Editor’s note: Each year, traditional Parsis show respect to Bahman Ameshaspand–the creator of animals–by abstaining from eating meat for a month. Bahman Mahino–which usually falls around June–is a form of adoration and reverence for the animal kingdom. Below are some of the wonderful recipes curated by Niloufer Mavalvala in ‘The Vegetarian Parsi’. Republished with permission from Spenta Multimedia.
A vegetarian Parsi feast for Bahman Mahino
Kumas: A Parsi cake with Persian roots.
Made up of semolina, saffron, and almonds, it gets its moistness from yogurt. It is dense to the palate and simply delicious. Cardamom and nutmeg—typically Parsi food flavours—and the combination of whole wheat and white flour gives it that perfect taste and texture. Each Kumas that you taste will be different. The variations seem to be endless.
This is my mum Shireen's version of it. She was lovingly titled the “Queen of Kumas”, and her reputation was worldwide among friends and family. I have yet to eat a better Kumas anywhere in the world. Mum was often requested to bake this for weddings, baby showers, Navroze, tea parties, and more. She loved it with a dollop of malhai—fresh cream or with a piece of cheddar cheese. Both are hard to resist.
Butter and flour pan: 33cm X 49cm/ 9 inch X 13 inch or a deep 25.4cm/10 inch round
Oven pre-heated to 180°C | 350° F
A 250 ml | 8 oz measuring cup
Ingredients | Makes 2 kg | 4.4 lb:
3/4th cup soft salted butter
2 cups sugar
In a bowl sift together:
1 cup wheat flour
3/4th cup sifted all purpose flour
1 cup semolina
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 tsp ground cardamom powder
3 tsp grated nutmeg
In a second bowl:
2 tsp crushed saffron – see tips below
1 1/2 cup yogurt – see tips below
- Beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs - one at a time.
- Lower the speed to a gentle stir - add one third of the dry mix, alternate with half of the yogurt – saffron mix, repeat to finish it off with the flour
- Stir until smooth. Do not overbeat.
- Add and gently fold in with a spatula 3/4th cup of chopped almonds; keeping some aside for the top.
- Pour this mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with the chopped almonds.
- Bake for 50 minutes or until the toothpick comes out clear when tested.
- Saffron is best when bloomed. Crush it with the back of the spoon and pour a few drops of boiling hot water. Alternatively – add it to the yogurt and keep aside for half an hour before use.
- Stored in the refrigerator, saffron keeps dry and crisp which allows it to be crushed easily.
- The best yogurt for this cake is the ‘leftover’ sour kind. Do not discard the watery remains. Leaving it out overnight helps make it sour.
- Buttermilk can be substituted for up to half the amount of required yogurt.
- A coarse semolina adds to the texture more than the fine variety.
- Almonds are used with the skin. Roughly chop. Leave a third of these larger pieces aside for the topping as in the picture.
- If you are using a deeper pan for a round cake it may take 10-15 minutes longer.
Bharuchi Akuri aka Carrot Akuri
This is a family version of the Bharuchi Akuri, that was prepared in Bharuch (formerly a major trading port and once home to a large Parsi community) with the addition of badam pasta nay darak—nuts and raisins. The crunch and the sweetness add to this simple recipe. While there is no egg in this recipe, you are always welcome to transform it and replace the bechamel white sauce with eggs in it or on top, yet another per eedu—Parsi style!
It is a blend of the influences that has made this an interesting recipe—Gujarati flavours of the vegetables, fruit and nuts of our Persian food culture and the ‘white sauce’ (bechamel). Over the years this recipe has been pushed away and while we never appreciated it growing up, I was completely taken aback when everyone inquired about it at my Navroze feast. I served it in vol-au-vents generously sprinkled with toasted pine nuts-nayja—which looked rather elegant.
Ingredients | Serves 6:
2 tbsp oil
500 g|1.1 lb onions
500 g|1/1 lb grated carrots
4 green chillies – finely chopped
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
A cupful of fresh coriander, finely chopped
50 g|2 oz kismis – raisins
150 g|6 oz nuts
For white sauce:
65gm|2 oz salted butter
2 tbsp flour
250 ml|1 cup of warm milk
- Heat the oil and pan fry the finely chopped onions until golden brown.
- Add the carrots, chillies, cumin, and salt. Cover and cook gently on a simmer until just soft and the oil separates from the vegetables - tayl per avay. Add the coriander. Cook another 5 minutes and keep aside.
- Prepare a firm white sauce—in a saucepan melt the butter, add the flour, cook for 3 minutes stirring constantly and add the milk. With a whisk stir until it comes to a boil. The sauce should be thick.
- Mix the white sauce into the vegetables, return to the stove, mix well, return to the stove and heat through. Serve it hot with crusty bread.
- Lightly pan fry the mix of fruit and nut in a bit of butter and mix it in before serving. Kismis - green raisins, cashews, pine nuts and almonds are generally used. Dry figs, apricots and dates can be considered.
Dahi na Vengna aka Spicy Eggplant Rings
The eggplant is also called by the French name aubergine, or the Anglo-Indian word brinjal. A vegetable commonly found all over the world. Many ancient cuisines include this creamy vegetable in their cuisines—particularly countries from the Levant, with the Persian and Europeans. Thailand and India are no exception either. The Parsis even have a colour named for their gara saris—vengna ni chaal—after this vegetable!
There are many varieties of eggplant, the most common being the bell-shaped which vary in all sizes. The long narrow variety is more commonplace in North America. My personal favourite is the beautifully round, plump, and sweet Sicilian aubergine with deep natural wedges that is often seedless. And then there are the small egg-shaped baby aubergine which grow into a gorgeous creamy white colour as well as the traditional purple. Have it roasted, fried, or sauteed—they are all delicious.
Ingredients | Serves 6:
2 large eggplants sliced in rings
1 tsp salt
½ tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
pinch of sugar
1/2 cup oil
2 cup yogurt at room temperature
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar
1 cup fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
- Preheat the oven to 180 C/350F
- Slice the eggplants/aubergines 2 cm/ 3/4th inch thick and lightly salt each one.
- In a bowl mix the spices with the oil.
- Place the sliced eggplants on paper lined baking sheets. Do not overlap.
- Generously brush each one with the mixture of oil and spices.
- Place the trays in the preheated oven and allow it to cook for about 30 minutes. Alternatively, pan fry each one over the stove top, this was the traditional way of preparing this dish.
- Mix the yogurt, place the yogurt and the eggplants a serving dish, garnish and serve immediately
- Traditionally the yogurt is poured over the eggplants.
- Soaking it in salted water helps reduce the bitterness if needed.
- The spices should be cooked through and not taste raw.
- The yogurt should be fresh and not tangy or sour.
- Fresh mint leaves are an alternative to the coriander.
Kohra no Patiyo aka Red Pumpkin Patiyo
Perfection is a perception—but all good Parsi cooking depends on the fine balance of the combination of the food being spicy, sour and sweet / thikku-khattu-mitthu to your preferred palate.
Kohra no patiyo needs to be cooked with all of the ingredients stewed into a thick pulp – the picture showcases the food ready to be pulverised with a potato smasher or even a fork. The pumpkin is soft and supple and the patiyo has been cooked through to ensure that the little droplets of oil separate and come to the side of the pan – tayl per avaylu.
While flavourful enough to eat on its own with a rotli or papad, this stew is generally served with khichri, radish, and a buffenu (a sweet whole mango pickle).
Ingredients | Serves 6:
1 tbsp oil
2 tsp freshly ground ginger
2 tsp freshly ground garlic
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup fried onion that are crushed or finely chopped
3 medium sized fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 kg | 2.2 lb red pumpkin – weighed after peeled
2 green chillies slit
2 unripe mangoes , peeled and chopped
85 g | 2 oz jaggery
(Optional) add 2 tbsp vinegar instead of the raw mangoes if unavailable.
- In a pan, heat the oil. Pan fry the finely diced onions to golden brown.
- Add the ginger and garlic pastes.
- Add all the dry spices and salt.
- Mix for a minute and add the kohru, mango, green chillies and tomatoes.
- Give it all a stir.
- Cover, lower the heat and allow to cook till the pumpkin is soft.
- Now add the jaggery. Once it has all melted, crush the pumpkin with a potato masher. Taste for the sweet and sour balance.
- Serve this with khichri, papad, and a radish salad.
- Add half cup water if it is looking dry and not yet cooked through.
- Cooking it properly covered on a low to medium heat will ensure it steams through cooking it to the correct softness.
- Taste for the sweet and sour balance before serving.
- While the delicious orange/red pumpkins are best for this recipe, butternut squash would also work well for this recipe.
A colonial dessert: Banana Pudding
The bespoken custard, often referred to as “custer“ is dunked with kera —sliced bananas, a Parsi favourite fruit (but strictly a second to the mango). Doused in fresh nimbu juice, this refreshingly cooling pudding is easy to prepare. It has a smooth creamy texture and is tangy, nutty, and sweet. This recipe may be history, but it continues to be lovingly shared over many, many years.
Ingredients | Serves 6
1/2 L | 16 oz whole milk
113 g | 4 oz sugar
1 tsp corn flour – cornstarch
1 tbsp cold water
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
125 ml | 4 oz cream
6 firm bananas – sliced
2 tsp sugar
Juice of 2 lemons or limes - freshly squeezed
50 g | 2 oz pistachios – chopped
- In a pan scald the milk with the sugar – stir till the sugar is dissolved. Remove it from the fire and cool until lukewarm.
- In a small bowl stir the corn flour in cold water until smooth, add the egg yolks and lightly beat it all together.
- Pour this into the milk, return to a low fire and cook until thick – stirring constantly with a whisk. Add in the vanilla and the cream. Chill.
- In a serving bowl, slice the bananas, sprinkle it with sugar and pour all the lemon juice over it. Pour the chilled custard all over the bananas, sprinkle it with the pistachios and serve.
- The custard may split if you cook this on a high flame.
- Cream refers to thick whipping cream, heavy or double cream.