Tag Archive for: India

Pineapple as pubic enemy number one? We all know how divisive it is as the Hawaiian Pizza topping alongside its sidekick, ham. Not just Neapolitan diehards rail against this perversion of the One True Pizza. This version was created in Canada 60 years ago by a Greek immigrant called Sam Panopoulos (the ‘Hawaiian’ comes from the canned brand he used). Yet it’s not being ousted from our supermarket chill cabinets any time soon.

Similarly ‘old school’ curry house menus still feature Dhansaks given a sweet kick by the addition of pineapple chunks to the chicken/lamb and lentil template devised by its creators, the Parsis. As with our lager lout Anglicisation of Vindaloo, that subtle Goan vinegar and garlic driven pork dish, into the tonsil-cauterising ‘hottest curry on the menu’, so too our Indian restaurant ‘soft option’ Dhansak’ is a culturally appropriated travesty.

Give them their due, most Indian cookbooks omit the pineapple, but rarely put the dish in its Zoroastrians-in-exile context. Parsi – From Persia to Bombay: Recipes and Tales from the Ancient Culture (Bloomsbury, £26) does. All the more surprisingly, its author works at the heart of a very British culinary stronghold. Farokh Talati’s day job is as head chef at Fergus Henderson’s St John Bread and Wine in London’s Spitalfields.

One Parsi recipe that definitely straddles that restaurant’s ‘nose-to-tail’ ethos and Farokh’s heritage is Masoor Ma Jeebh (lamb’s tongue, masoor dal and spinach) It’s definitely on my kitchen bucket list. Less so a little chicken gizzard number, another nod to authenticity. 

I was drawn to his new book because I envisaged it as a companion piece to Dishoom: From Bombay With Love, one of the most glorious cookbooks on my shelves – inspired by the Irani (Parsee) cafes of Mumbai. I was eager for a bit of back story. The Dishoom tome is a celebration of a much-loved London (and Manchester) brand via an evocative homage to its creator’s home city, but its recipe roster strays across the Sub-continent.

Equally personal, Parsi, is more specific, offering historical context from the introduction onwards… “Around the seventh century, during the Arab conquest of Persia, a small group of Zoroastrians fled persecution by sailing from what is now known as Iran and found themselves on the shores of India. The community that originally settled in Sanjan became known as the Parsis because of their Persian heritage, and throughout the centuries they spread across India”.

Bombay (Mumbai) was for many the final port of call. The newcomers assiduously learned English to become indispensable to their imperial masters, but the Indian assimilation started in Sanjan a few miles inland from the Gujarat, coast. Regard it as a landing stage for a resourceful, adaptable religious group, who brought with them the remarkable flavours of their homeland – dried fruits, nuts, saffron, and rice. In Gujarat they learned to fuse these with Indian spices and extended their cooking range to include fish.

The result many Parsi dishes are balanced between sweet, sour, savoury and salty. Traditionally that balance was achieved with the use of brewed cane sugar juice, affectionately nicknamed ‘Parsi vinegar’ and jaggery (reduced cane sugar). Native coconut  fitted into the scheme of things, but maybe canned pineapple was a sweetener too far.

Which bring us back to Dhansak, which is the quintessential Parsi dish. In Farokh’s recipe – sourced, like so many, from his family – the meat is mutton, brined first, and on the bone. Four types of lentils are slow cooked with vegetables, squashes, spices, onion, ginger, and garlic for a long time until the mutton is tender. It is then served with caramelised onion rice and jaggery.

What sets it apart from your Rogan Josh or your Dopiaza is the effort needed to make the Dhansak Masala – involving 15 spices and counting. Farokh’s dishes generally require a beyond fast fix degree of attention. No bad thing. The lockdown was a boon for this busy professional chef in perfecting dishes for the book.

He recalls: “Even though it started a couple of years before the pandemic, the majority of the book really got going during lockdown. I got very bored in the first two weeks, so every Wednesday, I’d go into St John, when it was closed. I’d type up a three-course Parsi meal, cook it that day, and finish and hand-deliver it to the locals on Thursday. That helped me refine the recipes and get feedback.”

When I’ve filed this piece I’m beginning preparations to cook my own Dhansak. The mutton is merrily defrosting. All the spices for the Masala are gathered in rank, just awaiting the belated arrival of the black cardamom.

Check: coriander seeds, cumin seeds, bay leaf, black peppercorns, dried Kashmiri chillies, green cardamom pods, caraway seeds, cinnamon (or cassia bark), cloves, ground fenugreek, mace blade, grated nutmeg, poppy seeds, saffron, star anise, ground turmeric, mustard seeds, one whole black lime.

That latter element is the cultural giveaway. It is essentially Persian, reminding us how far the Parsis have travelled. I’ll alert you to the success or otherwise of my personal, pineapple-free Dhansak voyage of discovery via social media. Now where in the store cupboard are all those lentils?

Alphonso mangoes are not lookers. Even the most mottled quince would win a beauty contest with them and the furry bloom of an in-season peach is infinitely more Instagrammable. But all is forgiven once you squeeze the exotic, saffron-coloured pulp out of the yellow skin, the ripe smell almost coconutty, a reminder of the South of India, whence they sprung. Think flavours of honey, melon, nectarine and apricot gone up a notch.

They are named after 15th century general Alfonso de Albuquerque, aka ‘Alfonso the Terrible’, conqueror of Goa. The Portuguese invaders brought to India from the New World red chillies, potatoes, maize, and tomatoes. In return the Sub-continent offered up its native mangoes. Apparently Alfonso (below) was very hands-on in creating a firmer, juicer variant of the fruit for export to Europe. Hard grafting, but what a result. 

Today there are several different varieties of Alphonso mangoes, primarily grown along the western coastal strip of Konkan. The acknowledged superstars are hand-harvested in the tiny Natwarlal plantation of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra. 

OK, every corner of India offers rivals – Badami, Himsagar, Kesar, Chaunsa, Dasheri – but the spring season mango rush is dominated by the Alphonso. Mumbai and other big cities even hold mango festivals. I hold my own. Alas, the season is as short as their shelf life once they arrive, so once again I sliced open a coulpe and guzzled, the juice dripping into my beard, before organising the rest to make a vat of sorbet (De-stone and extract the flesh from six to eight ripe mangoes, combine with the juice of two limes,100g icing sugar and 100ml double cream. Churn the puree in an ice cream maker for half an hour).

I get my annual fix from London-based Red Rickshaw, who specialise in sourcing hard-to find ingredients, primarily from India but also from across the globe. It’s hard to resist exploring their site, which always yields new fruit. Literally. So that’s how I stumbled upon Buddha’s Fingers (or Buddha’s Hand, main picture). This odd ancestor of our mainstream citrus fruits resembles a large lemon with finger-like segments growing from it. True to its name, it is considered a religious offering in Buddhist temples, typically given as a  New Year’s gift, symbolising good fortune.

It is still hanging in the balance whether I’m prepared to stump up £24.99 for a single specimen of a citrus fruit that seldom contains any tangible fruit, flesh or juice. Will it be worth it just to employ its formidable citrus fragrance for cocktails, candy making or salad dressings?

While I’m ‘hanging on by my finger tips’ to make a decision it’s time to prepare a Mango, Lime and Rum Syllabub, the recipe borrowed from Sunshine On A Plate (Penguin, £30), the gorgeous cookbook from Shelina Permalloo, 2012 Masterchef winner, who runs the Lakaz Maman Mauritian Street Kitchen in Southampton.


4 ginger biscuits, crushed; 300ml double cream; ½ vanilla pod, seeds scraped; 3tbsp unrefined icing sugar; 75ml rum, plus 4tsp; zest and juice of 4 limes; 150ml Alphonso mango puree; 2 Alphonso mangoes, peeled and cut into 2.5cm cubes; desiccated coconut and reservd lime zest plus optional mint leaves to decorate.  


Put the ginger biscuits into a large plastic bag and bash vigorously with a rolling pin until you have a bag of crumbs. Using an electric whisk, lightly whip the double cream. Add the vanilla seeds, icing sugar, the 75ml of rum, lime juice and zest, reserving a little for decoration. Keep whisking until it forms light peaks. Add about one third of the mango purée and half the cubed mango and fold through for a marbled effect. T

o assemble the syllabubs, divide the crumbs between four glasses. Sprinkle a teaspoon of rum over each and top with the rest of the mango purée. Spoon the cream over the top. Just before serving, sprinkle with coconut and lime zest. Decorate with the mint leaves, if using.