Parsi Fish Vindaloo





I’ve always believed that birds of a feather ‘feed’ together. Otherwise there is no explaining why most of my father’s closest friends’ wives were excellent chefs and all their get-togethers were always about great food.

Vera Umrigar is a jewel among cooks. Wife, mom, petrol pump owner, she managed a spatula with the same fervour she did a broken axle. Her smoked ham, dotted with cloves and glazed with honey, her exquisite apricot soufflé, as frothy and festive as a wedding frock and her sugar-studded apple pies are memorable to me 20 years after I first feasted on them.

The families went to the Umrigar’s home in Lonavala for long weekends and the boot of the car was converted into a mobile freezer, piled high with everything from my mother’s vindaloo and pao bhaji to Vera’s dhansak and kheema cutlets, all frozen rock solid a week in advance to survive the drive. Any space leftover was meant for waffle machines, OK wafers and mom’s Balicao jars.

Whatever thawed first was demolished quickly and efficiently. We were lawn movers and there was no grass too tall.

The weekend rolled by, literally, as Vera’s Maharashtrian maid, togged up in a nine-yard sari, drawn between her legs like some Roman warrior, rolled puran polis to fill the tiny gaps between 4-course meals.

Let me tell you this. There is nothing, nothing quite like a puran poli straight off a hot tawa. Those cold chindis sold in shops are very sad.

The crisp top is paper-thin and the weight of a spoonful of ghee cracks it open like a pond of ice on a sunny day. Ghee meets warm jaggery in an eternal romance. My fingers would get all jammy as I tried to break off bits of poli and turn the pages of my Enid Blyton all at the same time. I pitied Fatty; all he got was cold tongue sandwiches.

Everyone knows the Goan Pork Vindaloo, but when Vera offered her mother’s recipe for a Parsi Fish Vindaloo, I was all ears. Parsi cuisine unites ancient Persian traditions with both Indian and British colonial ones. Sour Zereshk or barberries in Berry Pulao is Persian while Worcestershire sauce in Lagan no Saas is a British one.

“Parsi vindaloo? It’s not a prawn patia?” I ask incredulously.

Vera explains that there are many kinds of prawn patia, the classic sweet and spicy Parsi prawn dish, not pickle, less curry that’s served with dhan dal. “Some Patias are made with kadipatta, while others are not. Some have garam masala, others do not.”

Like all vindaloos, this one is also an Indian-Portuguese fusion. It contains red chilies, red wine vinegar (vin in Portuguese) and garlic (alho in Portuguese) and is sweet, spicy and sour. The vinegar and jaggery balance the spicy chillies.

So how is it different from a Goan Vindaloo?

Vera whispers conspiratorially. “It’s got lots of fresh kothmir in it and you eat it with hot Toor Dal Khichdi.

As you can guess by this point I’m lying in a pool of drool.

When Vera pulls the ground masala out of the fridge, its deep almost unreal red colour brings back a flood of memories. My Dad would always say that he could tell my mother and Vera’s vindaloo by the red colour.

Good vindaloo must have this flaming colour. Not the dull brown that so many inferior restaurant-vindaloos have.  So what’s the secret? How do you give the gravy such a deep red without synthetic colour or an overdose of chilies.

Vera uses dried Kashmiri chilies, but suggests you can also use bedgi. She insists you use fresh homemade tomato puree, processed in a food mill, also called a puran maker in India, not in a mixer.

When you blitz tomatoes they lose their red colour and turn pink.

She then proceeds to fry the masala in oil. “This dish needs oil ha? You can’t fry a masala without oil ok?”

I imagine someone trying to make vindaloo with non-stick, fat-free cooking spray.

I can’t help but giggle. Those days of excess, of ‘lagaooing’ and ‘enjjwaaaying’ good food are a thing of the 80s. Of showing up at your friends place at midnight and honking for kheema pao are gone. Everyone is caught up with immortality. If it weren’t for the Parsis, I really think there would be no majja in life.

“And Tara, add the chopped kothmir and the pomfret to the masala together so their flavours get into the gravy. Dhaniya is not a garnish. It’s part of the curry.”

She puts the steaming fish vindaloo on the table.

I will stop writing now.

I won’t describe it.

Just make it.

Be zindadil for a day.


Use dried red chillies and tomato puree for a bright color.

Vera Umrigar’s Parsi Fish Vindaloo

The Goan pork vindaloo is extremely well-known, but this tangy fish vindaloo is a gem that deserves a permanent place in your recipe collection. The flaming red colour is a red herring – it isn’t that spicy!

Make the tomato puree using bright red tomatoes and process them in a puran maker or a food mill. This way you will maintain a bright red colour.

Ingredients (Serves 4-5)

1 kg silver pomfret steaks (about 8 pieces plus head and tail)

For the masala:

15 red kashmiri or bedgi chillies with stalks removed, broken into bits

8-10 large cloves of peeled garlic

5 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp red vinegar or to taste (kolahs or kalverts)

½ cup chopped red onions

4 cups fresh tomato puree

¼ cup crumbled jaggery or to taste

1 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves

¼-1/2 cup vegetable oil for cooking

Salt to taste


1. Grind the first 5 ingredients for the masala to a smooth, fine paste. This will take several minutes. Add a little water if required.

2. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet on a medium flame.

3. Add the ground paste and cook, stirring frequently about 8-9 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pan and the sides to prevent the spice paste from sticking to the bottom. When the oil begins to separate from the sides, stir in the tomato puree and continue to cook for 10 minutes on a medium flame until the mixture bubbles and thickens.

4. Add 1 tbsp of jaggery and 2 teaspoons of salt. Stir well.

5. Lower the flame and add the fish slices one at a time and the coriander leaves. Stir gently.

6. Cook until fish is tender.

7. Taste for salt and sweetness. Add more vinegar, jaggery and salt if required.

8. Serve with toor dal khichdi or plain white boiled rice.



Puff Pastry photo Tara Deshpande


Puff Pastry- Where to Buy It in Mumbai and What to Make with It

Before the chicken puff came puff pastry. In India Pattice and savory Khara biscuits available at Irani cafes are the most commonly eaten snack made from puff pastry. 

Puff Pastry also known as butter paste and puff paste originated in France where it is called pâte feuilletée or feuilletage. Feuille is the French word for leaf.

 Puff pastry, unlike pâte brisée is a laminated dough where layers of dough are repeatedly rolled and rested with layers of butter to produce a very flaky, fine and crisp dough.  In some early, medieval recipes eggs were also added to the dough. 

The process is far more time consuming than short crust or the choux pastry (pate a choux) so many home cooks buy it frozen or readymade at a bakery.

photo Gallica

The first published recipe for puff pastry appeared in François Pierre La Varenne‘s “Pastissier Francois” in 1653.

But it was invented some years before this in 1645 by a French pastry cook’s apprentice, Claudius Gele who accidentally stumbled upon the technique for puff pastry while trying to make a loaf of bread for his bed ridden father. 

Claudius later went to work for the Brothers Mosca’s pastry shop in Florence, Italy where he continued to produce the puff pastry for his employers all the while keeping the recipe secret. He made his employers a fortune. 

While many food historians agree puff paste was a logical outcome of short crust pastry others believe that it was influenced by Middle Eastern Phyllo and werqa dough made with olive oil and fine sheets of dough. 

My 1765 edition of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by a Lady has an early recipe for ‘Puff-pafte’. By the early 1800’s Puff Pastry become the standard term used in English cookbooks.



In Mumbai you can buy Puff Pastry to order at Worli’s City Bakery.  They sell it by the kilogram and must be ordered with 24 hour notice. It is also available refrigerated in 250 gram sheets at American Bakery in Byculla. Both are vegan. Check with the local Irani cafés in your city –if they make khara biscuits and pattice, chances are they will sell you the readymade dough. You can also buy it in the frozen section in supermarkets and some club shops.

I would advise you keep the fresh puff pastry refrigerated (not frozen) at all times and use it within 24 hours.

For me puff pastry is the go to when I don’t have time to make leavened dough or a short crust pastry.

Here are some of the easy, elegant and delicious recipes I make. You can also make chicken pot pies, cheese straws, vol au vents, poisson en croute (whole fish wrapped in pastry.

No Huff, Puff Pizza photo Bini Bharucha


Perfect for large groups, you can add on almost any filling.  While this recipe calls for a red sauce you can also do a Pizza Bianco or a sweet dessert pizza with fruit compote and almonds.











This classic layered dessert should be served plated as individual portions. They are impressive and elegant but easy to make.

Napoleons with pastry cream and fruit photo by Bini Bharucha


Beggars Purses with puff pastry photo Beynaz Mistri

Knotted with chives these delicate purses can be stuffed with meat, prawns, tofu or turn them into a dessert.


Turnovers are so easy. I bake them just before the dessert course and serve them warm with vanilla ice cream and some honey drizzled over the top. A winner!


Poisson En Croute

A classic French preparation this is a complex dish but makes a spectacular main course.

poisson en croute with puff pastry photo Tara Deshpande





Nahoum’s Chicken Pattice (Kolkota)


Some of my debut film ‘Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin’ was filmed in south Mumbai. A film about one eventful night we began shoots at 7 p.m. and invariably director Sudhir Mishra and some of the crew ended up at Kayani’s Café early the following morning.  Fortified by cups of sweet Irani chai and flaky chicken pattice that came straight out of Kayani’s dinosaur ovens, I’d race off to St Xavier’s College for economics class. 

Everyone in Mumbai has an Irani café story and pattice are an integral part of the menu.

Jimmy Boys Caramelized onion puff (Ballard estate, Mumbai)

It is suggested that Indian chicken and Mutton Pattice also called Chicken Pattie and puffs is a ‘desi’ variant of the Cornish Pasty introduced to the colonies by the British. While a typical Cornish Pasty in England is a crimped, stuffed D shaped savory made with short crust pastry or rough puff (flour and fat), most Chicken Pattice at Irani bakeries and private English era clubs are a version of the layered French puff pastry or pâte feuilleté. 

Pasties, patties and pattice fall into the ‘portable pies’ category that includes turnovers, calzones, empanadas, pop tarts, Natchitoches and Stromboli. There are numerous references, entire cookbooks even dedicated to these stuffed pies throughout medieval history. They were cheap to make, easy to carry and very satisfying. It is no wonder they have been adapted the world over.

In my 1765 edition of Hannah Glasse’s ‘The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy’ the author provides a recipe for puff paste and for patties and pasties. Curiously some of the recipes like this one for Beef Patties require the pastry to be fried. 

This is unusual because while the fillings, shape and size of Patties and pasties have varied during its evolution they are almost always baked.

Food historian Clifford Wright alludes to the Middle East for the origins of these pocket pies. In 9th century Baghdad Sanbusaks or Samosa, a stuffed fried triangular pastry faintly resemble the calzone. 

Kayanis chicken and mutton puffs (Dhobi Talao Mumbai)

The Persians made Baghlava Esfhani, a sweet D shaped pastel and Boreks, fine yufka dough stuffed with meat originated in the Ottoman Empire.

 Larousse Gastronomique links Pasty to Bastilla or Bestila, the national dish of Morocco. Some suggest Pastilla has Arab Andalusian origins from the time of the Caliphates in the 8th century. Pastilla in Spanish means ‘small pastry’ and employs a fine werqa dough. The B in Arabic replaced the ‘P’. The King of Spain Philip II had a fondness for Bastilla. 

In cookbooks dating 1129 to 1200 the French were making a kind of stuffed pie called pastilles.

Pastis (not to be confused with anise flavored liqueur) is derived from the French word pâte meaning pie.  Pastis Landais, Gascon and bourrit are all made with different kinds of dough but are often served as individual pies.

Author Claudia Roden refers to Turkish Pasteles de Carnes made by Sephardic Jews from Greece. The Syrians also make a pie called Pastelis.

Kolumna in Russia claims to have invented a sweet Pastilla with egg whites and has a museum dedicated to this pie. Corsicans still make Bastella, a meat and vegetable filled pie pastry.

I also found mentions of patties, pastie and puffs in Rundell’s ‘A New System of Domestic Cookery’ (1814). Interestingly the terms are used interchangeably but they all employ puff pastry, are individual pies, stuffed and baked. 

Boston Cooking School Cookbook (1898)

Cornish pasty can be traced back to 1300 A.D. in Cornwall when it was a miner’s food and contained only potatoes. Meat was added later. It is said that King William the Lion (1143 A.D.) served wastelli dominici to Richard the Lion-Hearted. 

The Cornish pasty has a PGI – Protected Geographical status now and the Cornish Pasty Association (yes there is one!) insists it be made with beef, must contain no other vegetables besides turnip (swede, also called Rutabaga in the U.S.A), onion and potato. It also lays out specifications for the kind of dough (not too flaky but hearty and robust enough to survive a trip down a mine shaft in someone’s pocket). Some traditionalists suggest the addition of bread flour to the dough. In order to be sold as a Cornish pasty the savory must be made in Cornwall. 

Cornish Pasty is believed to have travelled to America in the 1830’s when 37000 miners immigrated to the USA. Their coal mining expertise was in great demand and its possible with them went the food they loved the most.

In parts of the USA like Michigan and Pennsylvania where the Pasty continues to be popular the dough is sometimes made like choux pastry by boiling butter, water and flour over a stove. The Cornish pasty evolved a little differently in Jamaica where the traditional patty is dough seasoned with turmeric and is often served vada pao style with a coconut bread bun. The journey this culinary delight took through the colonies transformed the plain vegetable and meat fillings into more flavorful versions spiced with scotch bonnets, garlic and curry spices. 

Cafe Excelsior Spicy Chicken Puff (Fort Mumbai)

On the other hand in the USA and UK a patty is also a breaded cutlet like a cutlet or tikki in India, (the Ragda Pattice is a curried potato cutlet) though the term is also used to describe burger patties in school canteens. An empanada or Brazilian pastel would best describe a pasty in the USA, while a turnover made with puff pastry would most closely resemble an Indian chicken patty. rectangles, even round.  

My favorite chicken pattice came from Bastani near Metro cinema before it closed. In Mumbai Jimmy Boy’s make a delicious caramelized onion and paneer puff that closely resembles the shape of the Cornish pasty. You can also buy a spicy chicken puff from Café Excelsior Fort. Wengers in New Delhi and Nimrah in Hyderabad, Flurys and Nahoum’s in Kolkata.









I have the monsoons to thank for turning me into a cook. As children my sister and I spent summer holidays with Aaji and Ajoba at their small farm in Belgaum. The front of the plain, ranch-style house was framed by a lush rose garden interspersed with almond, pomegranate and lime trees. To the left of the house was a strawberry patch, and in the backyard, a vegetable and fruit orchard. Ajoba was a proud gardener whose produce competed for and won local awards.

When it rained, we couldn’t play outside so he offered us two choices – learn Sanskrit shlokas and refine the mind or learn cooking and refine the marriage resumes.

For me the choice was obvious.

The monsoons are a lean period for good produce so the months leading to it, especially May, were spent harvesting. Ours was a frugal household, and since most of what we ate during the rainy season came off the farm, we devoted salubrious afternoons to picking guavas, sapota (chikoo), mangoes and cashew apples.

You will have newfound respect for cashews when I tell you how strenuous the reaping is. First, the fruit is plucked off the tree with a diabolical looking hook attached to a long, wooden pole. Then the under-hanging cashew nut is ripped off. We sold the cashew apple to local feni producers, but kept the nuts. The cashew has a hard outer shell filled with a corrosive liquid. We’d slap our hands with oil and, sitting cross-legged on the tile floor, crack open every one of those 2,000 kernels to reveal a tender, crescent-shaped nut wrapped in wrinkled, brown skin. This skin had to be scraped off ever so gently so as not to break the cashew.

Throughout the monsoon Aaji turned these nubile nuts into lip-smacking fried masala cashews, farasbi kaju usal,moogache kaju dabdab, a Karwari specialty of curried bean sprouts that required us to peel the green husk off every single moong bean. This was the culinary equivalent of a Navy Seal training camp.

Flame red seedless papayas, (Ajoba called them disco papitas) grew abundantly, as did videshi panas (breadfruit), a meaty fruit Aaji sliced into kaape, dusted with semolina and pan fried.










Among the many bananas Ajoba grew were the small paper-skinned cardamom-scented Safed Velchis of Maharashtra, Karnataka’s highly-prized Chandrabale red bananas, and the unique Nanjangud (it received protected geographical status in 2005). They were whacked off early and hung up to ripen in ponderous bunches from a disused four-poster bed in the verandah. We took afternoon naps with our adopted stray dog, Brandy under this canopy of carbohydrates. Soft sunlight, a doggy to cuddle and the heady fragrance of sweet bananas made for excellent siestas.

These bananas were turned into hot fritters, halwa and banana dalchini jam. And you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten a caramelised banana jam slathered over homemade white butter on a slice of Swamy Bakery’s coconut bread.

The pride of Ajoba’s garden, however were his mangoes. Some Badami, Raspuri, Totapuri but mostly Langda, the north Indian transplant grew inexplicably well in his garden’s black soil.

Belgaum is disputed territory, claimed by both Maharashtra and Karnataka. Ajoba, who was Marathi speaking, grew varieties of fruit from several states to please his palate and his patriotism. This resulted in delicious politics, the source of which was our maali, Ratan kaka. He had spent much of his life around vegetables that he’d acquired their qualities. A face as shriveled as bitter gourd and gait as curved as a marrow, he was a walking and mostly cussing, hybrid.

But he had veggie magic. Like some potion-brewing druid, he could talk to gourds, resurrect tomato vines even bring brinjal back from the dead. Such talent is alas also opinionated.

Kaka turned his nose up at any produce that wasn’t Kannadiga and because he was born in Maharashtra he was willing to make exceptions for Konkan breeds. When we asked him why Ajoba’s favourite mango was called Langda, (the word means lame,) he explained it was the deformed, treacherous, less good-looking brother of Hapus. Aah, the mango family is ruthless I’d thought, but in fact it was kaka. He despised Langda.

Ajoba had forbidden him from growing Alphonso. Kaka, who was originally from Ratnagiri, the home of Hapuscouldn’t abide this lesser-known mango when by birthright he should have cultivated the King.

If the guavas were pitted, maali blamed Langda for poisoning the soil. If the strawberries were not sweet, it was Landga’s fault. Ajoba showed staunch loyalty to the Langda. The graft was a gift from a close friend and a happy reminder of his days in Delhi. “They have far more character of flavour,” he insisted.

But, there was a deep and dark secret the prize-winning cultivator didn’t want anyone to know – Hapus simply wouldn’t grow in his garden!

So, Badamis and Raspuris were turned into aamras, served with saucer-like puris that flew out of Aaji’s kadai onto our plates at the speed of light. Kala Ishaad was specifically for Mango Sasav- a spicy Saraswat style mango curry. Mangoes were also turned into pickles – methamba with fenugreek, sakharammba with saffron and my favourite, garlic and mango lonche. While Langda was reserved for ice-creams and chilled soufflés.

I’m convinced that the Marathi words ‘salsaleet’ and ‘zanzaneet’ were created for foods eaten during the monsoon  – when it’s cold and wet outside you warm up to a sizzling, spicy dinner inside.

I remember we’d race up the hillock behind the farm to collect ‘Dongrachi Kali Maina’- the black nightingale of the rocks also known as Karvanda, a fruit that thrives in dry weather on prickly bushes. Wet, our clothes stained red by luscious berries we’d return home for a meal of baby eggplants stuffed with gode masala and steamy jowarichi bhakri. I remember my fingers, tender from the thorns tingling at the touch of those spiced eggplants.







monsoons you literally fritter away your time. Love of deep-fried snacks is a genetic Indian syndrome and resisting them is like trying to medicate for a common cold. Give in gracefully.

Onion bhajjis, crisp on the outside soft on the inside, and fragrant milk tea with pudina and ole chaha(lemongrass stalks) are irresistible on rainy days.

Aaji battered up a plethora of bhajjis and pakoras, rice flour chaklis, twisty kodbale, crunchy muduku, sweet corn vadis dotted with green chilies and mounds of masala sev.

She also made delicious guava jam and poached guavas, but it was her guava Sasav with prawns that stood out. Sasav, a thick, sweet and spicy curry that’s utterly delicious over boiled rice is a Saraswat specialty traditionally made with Kala Ishaad mango.

There was also a specialty called ‘shevra‘, or dragon stalk yam, which was chopped and stir fried with a rai-hingaphodni (mustard and asafoetida tempering), colocassia leaves were turned into alu wadi and baby methi was tossed with baby potatoes.

Interestingly, the monsoon brings several bitter vegetables to the table. Karela or bitter gourd, ambadi, chakwat,chuka, red and green Amaranthus leaves called Maath and Kardai (safflower) were all sautéed, turned into usals, rassas, palya bhajis, koshimbris or stirred into lentils and Shevya (vermicelli noodles).

The monsoon months of my childhood were intense lessons in cooking, eating and being blissfully happy.

My marriage resume thus fortified, I married a nice American boy from Minnesota. Ajoba would be relieved to know he loves Langda. Thathastu.



Recipe for Dasheri Mango and Garlic Jam (makes about 1½ cups of jam)

This is more a relish than a pickle and is excellent with pulao, bhaat, curd rice, plain flatbreads or a vegetable dish. It’s also excellent with cheese and crackers, roast chicken and grilled fish. You can use a variety of mangoesfor this recipe.


4 unripe Dasheri,  Langda or Badami mangoes

3/4 cup white granulated sugar

4-5 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed

3 inch cinnamon stick

1 tsp red chilli flakes (not chilli powder)

A pinch of salt


1. Wash the mangoes. Grate them with the skin on. Discard the seeds.

2. Steam the grated fruit and chilli flakes for 5 minutes in a pressure cooker, rice cooker or steamer, without water.

3. Boil the sugar with 1 cup of water in a pan till thick and syrupy. Swirl pan if required but do not stir. Do not let the sugar turn brown.

4. Stir in the garlic and cinnamon. Continue cooking.

5. When the syrup is very thick, add the steamed mangoes. Cook on high heat, till thick, swirling periodically to prevent burning.

6. Remove from heat and add salt and a little water if you prefer a thinner consistency.

7. Bring to a boil on high heat, reduce heat and simmer again for 8-10 minutes until thick and bubbly.

8. Bottle in a clean, airtight, sterilizsed jar while the relish is still hot.

9. Keep it refrigerated.