Citizens, today I share with you a delectable recipe from the small but highly-influential Parsis of India! The Parsis are one of two Zoroastrian communities (the other being Iranis) primarily located in South Asia. The word پارسیان, pronounced “Parsian”, i.e. “Parsi” in the Persian language literally means Persian.
Persian is the official language of modern Iran, which was formerly known as Persia, and the Persian language’s endonym is Farsi, an arabization of the word Parsi. According to the Qissa-i Sanjan, Parsis migrated from Greater Iran to Gujarat and Sindh in India between the 8th and 10th century CE to avoid the persecution of Zoroastrians following the Muslim conquest of Persia.
The Qissa-i Sanjan is a tale of the journey of the Parsis to India from Iran. It says they fled for reasons of religious freedom and they were allowed to settle in India thanks to the goodwill of a local Hindu prince. However, the Parsi community had to abide by three rules: they had to speak the local language, follow local marriage customs, and not carry any weapons. After showing the many similarities between their faith and local beliefs, the early community was granted a plot of land on which to build a fire temple.
Zoroaster taught that good and evil were opposite forces and that it was a person’s duty to make a choice between the two. The two paths are of asha or righteousness and of druj, the lie. Good is represented by Ahura Mazda and evil by Angra Mainyu. The Zoroastrian holy book, called the Avesta, was written in the Avestan language, which is closely related to Vedic Sanskrit.
The long presence of the Parsis in the Gujarat and Sindh areas of India distinguishes them from the smaller Zoroastrian Indian community of Iranis, who are much more recent arrivals, mostly descended from Zoroastrians fleeing the repression of the Qajar dynasty and the general social and political tumult of late 19th- and early 20th-century Iran.
Parsis live chiefly in Mumbai and in a few towns and villages mostly to the north of Mumbai, but also a few minorities near by in Karachi (Pakistan) and Bangalore (Karnataka, India). There is a sizable Parsi population in Pune as well in Hyderbad. A few Parsee families also reside in Kolkata and Chennai.
Although they are not, strictly speaking, a caste, since they are not Hindus, they form a well-defined community. The exact date of the Parsi migration is unknown. According to tradition, the Parsis initially settled at Hormuz on the Persian Gulf, but finding themselves still persecuted they set sail for India, arriving in the 8th century. The migration may in fact have taken place as late as the 10th century, or in both. They settled first at Diu in Kathiawar but soon moved to south Gujarāt, where they remained for about 800 years as a small agricultural community.
The basic feature of a Parsi lunch is rice, eaten with lentils or a curry. Curry is made with coconut and ras without, with curry usually being thicker than ras. Dinner would be a meat dish, often accompanied by potatoes or other vegetable curry. Kachumbar (a sharp onion-cucumber salad) accompanies most meals.
Popular Parsi dishes include:
Chicken Farcha (Fried chicken appetizer)
Dhansak (Lamb, mutton, goat, chicken or vegetables in a mixed lentil or toor daal gravy served with brown rice)
Patra ni Machhi (Fish – Pomfret or Surmai stuffed heavily with green coconut chutney and wrapped in a banana leaf – steam cooked.)
Sali Murghi (Spicy chicken with fine fried matchstick potatoes)
Saas ni Machhi (Yellow rice with pomfret fish fillets in white sauce)
Jardaloo Sali Boti (Boneless mutton in an onion and tomato sauce with apricots and fried matchstick potatoes)
Khichri (rice with toor daal or moong daal)
Tamota ni Ras Chaval (mutton cutlets with white rice and tomato sauce)
Kolmi no Patio (Shrimp in spicy tomato curry)
It is this last dish we shall concern ourselves with today. This is a delectable recipe that has received a sprinkling of TFD magic in the intricate spice blending – I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, Citizens!
Battle on – the Generalissimo
500 gms shelled Prawns
2 chopped Onions
2 chopped Tomatoes
2 teaspoons Tamarind paste
1 teaspoon Coriander powder
1 teaspoon Cumin powder
1 teaspoon Kashmiri Chili powder
½ teaspoon Turmeric powder
1 teaspoon Parsi Garam Masala powder, made from equal parts of pepper, cloves, cassia bark, cardamom, black cardamom, star anise, shah jeera, nutmeg and mace
1 tablespoon grated Jaggery (preferred) or use light brown sugar if unavailable
1 teaspoon Lime juice
1 tablespoon Cane Vinegar (can replace with white vinegar if unavailable)
Big handful of chopped Coriander
Salt to taste
¼ – ½ cup Prawn Stock made from the shells of the shrimp (details below)
4 tablespoons chopped Cilantro
To be blended to a fine paste: 6-8 (adjust to suit your heat tolerance) Dry red chilis, 7 Cloves, 3 cloves of Garlic, ½ inch peeled Ginger, ¼ cup prawn stock
Take the prawn shells and rinse thoroughly. Add them in a pan and pour 2 cups of water over them. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. Switch off heat and strain the liquid. Discard the prawn shells.
Take some prawn stock and dilute the tamarind paste in it. Keep it set aside.
Heat oil in a pan. Sauté the chopped onion in it till it turns golden in color. Add the ground chili paste and stir fry for a minute or two, till the raw smell goes away.
Add the coriander, cumin, chili powder, turmeric and garam masala powders and mix well. Add in the chopped tomatoes and cook till oil separates.
Add tamarind water and jaggery and mix well. Bring to a boil. Add the prawns into the mixture and mix well. Once the prawns are cooked, add the lime juice and cane vinegar and ½ the chopped cilantro leaves.
Check and adjust the seasoning. What you need to have is a gravy that is tangy, sweet and spicy. Switch off heat and transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with remaining cilantro and serve hot with rice or rotis.