My Citizens, our recent excursion into the subtle (and not so subtle) pleasures of British Indian Restaurant (BIR) curries has resulted in a huge influx of new citizens from the Indian subcontinent – welcome to you all! In celebration of your new status as members of TFD Nation, I shall share with you today a delicious recipe from the Parsi community of Mumbai – jardaloo salli boti – spiced meat stew with apricots!
The Parsis are one of two Zoroastrian communities (the other being Iranis) primarily located in South Asia. While they are a tiny minority in India, their cuisine is renowned as a fusion of Iranian, Indian and British influences! The very word پارسیان, pronounced “Parsian”, i.e. “Parsi” in the Persian language literally means Persian. The use of jardaloo (apricots) is both a Persian and a British influence upon this dish.
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.
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 Hyderabad. A few Parsi 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 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. When the Parsis first arrived, the story goes that the prince sent them a glass of milk filled to the brim, meaning there was no room for them in his kingdom. The Parsis sent the glass back, but sweetened with sugar, demonstrating they would add much to the kingdom – delighted with their answer, he agreed to let them stay.
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.
Parsis have a very distinct cuisine – as noted in a great article on shubh-yatra.in:
The Parsi kitchen is headed by a woman with an extremely well-stocked and well-labelled pantry. In the spice box, other than the regular staples like turmeric, red chilli and cumin powder, you will also find home-ground mixes, like the famous dhansak masala (a mix of coriander, cumin and 10 other spices) and the commonly thrown in sambhar masala.
The latter is not the one generally found in most South Indian kitchens, but a special one pronounced as sam-bhaar. These two are used in dishes like sali marghi (a chicken dish), sali ma gos (a mutton recipe), patia (made with shrimps) and even a simple dal (pulses).
While the older generation still grinds these spices at home, they are also available in shops. In Mumbai, most Parsis flock to M Motilal Masalawala at Grant Road to stock up their pantries. Other special spices that you’d spot in the refrigerator include marchu-lasan (a red paste of garlic, red chillies and cumin seeds) and lellu-lasan (a green-hued paste of garlic, green chillies and cumin seeds), to be used in a variety of curries.
The kitchen will also have bottles of sugarcane vinegar, manufactured by
EF Kolah in Navsari, Gujarat; jars of jaggery; sali (potato matchsticks) and salty potato wafers. Also found are dry fruits such as charoli or chironji (Buchanania lanzan), almond (sometimes slivered and fried), dried coconut flakes and, not to forget, the humble but popular egg! You may also spot home-made apple and brinjal chutney and some boomla (Bombay duck), a type of fish!
Citizens, my version of jardaloo salli boti is ruthlessly authentic (with one exception – I use boneless meat instead of bone-in) and is sublimely delicious in all of its flavor complexities. Yes, there are many spice blends in this recipe, but fear not, you’ll make enough of the blends to keep for many servings of this and other Parsi dishes in the future.
The key flavor profile for many Parsi dishes is achieved by the use of a local sugarcane vinegar that is simply not available in the States. Fortunately, I have found an excellent substitute here – you can learn more about the unique sugarcane vinegar of the Parsis here. This vinegar is also key to the Parsi shrimp dish found here.
Apricot (jardaloo) is obviously critical in this recipe – you can also find the best-quality Turkish dried apricots here – sadly, Indian dried apricots that still have their kernel intact are near-impossible to find in the United States. Untoasted sesame oil is NOT the same thing as Asian sesame oil – DON’T SUBSTITUTE ONE FOR THE OTHER! Fortunately, the correct oil may be easily purchased here.
Indian spices are indeed resplendent in this recipe – some of the more unusual ones may be purchased at their respective links. These include asafoetida, Ceylon cinnamon, Jaggery sugar, ajwain, and Kashmiri chili powder.
Citizens, near and far – revel in the intricate flavors found in this delightful recipe for jardaloo salli boti – please try it and help to preserve the vanishing Parsi food culture today!
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