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Niloufer Ichaporia King's Parsi Recipes  

My 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 produce.

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 else.

  Parsi Scrambled Eggs / Akuri  

All recipes © Niloufer Ichaporia King 2008

Akuri 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 to taste
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.

*Ginger-Garlic Paste
About 1/2 cup roughly chopped peeled fresh ginger (about 4 ounces)
About 1/2 cup roughly chopped peeled cloves garlic
About 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
Vegetable oil

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 aftertaste.
Of course, nothing is as good as a paste ground at home.

  Cardamom Cake  

Photo-Doug Hamilton

The recipe 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.

© Niloufer Ichaporia King 2008
  Cucumber and Ginger Salad  

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. Serves 6.

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.

© Niloufer Ichaporia King 2008
  Bird Stew  

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.

© Niloufer Ichaporia King 2008
  Crown Roast of Franks  


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.

-Niloufer Ichaporia King

© Niloufer Ichaporia King 2008
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