As a longtime fan of Persian and Indian cuisines, I was intrigued when I saw my friend Marlene Spieler mention Niloufer Mavalvala’s “The Art of Parsi Cooking.” Despite my familiarity with Persian and some regional Indian cuisines, I was not familiar with Parsi culture. The Parsi are followers of the Prophet Zarathushtra. The Parsi (from the word “Pars,” Iran), are Zoroastrians who migrated to India between the 8th to 10th centuries, and later their descendants who settled around the globe. Parsi cooking was largely shaped by Iran and India, and you’ll find that both cultures feature prominently in Parsi dishes, from dry fruit and nuts (Shirini) lending sweetness to more pungent ginger, garlic, chilies and spices from India. The trinity of tikhu-khatu-mithu (spicy-sour-sweet) forms the underpinnings of Parsi cuisine.
The included dishes in “The Art of Parsi Cooking” are arranged by course, from appetizers such as scrambled eggs with spices and prawns in spices and beloved side dishes like eggs on potatoes, okra or tomatoes and fish with green chutney in banana leaves to main dishes like shrimp coconut curry and rice, chicken curry with vegetable palau, Sunday lamb roast, and chicken almond and yogurt curry. And of course, what meal is complete without a spot of dessert? You’ll find the famous Parsi wedding dish of Lagan nu Custard and almond and rice pudding to Parsi kulfi (burnt milk ice-cream with pistachio and almond) and ravo (semolina and egg pudding). Teatime snacks also offer a nice light pick-me-up, including butter biscuits, cake, and sweet pancakes. A discussion of spice blends is also included. Best of all, many of the spices and ingredients should be readily available in your local supermarket or Amazon (I’ve tried to cook from some “authentic” Indian cookbooks where I couldn’t locate any of the regional veggies or obscure ingredients, so this is a huge relief!).
Each beautifully illustrated recipe comes with helpful tips, and I love that the book was printed with large, bold font for ingredients, making it easy to see and cook from. I loved the brown rice recipe; not to be confused with whole grain rice, this is basmati rice that gets its color from caramelized onions and is delicately spiced with cinnamon, cloves, peppercorn, and cardamom. The baked goods were also a fascinating and delicious departure from more syrupy, often-too-sweet Indian desserts such as gulab jamun; I loved the light, semolina-enhanced kumas and the delicately-spiced butter cookies.
As we move into fall and winter’s chill, I look forward to cooking my way through more of these delicious, warming dishes that have sustained generations of Parsi cooks and families.