An array of dishes made by Kiku’s Kitchen in Chicago.
“No two days of cooking are ever the same but I love the fervor and exhilaration of it all,” says Kiku Engineer (née
Mistry), nicknamed “the Godiwala of Chicago.” Sorely disappointed when she realized that the cuisine served at the
Zoroastrian Association of Metropolitan Chicago (ZAC) functions was not authentic Parsi food, she decided to take matters into her own hands. “Don’t get me wrong, I love a good butter chicken, just not on Navroz!” she exclaims.
Her debut with catering started when the young bride who had just moved to the USA made lagan nu achar for a fundraiser. Needless to say it was a success, followed by orders for sali margi. Cooking then was just a hobby and not something she did on a daily basis. Actively involved in the local Parsi community and attending various functions, before she knew it, she was catering for the Navroz events at ZAC and has been doing so since 2010.
“Cooking in bulk takes a lot of discipline. I start off by planning the menu and then work out the costing. Never one for numbers, this was quite challenging for me. T-3 days (three days before the event) I procure all the ingredients myself and start the ‘prep’ work for the feast. The days prior to the event are intense and there is no time to slack off. For
instance, the sali margi itself requires 10 pounds of onions and chopping them takes at least 45 minutes! I have to then cook the vaghar (fried onions and spices) in various batches.”
Her most memorable event was catering for the navjote of her daughters Zara and Alea in 2016. “Cooking for my
daughters’ navjote was extra special for me and something that I always dreamed I would do. My love for good lagan nu bhonu combined with the ability to feed 250 people on this special occasion was something that I will always cherish,” she reminisces. With the help of her sister, Kamal Mehta and mother, Mehroo Mistry, Kiku
prepared a feast of sali margi, mutton pulao, masala dal, kolmi no saas and lagan nu achar. They also prepared a
western menu consisting of chicken dijonnaise, seafood paella, spinach and bean salad, macaroni
and cheese, french fries, etc.
Cooking for the guests was hard work, she recollects, but says it was worth the effort to see their satisfied faces.Her biggest challenge is that she is severely allergic to various ingredients including lentils, peas, beans, chick peas, etc but has managed to overcome that by asking friends and family to taste those items to ensure that the recipe is on track.
Born and raised in Bombay, she remembers the emphasis on cooking wholesome and fresh food for every meal in her house. Deriving inspiration from her grandmother Motan Mehta, Kiku’s earliest memory is connected withassisting her grandmother in the kitchen. “We didn’t rely on frozen or packaged foods because everything was made fresh on the stove,” she states.
After graduating from Sophia College in Bombay with a bachelors in psychology and political science, her first job
was food related when she worked with noted food writer Rashmi Uday Singh, compiling recipes for her cookbooksand planning celebrity culinary shows.
Recently, Kiku has gone back to school, formalizing her culinary knowledge witha degree in culinary arts and pastry from the College of Dupage. She will graduate in December 2018. Her aim is to open a carry-out/takeawayfood shop that features well-portioned, healthy, home cooked meals at an affordable price. “I think the biggestchallenge American families face is the convenience and the availability of packaged and frozen foods, cannedgoods and mixes, and artificial colors and preservatives that tend to flood the grocery aisles.
The idea of cooking healthy meals, or just cooking at all, has taken a backseat and our children suffer the
consequences,” she laments. Although, her specialty is Parsi food she also loves experimenting with different cuisines
like Thai, American, French, Japanese, etc and loves learning new techniques.
She has also been trained in specialty diets like ketogenic (low carbohydrate, high fat diet that in medicine is primarily used to treat epilepsy in children), paleo (high protein, low carbohydrate as consumed by ancient hunters-gatherers) and sugar free diets.
Kiku currently co-parents her two daughters with her ex-husband Jim Engineer who is an active member of
the Chicago Parsi community. “To be a Zoroastrian means to be a good person, a good neighbor, brother, sister, mother, father, husband and wife. The values that come with the three basic principles of our religion: good words, good thoughts and good deeds is what resonates with me to be a fellow Zoroastrian and that is also what I instill in my children. At its very core, our religion is simple and basic.”
Kiku takes her children to religion classes at the Darbe Meher in Chicago held every Sunday where they are taught
the basic values of the religion through songs, plays and crafts, and community building activities. Her two passions are food and fitness.
Small wonder as her father is Sensei Pervez Mistry, one of Asia’s leading fitness and karate instructors. At least, that explains how this 40-year-old dynamo is at her fittest ever! Her food mantra:
Don’t serve it to others if you are not going to eat it!
You can check out Kiku’s recipes on her Facebook page — Kiku’s Kitchen or contact her by email: mistry.kiku@
The chef shares two of her recipes for our readers:
Prawns (60-70 — raw)
Onions (1-2 — chopped)
Ginger garlic paste (1-2 tsp)
Tomato (1 — chopped)
Green chilies (2 — split)
Tamarind ball or 1 small lime
For the curry paste
Dried red Kashmiri chilies (10-12)
Red chili powder (1 tsp)
Cumin seeds (1 tbsp)
Coriander seeds (1 tbsp)
Ginger (1 small piece)
Garlic (2 cloves)
Curry leaves (8-10)
Desiccated coconut (1 cup)
Tamarind concentrate (1 tsp)
To make the curry masala
Wash the chillies and add all the ingredients into a mixer-grinder, adding water to make a thick, smooth paste. This can
be made earlier and stored in the fridge in an air tight container.
For the curry
Clean and devein the prawns. Add salt and a pinch of turmeric powder and set aside. Add oil to the vessel and add the
chopped onions. To this add a pinch ofsalt. Add curry leaves and green chilies.
When the onions begin to change color, add the tomatoes and ginger-garlic paste.
After the oil from the tomatoes surfaces, add all the curry paste/masala, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t
stick to the pan. Add a cup and a half of water or more if you like and let the masala cook. You will notice a change
in color when it’s cooked. Depending on the consistency of the curry, add more water and check for salt. Bring to a boil
and let it simmer for a while.
Add prawns and a pinch of lime if needed. Once the prawns are cooked, your curry is done. Serve with hot rice,
kachumbar and boiled beets.
Goan Pork Vindaloo
Pork (1 kg — cut into chunks for stew.
Must use fatty pork, preferably the shoulder)
Onions (2 large — chopped)
Green chili (1 — slit)
Garlic (1 tsp — chopped)
Ginger powder (½ tsp)
Bay leaf (1)
Cinnamon (1” piece)
Star anise (1)
Potatoes (3 — quartered)
Tomatoes (2 — chopped)
Vindaloo masala (2-3 tbsp)
Tomato paste (1-2 tbsp)
For the vindaloo masala
Dried red Kashmiri chillies (12-14)
Garlic (1 clove)
Turmeric (½ tsp)
Coriander seeds (½-1 tsp)
Cumin (1 tsp)
Cinnamon (1 small piece)
Cane vinegar (¼ cup)
Soak the Kashmiri chilies in the vinegar along with the cumin. In a mixer grinder add the garlic, peppercorns, cloves,
coriander seeds, turmeric and soaked chilies with the vinegar and grind. You will need to add water to make a fine,
smooth, thick paste.
Wash and cube the pork and marinate it with salt and set aside. Sauté the onions in a pan with the bay leaf, star anise,
cinnamon and let it sizzle, browning the onions a little. This should take a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and
ginger and stir. Add chopped tomatoes and stir till the oil oozes out and tomatoesare cooked.
In a bowl mix the vindaloo masala and Worcestershire sauce and add that to the onions.
Let the masala cook. This will take time. But take care not to let it burn. Cook on a slow flame and cover it and keep adding just a little water at a time.
When the masala is partly cooked, add the tomato paste, stir and then add the pork. Keep covered. Add cubed potatoes
and stir. Brown the meat a little.
Add enough water — about one and a half cups but not too much — just enough to make the desired gravy you want. You can cook it on the stove or pressure cook it.
If the gravy is too runny, thicken it by boiling the gravy after opening the pressure cooker and letting some water
Taste for salt. Serve with pao (bread) or white rice and onions, tomatoes and beet salad!