Great Parsi treats you’ve never heard of: Maska Maarke with Kunal Vijayakar
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Great Parsi treats you’ve never heard of: Maska Maarke with Kunal Vijayakar

As everyone feasts on Pulao, Saans ni Machchi, Patties and Kavabs, I went digging for recipes lost and rare.

mumbai Updated: Aug 17, 2018 22:04 IST
Kunal Vijayakar
Kunal Vijayakar
Hindustan Times
Parsi,Parsi food,Cuisine
A special feast is laid out on Navroz, the Parsi New Year, in Surat.(HT Photo)

Much has been said and devoured when it comes to Parsi food. It’s a cuisine that is quite exactly like the Parsis — eminent, illustrious, well-known, but very, very difficult to find. For instance, there’s no one in Mumbai who hasn’t heard of a Mutton Dhansak. Bring up the subject and they will wax lyrical about the chutney in a gently steamed Patra ni Machchi. Ask about a Salli Boti and you get a dissertation on how crisp potato straws combust with sweet and spicy flaming red sauce. There is a general consensus that the plush and majestic Lagan nu Custard makes the original Crème Caramel appear like a poor relative. But ask anybody where you could procure a good Parsi meal, and as with the Parsi, the answer will be, “there aren’t too many around”.

But it’s a cuisine that is celebrated. And this weekend it will be celebrated with gastronomical gusto as the Parsi community, having solemnised Pateti (the day of repentance and New Year’s Eve), brings in Navroz and Khordad Saal (New Year and the birthday of Zoroaster).

While everyone will feast on Pulao Daar, Saans ni Machchi, Salli Margi, Dhan-Daar-Patio, Cutless, Patties and Kavabs, I thought it might be a good idea to dig deeper, ransack memories and quarry for Parsi recipes that are rare and lost, and for that I turned to three sources.

My first, a wonderful book called My Bombay Kitchen, written by Niloufer Ichaporia King in 2007. Then the almanac-like volumes of The Time and Talents Club Recipe Book. And finally, the encyclopedia himself, archaeologist, historian and chef Kurush Dalal.

The Parsis have had a gracious relationship with the British, and it’s reflected in their celebrated cuisine. The hallowed Saans ma Machchi, for instance, is a spicy take on Fish in White Sauce. I even found a recipe for a baked chicken ‘curry’.

Together we’ve put together a list of Parsi dishes that have been hitherto neglected, fell between the cracks, or were just too tedious or fattening to keep cooking.

Let me start with Khatta Meetha Resa Ma Pattice. As the name suggests, the pattice are sweet and sour, but the intriguing word is resa. Literally, strands; such as you get when you pull meat. The pattice are made from leftover meat, the chunks shredded by hand. Dry out the gravy in a frying pan. Add a little vinegar and fried raisins. The pulled mutton, now flavoured with the sourness of vinegar and the sweetness of raisins, is wrapped in a casing of mashed potato to make patties; crumbed, and egg-fried. Lo and behold, Khatta Meetha Resa Ma Pattice.

The Parsis have had a gracious relationship with the British. Till just a generation ago, likenesses of the Queen and George V hung on the walls of Parsi homes, right next to the portrait of Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy. The influences are many, especially in the cuisine. The hallowed Saans ma Machchi is a spicy take on Fish in White Sauce. The Irish Curry with just that extra bit of ginger and garlic is unrecognisable in Ireland. And Caramel Custard and Bread Pudding are now Parsi desserts and no longer considered European. Many Parsi households still eat at tables clad in lace, glasses covered with doilies and cutlery made in Great Britain. So then why not a Chicken Maivahlans, or Mother’s Favourite Curry?

This is a baked chicken dish with an extravaganza of almonds, pistachios, cashews, raisins, and thick cream. The chicken is first shredded and sautéed in ghee with onions, garlic, ginger and whole spices until cooked completely. Then onions, raisins, almonds, pistachios, cashews and potatoes are deep-fried in ghee. You then grease a large baking tray and start assembling layers.

The first layer is a mixture of the shredded chicken with the deep fried nuts, raisins and potatoes. Garnish the layer with a few finely chopped green chillies. With the juices of the chicken fold in some butter and flour to make a béchamel. Stir in some thick double cream, and Madeira wine. Layer the sauce on top of the chicken and nuts. The last layer is egg whites beaten stiff, gently mixed with the yolks and topped with pine-nuts and sliced almonds. Then the whole thing is baked. Could it get any more decadent?

For a daily dose of roughage, the Parsis often cook vegetables, but with meat. That’s how we get gavar-ma-ghos, bhida-ma-ghos, cauliflower-ma-ghos, even tarela-kera-ma-ghos (meat with fried bananas). Then why have they forgotten the classic Kakdi Ma Ghos? Tender and flavourful pieces of meat are chopped and grilled in a pan with ginger, garlic and whole spices. A large cucumber is cut in chunks, the skin intact. The seeds are cleaned out and then slowly, very slowly, it is cooked with the meat. No water is added, because cucumber is 95% water. The meat cooks in the juices of the cucumber, and the fibers of the cucumber absorb the meatiness of the curry and spices. It’s best eaten with brown Dhansak rice.

There are many more Parsi dishes we’ve never heard of before, that need to be acknowledged and preserved. Like Ghos no Batervo or Tadi-ma-Ghos, where marinated meat is slow-cooked in palm toddy to make a sticky, sweet and sour gravy. Or Bacon-Papeta-ma-Ghos, meat, whole Kashmiri chillies, potatoes and full spices cooked in ghee and bacon fat. And Masoor-ma-Jeeb, red lentils and masala cooked with ox-tongue… the list goes on.

With these three heritage Parsi dishes, I’ve just scratched the surface of a rich and accepting cuisine. We need to preserve the forgotten dishes as much as we do the Parsis themselves. In next week’s Parsi tribute, what else… eggs!

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 20:49 IST