Approximately a thousand years ago, a tired and disheveled group of Zoroastrian refugees fled Islamic persecution in their native Persia and arrived in the Sindh region of Gujarat, India. Responding to their request for asylum, King Jadav Rana, the ruler of the tiny community where they landed, sent them a bowl filled to the brim with milk (a gentle hint that his kingdom was full and couldn’t accept refugees). In reply, the leader of the Persians dissolved a spoonful of sugar in the milk and sent it back to the king, suggesting that his small flock would dissolve like sugar in the milk and enrich the king’s community without straining its resources.
These refugees were the forefathers of India’s Parsi community. Although Persians were doing business with India from approximately 500 BC, the exact time of their arrival in India is controversial. The story above which describes the arrival and settling down of the Parsis in Gujarat is called the Qeṣṣa-ye Sanjān (The Story of Sanjān). Before Gujarat, they had briefly inhabited the Diu region of India, but soon afterwards their Dastur (leader) determined that their destiny lay elsewhere. They left Diu and after braving a life-threatening storm, they reached Gujarat. King Jadav Rana’s permission to the refugees to stay in his land came with afew caveats; they would have to learn and use only the local language, the women would have to wear sarees, and the use of weapons or conversion of any of the local people was strictly prohibited. The Dastur agreed to these conditions and hence the Parsis settled down in India, enriching India’s culture and contributing heavily toward our economy and prosperity.
Despite having lived on the Indian subcontinent for well over a thousand years, the Parsis remain a very distinct minority community. They speak their own dialect of the Gujarati language and follow rules which combine aspects of their ancient religion and their historical background as refugees. Their cuisine is also very distinct, again being a mix of Persian and Indian influences. Sali jardaloo murghi (Sali=potato, jardaloo=apricot, murghi=chicken) is a beautiful example of such intermixing. Being from Persia, they were quite used to using dried fruit and nuts in their food, which they introduced to Indian cuisine. This dish is at the same time familiar and different when compared to most “Indian” food items. I think it gives a nice twist to the everyday chicken curry.
Recipe: (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey)
Chicken, cut into bite sized pieces and skinned: 3lbs.
Freshly grated ginger: 2 tsp.
Finely crushed garlic: 1 tsp.
Dried apricots: 15-16 nos.
Vegetable oil: 4 tbsp. or a bit more
Onion: 2 medium sized, finely cut into half rings
Tomato puree/paste: 2tbsp. (you can use fresh tomatoes too) mixed with 1/2 cup water
Distilled white malt vinegar (or, regular white vinegar): 2 tbsp.
Turmeric: ½ tsp.
Sugar: 1 tbsp.
Salt to taste
Hot dry red chili: 4 whole
Cinnamon stick, somewhat broken: 2 inches
Whole cumin seeds: 11/2 tsp.
Cardamom pods: 7 nos.
Cloves: 10 whole
For potato straws:
Salt: 1 tbsp.
Potato: One large peeled
Vegetable oil: enough to deep fry the potato straw
- Grind the spices ‘under to grind’ into a fine powder. ( I usually toast them a little bit)
- Put the ginger-garlic paste, ground spices and one or two table spoon of oil and turmeric and massage everything well with the chicken. Leave it at room temp. for an hour (more will not hurt)
- If you are using apricots which are very dry, soak them in hot water. The time will depend on how dry the apricots are. The ones I use here in the US, do not require soaking.
- Once the meat is marinated, heat up the oil in a deep bottom pot. When the oil is hot, put the flame on medium and add the onions. Sauté them until they are reddish brown in color.
- Add the marinated chicken and mix well. Sauté for another 5-10 minutes.
- Add the tomato puree with the water, mix well again and add the salt and sugar.
- Cover the pot and simmer the pot for another 10 minutes or until the chicken is almost cooked (add water if you want a bit of gravy, I do like have a bit of gravy)
- Slip in the soaked/dried apricots and simmer again until the chicken is completely cooked.
- Let the chicken sit for half n hour to an hour before you serve it.
Making the potato straws:(if you are not in mood to make the potato straws, just go and buy some ready made straws from the stores. Recently I have seen dehydrated potato straws which can be fried at home…how convenient is that?)
- Fill a large bowl with cold water and add the salt to it.
- Put the grater on the bowl and grate the potatoes with a coarse setting/blade.
- Once the potatoes fall in the water, separate the grated potatoes with your hands.
- Heat enough oil to fry the straws.
- Once the oil is hot enough, bring the flame to medium, take a small handful of potatoes, squeeze the water out as much as possible and drop them in the oil.
- Immediately separate the straws with a spoon. Don’t put a lot as it will bring the oil temperature down and make the potatoes soggy. Fry in small batches.
- Once all of it is fried, drain them on an absorbent paper until used.
- Before you serve the chicken, heat it up gently and spread the straws on the chicken. Serve immediately.
- Goes best with white rice.