
her gracious consent, and one special recipe for Bird Stew you won't find anywhere
consists of eggs scrambled with onions and other things.
There's akuri with tomatoes; there's another of Bharuch,
ancient bastion of Parsi culture and cuisine, rich with onions
and raisins deep-fried in ghee; there's akuri made with the
flowers of the drumstick tree; and on and on. Each
Parsi family probably has its rules about the correct way
to make akuri. When my parents and I were cooking together,
I pretended I had no opinions at all and let my mother dictate
the quantities and methods. Quite predictably, this no-opinion
lasted two minutes before all three of us, my father included,
started having an energetic discussion about the only best
way. My mother claimed that my father and I liked too many
onions: "You don't taste the eggs that way." Then
both parents started arguing about the use of turmeric, where
I sided with my mother. In spite of the scuffle, the akuri
we made together tasted very good.
Just remember, you are
in charge and your opinion counts. Exact quantities are not
important. Note that this version doesn't include tomatoes
or turmeric. That's because I'm the boss of this particular
recipe. Tomatoes make akuri watery, and turmeric adds a color
that the eggs don't really need.
Serve this immediately with buttered toast, or with hot
chapatis or whole wheat tortillas. Leftover akuri makes an
excellent filling for sandwiches and turnovers. Serves 4.
1 tablespoon (or more) ghee or butter
1 medium-size yellow or red onion, finely chopped, or a large
bunch of green onions, chopped with their greens
1 to 2 teaspoons Ginger-Garlic Paste (optional)*
2 green chiles, finely chopped
1/2 to 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)leaves
1/2 teaspoon (about) salt
6 large eggs, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons milk or cream
In a heavy skillet, melt the ghee over medium heat. Add
the onions and brown them slowly, stirring occasionally,
until they begin to caramelize. Add the paste if you want
it and the chiles. Stir for a minute. Add the fresh coriander
and the salt. Check the seasoning. Add the eggs and an indulgent
extra dollop of ghee if you want the added richness. Over
low heat, scramble to your taste, to barely set creaminess
or firm. Check for salt before serving at once.
Note: When green garlic is in season, it's often used in
akuri. The green garlic we get in Bombay is sold in bunches
with stems as thin as chives and tiny, tender closes the
size of the nail on you little finger. If you have your own
garlic patch, do give this a try, even if it seems like infanticide.
About 1/2 cup roughly chopped peeled fresh ginger (about
About 1/2 cup roughly chopped peeled cloves garlic
About 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
In a wet-dry grinder or food processor, grind the ginger
and garlic to a smooth paste, using as little water as possible.
Add the salt if you plan on storing the paste. Pack it into
a small tightly covered jar with a nonreactive lining to
the lid. Pour a thin film of oil on top of the past. Store
in the refrigerator.
Note: Ginger-garlic paste is now commercially available,
both in India and in the United States. It's a good idea
to look at the ingredients before you buy any. I like Poonjiaji's
for emergencies because it is preserved with small amounts
of vinegar and salt rather than additives with a metallic
Of course, nothing is as good as a paste ground
for this cake, one of the most precious gifts I’ve
ever received in my life, comes from a generous Swedish friend,
Ragnhild Langlet, a textile artist of extraordinary talent.
The cake became an immediate favorite in our household, an
honorary Parsi dessert and our most requested birthday cake.
We met Ragnhild Langlet in a Berkeley garden in the early
summer of 1987 at a potluck wedding celebration to which
she brought an unassuming cake baked in an unassuming pan.
That unassuming little cake was one of the most powerful
things I’ve ever tasted. It was suffused with a scent
of cardamom, crunchy whole seeds throughout, sweet enough,
rich enough, light enough. Cake perfection. The taste is
so exotic, so tropical, yet so adaptable to any cuisine that
it’s a surprise to know that it comes from Sweden,
which turns out to be the world’s second-largest market
for cardamom, India being number one.
This cake is excellent the first day, even better the next
and the next and the next, if it lasts that long. Serve with
fruit or a custard or ice cream. There’s nothing that
it doesn’t complement.
Serves 6 to 10.
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar, for the pan
Sliced unblanched almonds, for the topping (optional)
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 sticks unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
• Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-inch diameter
springform pan by buttering it liberally, sprinkling 2 to
3 tablespoons sugar, and shaking the pan until the bottom
and sides are coated with sugar. Don’t worry about
extra sugar on the bottom. Cover the bottom with sliced almonds
if you want a particularly crunchy topping. Ragnhild also
suggested ground almonds or bread crumbs. If you want to
be absolutely sure that the topping won’t stick, use
a parchment paper disk to line the bottom of the pan before
buttering and sugaring it.
• Using a stand mixer if you have one, a handheld
beater, or a powerful and patient arm, cream the eggs and
sugar until thick and pale and tripled in volume, about 5
minutes. Melt the butter in a little saucepan. Bruise the
cardamom seeds in a mortar. Quickly fold the flour and salt
into the egg and sugar mixture, followed by the butter and
the cardamom. Give the batter a thorough stir before tipping
it into the prepared pan. Thump the pan on the counter to
settle the batter.
• Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes. The top should
feel dry and spring back when lightly pressed, and a skewer
or knife inserted into the center should come out dry. Remove
from the oven and leave in the pan about 5 minutes. Run a
knife around the sides of the pan before inverting the cake
onto a rack to cool. Remove the bottom of the pan carefully
while the cake is still very warm. Let cool before serving.
Rose Geranium Cardamom Cake:
For our dear friend Catherine’s
birthday in 1987, I embedded rose geranium leaves in the
top of the cake (actually the bottom of the springform pan)
along with the almonds, and served it with a winter fruit
compote also lightly scented with rose geranium. If you can
ever get near a cardamom plant, which is a member of the
ginger family, try a leaf from it, too.
Nothing could be simpler than this cucumber salad, or a
more perfect accompaniment for so many of the dishes in this
book. The addition of a little finely minced ginger emphasizes
the fresh clarity of salt and lime, that magic combination.
2 cucumbers (about 2 pounds)
Juice of 1 to 2 limes
Salt to taste
2 to 3 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
¼ cup shredded fresh mint leaves (optional)
• If the cucumbers are coated with wax, peel them.
Halve the cucumbers lengthwise and remove the seeds if you
don’t like them. Cut the cucumbers into thin slices.
Dress the slices with lime juice and salt. Add the ginger
in small increments to taste; it doesn’t take much
to make an effect. Add mint just before serving, if you like.
You might even want to add a drizzle of olive oil.
We brought Ordle back to life and health
with Bird Stew after a stroke and a heart infection. It
took a three month long war of nerves to switch him over
from his former disastrous diet of sunflower seeds and peanuts.
Now he gets impatient while his breakfast is being made.
This is what you do:
To shop: You need
small amounts, say ½ cup each of a variety of high-protein
legumes and grains. Ordle’s current combination
is a mixture of chick peas, kidney beans, green and yellow
split peas, dried haricots verts, regular lentils, quinoa,
amaranth, spelt, barley, a tiny amount of dried corn. Mix
and store in a cool, dry place.
To cook: Cover about a cup or two of the mixture with
lots of water, about the depth of your index finger
above the legume-grain mixture. Bring to a boil, lower
the heat, cover the pot loosely, and leave to simmer
gently until the legumes are tender, about 2 hours. Check from time to time
and add enough water to keep things from sticking and burning. You
should end up with a thick porridge with some whole beans.
Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables, choosing
those highest in vitamin A. Skin and cube 1-2 lbs
of winter squash or pumpkin with the brightest orange
flesh. Put them into a food processor with a bunch of
darkest green kale stripped off the tough stems. Add
about 15-20 dried or fresh red chiles. If your bird likes
other vegetables, by all means add them, too. Process
to where the bits are too small to fish out and reject. Add
to the grain and legume porridge. Bring to a boil, reduce
heat and cook for a minute or two. Let cool down and
freeze in ice cube trays. This amount makes about 3-4
ice trays. Store well-sealed in the freezer.
To serve: Thaw
and barely heat a cube of Bird Stew. Crush about 12
bird food pellets—Ordle goes through phases—and
mix with the Bird Stew. Be sure the mixture is no warmer
than tepid. Sprinkle lightly with bird bait—a tiny
amount of finely crushed walnut or cashew—and push
it in deep so that your bird has to eat a lot of the other
stuff to get the treat.
In the 1970s the long
defunct Berkeley Gazette’s food section used to be a bottomless trove
of droll if not outright bizarre recipes whose ingredients
were usually given in units—packets, cans, bottles,
packages. Some mad genius thought up Crown Roast of Franks
which the recipe headnotes described as budget-friendly
yet “party pretty” or words to that effect. Whenever
there was a question about what to serve at a festive dinner
and the honoured person wouldn’t volunteer a preference,
we kept threatening to make Crown Roast of Franks but
it wasn’t until December of 1997, twenty years later,
that we finally did.
So carefully filed away that it can’t be found, the
original recipe (somewhere in the mid-seventies) called for
the contents of 2 1-pound packages of hot dogs to be
stood up on end in a ring secured with kitchen thread. The
cavity in the middle was to be filled with dehydrated scalloped
potatoes moistened with a bottle of Italian dressing and
for the fresh, homemade touch, some celery seed. The
whole thing put into the oven for about half an hour.
Since it’s reasonable for friends to expect to be able
to eat what’s served, we changed things a bit.
You need 2 1/2 1-pound packages of good hot dogs or other
longish sausages to make a crown big enough for 6-8 people. David
takes a long needle threaded with kitchen twine and actually
strings the hot dogs together before standing them up on
end on a baking sheet. We fill the cavity with a potatoes
and celery root mashed together (turnips work, too) with
butter, a bit of cream, a bit of yogurt, and of course, salt. You
need about 2-3 lbs of mashed root vegetables to fill the
cavity, with a little egg wash over the surface. Then the
Crown Roast of Franks goes into a 375 degree oven for about
half an hour until the hot dogs splay out handsomely and
the filling looks golden brown.
Hot dogs need relish. Ours
is a salad of parsley and finely sliced celery with olive
oil, chopped whole Meyer lemon, chopped black oil-cured olives
and a little garlic.
For dessert, try a citrus-juice Jello,
say blood orange, surrounded with grapefruit segments.