Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be invited to the book launch of Niloufer Mavalvala’s new cookbook ‘The Art of Parsi Cooking’. To be honest, whilst I had clearly heard of parsi cooking, I was not very familiar with the minutiae of the cuisine. Her book focuses on ‘reviving an ancient cuisine’ which she has done by compiling a range of family loved recipes.
Born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, Niloufer now resides in Canada and has done so for the past 15 years. Her book gives a wonderful overview on the history of the Parsi people and their cuisine that they adapted to their local environs. Originally from Persia, Parsis were followers of the Prophet Zarathushtra. Between the 8th and 10th centuries, many fled Persia and headed for India, landing on the shores of Gujarat, where many of them settled. Interestingly the ‘Pars’ from Parsis means Iran. In many respects the cuisine is an amalgamation of Persian and Indian and does have a very distinct flavours. Niloufer talks about ingredients such as ‘saffron, jaggery, cider vinegar, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric’ are all key ingredients in Parsi cooking along side the trinity of garlic, ginger and chillies.
I love to read cookery books were the recipes have been passed down generations, it’s as if we privy to the inner circles culinary magic. For years I have been after a good korma recipe that holds it’s weight amount curries. I have found them too creamy and often too bland. Niloufer has a wonderful recipe called ‘ Chicken Badami – Almond and Yoghurt Curry’ which will knock your socks off. If you want it less chilli hot then I recommend reducing or taking out the fresh chillies, but for me I like to have a bit of bite within the curry. The Parsi version of this recipe omits excess oil and instead uses ground almonds and yoghurt. It’s very straightforward and whilst mine is not as red in colour as Niloufer’s in the book, it tastes truly wonderful.
Over the christmas period, many of us are with friends and family over the christmas week. Whilst I love all the traditional food, after about day 3 I crave spice and I think this might be a great one to feed your loved ones. I’ve adapted the recipe slightly as Niloufer uses cups for measurements and most recipes in the UK are in grams and I have added a few more tomatoes, despite mine still not being as red in colour as hers. Otherwise I have remained close to her recipe.
Her book is original, refreshing and lovingly compiled and would make a great gift for those seeking out Parsi recipes. It is fairly compact in size with no more than 40 recipes, but that is more than enough to provide interest and intrigue in the cuisine. You can order it online here. It is published by Austin Macauley Publishers . Next up for me is masala na khekra – pan fried crabs with spices.
adapted from The Art of Parsi Cooking by Niloufer Mavalvala
2 tbsp oil
1 dried bay leaf
1 tsp of freshly grated garlic (paste)
1 tsp of freshly ground ginger (paste)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
10-12 chicken pieces, on the bone and skinned (I find thighs and legs work well)
3 medium sized tomatoes
4 green chillies
230 ml water
245g natural yoghurt with a pinch of salt and sugar
60g ground almonds
1/2 tsp garam masala
- Remove the skin from the chicken pieces and place to one side.
- In a large deep pan add the oil, on a low heat, and when it is hot add the bay leaf, ginger, garlic, salt, red chilli, cumin, coriander and turmeric powders and move around the pan and then add the chicken pieces. Continue to move around the pan at intervals so that the spices do not burn.
- In a blender add the tomatoes, green chillies and blend to form a smooth paste before adding a little water.
- Once the chicken has changed colour add the tomato, chilli paste along with the water and bring to the boil. Cover and cook on a medium heat for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes, by which time the chicken will have cooked through and the gravy will have thickened up and reduced. Niloufer recommends cooking until there is about 1 cup of gravy remaining or thereabouts.
- Let it cool completely.
- In a bowl mix the natural yoghurt with a pinch of salt and sugar as well as the ground almonds.
- Once the chicken has cooled add the natural yoghurt mixture.
- Gently reheat, sprinkle with garam masala powder and then serve. Serve naan alongside.