I am the author of 12 cookbooks, a blogger, and a Software Engineer. I have worked at IBM and other hi-tech companies in the computer industry for the past 20 years. I have made my home in USA since 37 years with my husband Jamshed.
Living by ourselves as new-comers in the states, we would frequently invite our friends over for dinner. Cooking Indian food was by second nature. Everyone expected me to make the Indian dishes they were used to having in restaurants here. My friends wanted to know what spices were used in making our famous parsi dhansak dal, how did the brown rice come out so fluffy and flavorful? What is the secret behind the creamy and oh so soft lagan-nu-custard? What goes in this Chutney?
One day, Jamshed suggested putting my recipes online and sharing them for folks who were interested in learning to cook the food they had at our home. Excellent idea. After leaving IBM, I started my web design company and one of the sandbox projects was to put the recipes online.
More web design, blogging, photography and cooking followed. My family got the brunt of recipes tried and failed, we had to eat the concoctions since both Jamshed and I never throw food away, unless it is spoilt of course. We try to set an example of living the right way and have told our kids many times “just eat and appreciate the food you get, there are millions in the world going without food every day”. Of course trips to India for visiting our family, were sobering and an eye-opener for the kids. One day my daughter (a third grader) came up and said “Dad, do you know so many people do not even know the taste of chocolate because they have not had one?” She was talking of the poor in India who could not afford to buy a chocolate.
My daughter’s Girl Scout Troup leader and the girl scouts gathered toothpaste, toothbrushes and chewing gum to distribute in India. People there loved it, this was such a good experience. Thanks to the Girl Scouts of the United States of America.
I would like to present an journey into the Culture, and Nuances of Parsi Cuisine of India. I would like to present to you my cookbook on Indian Parsi Cuisine. It is a coffee table book with History, Heritage and Anecdotes of the food.
This cookbook is written for today’s generation of cooks and food enthusiasts. The cookbook provides a treasure trove of recipes, along with an immersive cultural experience for those seeking to understand this ancient and timeless cuisine of almost 700 years back in the 13th century.
In America, with the tall pines and a cozy home with a lovely kitchen – I have developed a vision! Make Parsi Cuisine known to my fellow Americans and the rest of the world, till it becomes a household word. My vision is to make the unique diet and foods we have every day, popular in America. Anthony Bourdain is invited to our house anytime he wants to do a documentary on India’s Parsi Cuisine.
In addition, my aim and effort is to maintain and preserve our recipes and traditions for the youth of the next generation. I am so happy, when I get a facebook comment, email or a tweet telling me they used the cookbook and made the dish successfully. It makes my day!
The Indian Parsi community is well-known, for its charity, philanthropy and supporting good causes. Their core belief is “Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds”.
Did you know the rock icon and lead singer of Queen – Freddie Mercury, Harvard University’s Director of the Humanities Center – Dr. Homi Bhabha , Los Angeles and New York’s Philharmonic Orchestra Conductor – Zubin Mehta are all Parsis?
Right here in Boston, there is an iconic “Taj Boston” hotel, formerly the Ritz Carlton. It was bought by the Tatas. The Tata Company is one of the largest in the world. The founder of the business empire was a parsi – Jamshedji Tata. The Landrover and Jaguar automobiles are owned by the Tatas.
The Parsi connection to the British Royal family spans generations. Queen Elizabeth of England, Prince Charles, Prince William and Kate Middleton enjoy Parsi banquets held in their honor.
Parsis enjoy rich feasts at their weddings and celebrations. People-in-the-know love it when they are invited to a friend’s wedding. Weddings are huge affairs. Guests are seated at long tables spread with white tablecloths.
- The First serving begins with a cold drink usually a raspberry, pineapple or orange soda.
- Next come the bio-degradable banana leaves or plates hot and clean for the feast to begin.
- Fried rice wafers and a wedding pickle made from carrots and dry fruits. This pickle is called Lagan nu Achar in Gujarati (recipe on page 211). You can order this Wedding pickle / Lagan nu Achar from Rita in USA.
- Rotli an Indian bread is served.
- First course – A rich egg dish called Akuri (recipe on page 108) is served with a sweet and sour vegetable stew as an accompaniment. (recipe on page 113). Got to eat those veggies!
- Second Course will be a meat dish. Usually, Fried Chicken almost like the Kentucky southern chicken. Mutton curry with potato sticks (recipe on page 73) followed by more meat morsels of tender goat meat cooked with yogurt, saffron, almonds and delicate cardamom and cinnamon touches.
- Third course consists of seafood. One popular item is Chutney Fish. Fish such as Salmon, Cod, Haddock, Sole, or Flounder is enveloped in a coconut chutney, wrapped with banana leaves and steamed.
- Fourth Course consists of a rice entree – Mutton pulao also known as Biryani (recipe on page 95) with Dhansak Masala Dal is popular. (recipe on page 82)
- Fifth Course is dessert with Coffee or Tea. A final sweet ending with creamy soft Wedding Custard, an extremely rich dessert, is offered. This is called “Lagan nu Custur” by the Indian Parsis. In the summer Ice-cream or chilled Kulfi, an Indian ice-cream is served as well.
- Care is taken to have Vegetarian diet substitutes served, excluding the meat, fish in a very strict way so not to offend friends who are vegetarians.
After this huge feast a variety of entertainment follows with musical performances. The wedding cake is cut with a champagne toast for the wedded couple and then guests break out in dancing to the tune of the Beatles, American Disco, Rock and Roll and Bollywood music.
When I visited India, I enjoyed sitting with my Mother, Aunts and Mother–in-law talking of their tasty food and begging them to tell me how to make them in US. The first response was – Rita just forget it, you will not be able to make this. Why? Because you will not find the ingredients in US. This was true 40 years back when it was difficult to find fresh ginger or cilantro in Market Basket. Now it is mainstream. We used to drive to NY for certain spices and groceries, now Amazon, Whole Foods and local Indian grocery stores have made these accessible with a mouse-click. See my Amazon shop online.
Flying back to America, I would have the approx. measure of ingredients, the method, tips and secrets jotted down on scraps of paper. Craving the creamy soft Mava cake, I experimented making these cupcakes using recipes from an old antique cookbook. The cookbook has 1,593 recipes and was published in 1867. Last month, we made a video of an ancient cake called Kummas. It is posted on my YouTube channel – http://www.YouTube.com/ParsiCuisine
Recently, I was invited to speak and present “The Place of Tea in Indian Culture” at the Boston Athenaeum located on Beacon Street in Boston.
Founded in 1807, the Boston Athenæum is one of the oldest and most distinguished independent libraries and cultural institutions in the United States.The museum is a historical place and encourages historical books. The Boston Athenaeum is steeped in history.
Indians love tea, they are crazy about it. The Indian word for tea is chai. A cup of tea shared with another person is known to create a new karma each time. So each time you have a cup of tea with someone, have good thoughts, and share good words.
India is one of the largest tea growers in the world. Tea is grown in the north and the south – in exotic places like Munnar in Kerala, Darjeeling, Assam, and in the Nilgiri Hills. The tea gardens are a sight to see. Beautiful terraces are carved into the earth and from far they look like manicured gardens. Tea from Darjeeling is world famous for its aroma and taste.
Tea was introduced in India by the British during the early 19th century, those were early days of the British Colony. Large swaths of land were converted for mass tea-production. Tea was originally consumed by the westernized Indians, but then it became widely popular as chai over time.
Chai is woven intricately into the Indian social fabric. Chai is the common equalizer in India – from the rich to the poor. No matter what their position in life, an Indian relishes a cup of tea. The rich ones have their tea served in fancy tea-pots, delicate porcelain cups on well laid out tables with cookies and pastries. The not-so-affluent have it in more plain and humble cups. But the joy and satisfaction is the same. Tea is a great anti-oxidant.
There are many stories of how tea brings people together. When you visit friends – tea and snacks are probably the most common offering. A cup of tea bonds friendships and heals differences.
I am delighted that my Cookbooks were displayed and showcased in the museum! Tea Recipe cards of Ginger Tea, Masala Chai, Mint and Green Tea, Cardamom Tea were featured and placed on tables for the invitees to savor with pastries. At $75 a pop it was an elegant affair for the museum members!
What is included in my cookbook?
- Basic guidelines of the Indian Parsi methods and Techniques of cooking.
- How to make the spice blends and masalas at home with step-by-step instructions and photos.
- Recipes with Vegetables, Seafoods, Meats, Eggs, Lentils and Dairy products, as they are the staples of the Indian Parsi diet.
- Family favorites and cooking tips.
- Daily dinner dishes of potatoes and chicken, veggies and lamb, fish, desserts, snacks and beverages all made after a trip to grocery store.
– Authentic and original recipes of unique snacks of cupcakes, nankhatai, batasas, biscuits and other favorites.
In parting, a funny story of the early days – Lufthansa Airlines offered an award for submitting a favorite recipe with pictures. I sent in my dhansak recipe and forgot all about it. Six months later I kept getting 800 calls which were ignored as scams. They were calls for an IPad awarded to me. One day I picked up the call by mistake and a nice lady said we have been trying to reach you for days. Something about her convinced me she was honest. She said, this is for real you have won an IPad. I spent a good 5 minutes asking for her to send some proof with written data, which she did with a guarantee of delivery. The Ipad did come and I use it to this day. So of course I would not hold back my award winning Lufthansa Dhansak Recipe on page 82. The Lufthansa airlines may be serving this Indian dish! The winning recipe was chosen by the Chef of the 5 Star Leela Hotel of Bangalore. Dhansak is made with lentils, pumpkin, eggplant, tomatoes, fenugreek and other vegetables along with meat and potatoes. This is then served with hot brown rice flavored with onions, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Fresh salad made with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, cucumber and lemon juice makes it complete.
Yes, it is thrill to get a prize; I have done this many times for newspapers and magazines. Piece of advice, if you enjoy a dish, do remember to complement the chef.
In conclusion, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, Cardamom, Rosewater, and Vanilla flavor the food and remind us of the sweetness of life.
Curry Powder, Ginger, Garlic, add the zest to the palate.
It is well known that Turmeric, Ginger, Garlic, Cumin, Saffron, Cinnamon have health benefits. For example Garlic is known to lower blood cholesterol, Ginger calms the stomach, and Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory agent.
Do not be afraid to add a pinch here and there. Happy cooking and stay healthy! Good Food leads to Good Health, which leads to a Good Life.
Many Recipes are available for you to try at home here on the web at ParsiCuisine.com
I have been recently published in the Carlisle Mosquito Newspaper, click here to read the Carlisle Gleason Public Library Presentation and Feature Story
Links to other publications and free downloads of cookbooks:
- FEZANA JOURNAL: Joys of Retiring in North America
- FEZANA 30th Anniversary
- FEZANA Shab-e Yalda: When Light Shines and Goodness Prevails (This article first appeared in the FEZANA JOURNAL FALL 2015)
- Free EBook: Eat, Live, Pray
- Free Cookbook Vividh Vani
- EBOOK How to make Mava ni Boi, Pendas, Indian Sweets.