Parsis, as Niloufer Ichaporia King (pictured above) explains in the chatty, charming history that opens My Bombay Kitchen, are descendants of a small group of Persian Zoroastrians who fled to India rather than convert to Islam. Their cooking reflects the various cultures -- Arab, Indian, British -- that they have brushed up against.
King likes the word "magpie" to describe the Parsi approach to cooking. She's a delightful magpie herself, including in her book a recipe for Swedish cardamom cake. I guess the idea is that if a Parsi bakes this cake, it's a Parsi cake. And having now tasted the cake in question, I am not about to argue.
One of the motivations for starting this blog was to reignite my guttering enthusiasm for cooking. I came home yesterday evening feeling mean and low-spirited after running crabby children all over town in the pitiful minivan (For the second time in a week, I was chased by a guy madly honking his horn who offered to fix the dents for $280. I almost said yes just to stop these dudes from following me. The last guy quoted me $1000.)
Back in my untidy home, I wasn't in the mood to melt a pound of butter and brown it into ghee, but once I started, miraculously, I became happy and calm and maternal and domestic goddessy.
King's seafood ragout (patia) is a beautiful recipe, in which firm white fish (or shrimp -- but I'm down on shrimp lately) is quickly patted with spices, sauteed, and then mixed in this very sweet/sour sauce of onions, tamarind, jaggery (more on this later!!!) and tomatoes. The sauce is the main event here, and it's both tasty and terrifically fun to make -- one of those Indian dishes where you get to turn the stove up to its highest notch and "sizzle" a pile of spices and chilies until the skins blister. Very emphatic and satisfying.
She specified khichri (rice and some legume cooked together into nutritious mush) as a side. I tried her Mother's khichri, for which I used tiny red lentils and my pretty homemade ghee. Alas: woefully bland.
Finally, I tackled the recipe for cardamom cake, described by King as "one of the most precious gifts I've ever received in my life." It comes via a Swedish friend of hers, and I was skeptical as I mixed the batter, which took approximately five minutes. It includes whole "bruised" cardamom seeds, very unorthodox, possibly unappetizing. The cake came out of the oven pale and demure, but, when turned out on the plate, wore a perfect crown of crisp sliced almonds.
How did it taste?
It is one of the most precious gifts I've ever received from a cookbook.