Chef Anahita Dhondy was scheduled to visit Mumbai in early January for the launch of her book Parsi Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family. The surge in covid-19 cases stalled her plans, but not for too long. She will be at the Mag Street Kitchen in Byculla tomorrow for the launch, which will be followed by a meal cooked with recipes from the Parsi Kitchen.
The book is a collection of dishes drawn from her family and underscores how Parsi cuisine found a footing in India. In an interview with Lounge, Dhondy talks about her mother’s desserts, heirloom cookware and shares a recipe of her great grandmother’s caramel custard.
Where did you grow up?
My parents are from Allahabad, and they moved to New Delhi about 30 years ago. We are Paris with family in Bombay (Mumbai) and Gujarat. In Delhi, the Parsi community is small with only 300 members now. In school, my friend circle had Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and I was the only Parsi. As a family, we would spend holidays in Allahabad, visit Gujarat, Bombay, and those places had an influence on our food. In the book, I have written about how different places—especially Gujarat—shaped Parsi cuisine.
Did you inherit any heirloom cookware?
I have my nani’s antique pressure cooker which weighs a tonne and is a prized heirloom. It’s probably made of cast iron, not aluminium or steel, and I have never used it. I inherited her Icmic cooker too which is ancient—more than 50 years old—and it still works. I have cooked food in it, which turned out to be amazing. It features in my book too.
What do you recall of food from your childhood?
My mum is an excellent cook with an entrepreneurial streak. She has been a home chef for almost 25 years now, and was one of the first homecooks to start making and selling mayonnaise in bulk to Modern Bazaar in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar. She is extremely well read with a deep knowledge about the culinary world. In short, our house was like a food zone enveloped in aromas from the kitchen. Few things became regular fare, like having rice during lunch, rotis during dinner, a glass of refreshing juice or a cold drink in the afternoon, fried snacks during tea time, and homemade dessert after dinner. For snacks, mum would make popcorn or sometimes makhana which was rare at that time.
What kind of desserts did she make?
There was a variety of desserts, and they were seasonal too. During winter, she would bake apple or carrot cakes and summer meant mango yogurt. On some days, there would be cookies, brownies, jam soufflé pudding, jam rolls, and lots of different cakes. In our home, cakes are not iced even for birthdays; they are like really moist tea cakes. Banana fritters would be prepared quite often too. I remember a slice of cake would be packed in my lunchbox for school, and it would go missing with someone stealing it. For any special occasion in school, my friends would know that my mum would make something delicious.
What are the five dishes from your childhood that you hold close?
My mum's dark and moist chocolate cake, my nani’s ravo—a pudding made on special occasions, falooda with rose syrup and milk, chutney cheese pattice and my great grandmother’s caramel custard (recipe below).
Dhun’s Caramel Custard
Recipe excerpted with permission from ‘The Parsi Kitchen: A Memory of Food & Family’, authored by Anahita Dhondy and published by HarperCollins Publishers India.
Preparation time 1 hour
For the caramel
200 g sugar
For the custard
8 whole eggs
4 egg yolks (this is the trick to extra creaminess)
1.1 litre milk
200 g sugar
Vanilla essence as per taste (a vanilla pod will give you a stronger flavour)
Fresh strawberries (or a compote) for garnish
1. Pre-heat your oven to 160-180°C. Keep your custard moulds ready. Two 4–inch or one 8–inch mould works fine. If you prefer making one large bowl of custard, steam bake for about 30-40 minutes.
2. To make the caramel, melt the sugar in a pan over medium heat. Don’t add any water or milk, just heat the sugar till it is a light golden colour. Pour the caramel into the mould and leave it to harden.
3. To make the custard, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk well. Fine strain the entire mixture to make sure there are no lumps.
4. Pour into the mould and cover with a lid or aluminum foil if needed.
5. Steam bake the custard in a bain marie (water bath) for 25-30 minutes. If you are using smaller moulds, the custard will be ready in 12-15 minutes. Don’t overcook it.
6. Cool the caramel custard at room temperature, then chill. Once chilled well, demould and serve with strawberries (or any fruit compote).
TIP: You can add a pinch of elaichi-jaiphal, a green cardamom and nutmeg powder, which is a typically Parsi thing to do, instead of vanilla.
Inheritance of flavours is a series with chefs, restaurateurs, hospitality experts and professionals about food memories and tastes of home.
To book the thali experience with Anahita Dhondy at Mag Street Kitchen on February 11, visit @MagStreetKitchen on Instagram.