When Parsis Shun Meat
Lagan Sara Istoo is prepared with veggies, jaggery and raisins. Photo: Perzen Patel
Given the amount of meat we Parsis eat, you wouldn’t be mistaken in thinking that we were the direct descendants of the King of the Jungle, the Lion. From goat to chicken and from offal to fish, we unapologetically relish it all. Until we get to ‘Bahman Mahino’ that is.
Like many other religions, Zoroastrians too have a separate calendar that they follow. Each month in this calendar represents a natural element that we worship. So for example there is the month of ‘Adar’ in which we have the Feast of Fire, and there is ‘Ava’ where we worship water. Last month was the month of ‘Bahman’, which is devoted to the Arch Angel Bahman Ameshaspand, the guardian of the animals and it is for this reason that devout Parsis abstain from eating meat throughout the entire month of Bahman.
Strictly speaking, throughout the month of Bahman, a Zoroastrian is expected to live on a diet of simple grains, fruits and vegetables. However, Bawas being Bawas, most of us cannot live on ‘ghaas phoos’ – grass and hay – and have different definitions of what is acceptable.
Which, makes for an interesting month in the kitchen of a Parsi caterer.
We had carnivorous clients who became devout vegetarians, we had those that believed fish is acceptable as it’s not a land animal, and most believed that egg is completely legitimate as god forbid, we’d have to live without eating our ‘Anything per Eedus’. With the Bawi Bride Kitchen only recently starting our ‘Bhonu’ service, Bahman Mahino therefore proved to be a great learning curve.
One of my favourite Parsi vegetarian dishes we dished out last month was the Lagan Sara Istoo, that is, a stew fit for weddings. Containing a variety of root vegetables like potato, carrot, yam and sweet potato, the stew caters to our Parsi predilection of making everything sweet and sour and contains a generous serving of jaggery and raisins and dates that have been soaked in cane vinegar. Also, since most Parsis don’t consider potatoes and root vegetables as ‘ghaas phoos’, it’s been a huge hit.
Bawas also have a fetish for ‘kathor’ or pulses and my favourite ‘kathor’, masoor made with a simple tadka of onions, dhansak and garam masala was another favourite. Especially as we dished it out during that week in June when it rained every evening and our masoor proved to be the ultimate comfort food.
For our more adventurous clients, we also experimented with Koru nu Doru, a kind of patio made with pumpkin as well as the Veg ‘Russian’ Salad that Parsis adopted (called so because of the generous serving of ‘white’ mayo dressing it comes with). There was also Sali per Eedu cupcakes, Kera Na Kebab, Dahi Ni Kadhi, Guvarfari and a bunch of other baked dishes that am hoping to blog about in the coming days.
Bahman Mahino just finished a few days ago, but I am grateful for all the strange requests we got as its allowed me to really challenge myself and I’ve learned how to cook more than 20 different vegetarian dishes. A matter of great pride for any Bawi Bride! What’s better is that I’ve even grown to love these vegetarian dishes and without intending to I’ve ended up following most of Bahman Mahino myself.
Recipe for Lagan Sara Istoo (serves 6-8)
3 each of carrots, medium potatoes and sweet potatoes peeled
1 small yam peeled (Suran)
200 gm green peas
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup each of raisins and dates
1/2 cup jaggery
2 large onions
1/4 bunch coriander
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp red chilli powder
2 tsp pepper powder
1/2 tsp cardamom-nutmeg powder
Salt to taste
Oil for frying
1. Start with peeling the potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, yam and green peas (if you are using fresh ones). Once peeled, chop all of it into small pieces. While I make my istoo with only these vegetables, I know Bawas who also add in French beans, double beans and lady fingers so if you would like to add those, go right ahead.
2. Next, in a small bowl soak the jaggery and raisins with the vinegar. If you don’t have jaggery at home, you can always just use sugar as well so don’t stress! Now would also be a good time to stone and chop the dates.
3. Finally, before you start to finely chop the onions and tomatoes – I prefer making a tomato puree as I don’t like to bite into my tomatoes, but that’s up to you.
4. Once all of this is prepped, apply salt to the vegetables and deep-fry them all one after the other – everything except the green peas. You want them to get a lightly golden colour after which you can drain out the oil in a colander. The reason we fry all the vegetables is so that they don’t turn into mush and retain their form when we make the ‘istoo’.
5. Now, in a saucepan add some oil and the ginger-garlic paste. Add in all the spices, the salt and the jaggery. Once the jaggery has melted, add in the onion-tomato paste. Let this all fry for 3 – 5 minutes.
6. Add in all the fried vegetables along with the green peas, the soaked dates, raisins and the vinegar. Stir back and forth till the vegetables have absorbed all the flavour.
7. Cover and let it simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Since the dish doesn’t have any liquid in it, I recommend that you cover the saucepan and add 1/2 cup water on the lid. This will create steam and enable to vegetables to cook faster.
8. Once the vegetables are cooked, top with finely chopped coriander and some more raisins and serve hot with roti.
Bawi by birth and foodie by life, Perzen Patel is Mumbai’s Bawi Bride. While she didn’t know how to cook even a simple Parsi Dhandar until she got married, Perzen is now on a mission to spread happiness through Dhansak. When she is not writing, Perzen runs a full-fledged Parsi catering service, organises food experiences and also offers cooking classes.