Patia in the Wild West

Washington-based optical and sensor engineer Ryna Karnik self-publishes a book to make bawa cooking accessible to Americans

Four years ago on Christmas, Ryna Karnik gifted her American mother-in-law a booklet of recipes belonging to the Zoroastrian tradition she hails from. Her ma-in-law would rue that what she relished in Karnik’s kitchen, she could never recreate.

Since then, Karnik’s husband, Field Nicholas Cady, who she met at the Physics major programme at Stanford, has been cajoling her to write a cookbook that acquaints Americans with Parsi cuisine.

The 28-year-old optical and sensor engineer with Microsoft, finally managed to self-publish Parsi Cooking at Home last month.

“I grew up in Portland, Oregon. Not having extended family closeby meant that we, women from the immigrant community, raised our kids together. We still meet every Thanksgiving. Half the spread at the table is traditionally American — turkey and stuffing — and the other half is pulao-dal,” says Karnik.

Interestingly, to the list of Parsi staples that make it to her book (pora or traditional masala omelette; kichri, which she calls Parsi Penicillin for the sick; Lagan no saas, a tangy fish gravy served at weddings and salli boti or boneless mutton in tomato-onion gravy sprinkled with vermicelli), she adds north Indian and Maharashtrian specials, tandoori chicken and srikhand, possibly to acquaint readers with all that’s cooking in her kitchen.

“Unlike with North Indian food, American restaurants don’t serve Parsi fare. You get to eat dhansak at get-togethers hosted by Parsi families. Since all ingredients required for Parsi cooking aren’t easily available overseas, I try to mimic traditional flavours by introducing local alternatives, while maintaining the soul of the dish.”

While Parsis in Mumbai love their kaleji-bukka and other offal as much as they do macchi or fish, Karnik experiments with wild meat and local seafood. “Often, my husband and I gather Pacific razor clams from the beach, and add them to the shrimp patia. Rather than goat or lamb, we eat a lot of wild elk, which is tastier and healthier than farmed meat,”
she says.

Since Parsi love to balance the khattu with the mitthu (sour and sweet), wine makes a special appearance in her recipes, together with vinegar, tamarind, tomatoes and lemon.

Having learnt the skills from her mother, Karnik’s first memory of cooking is picking coriander leaves from the garden to make it to the dinner her mother was stirring up. “I still taste my dish at every stage of cooking to check on balance of flavour, just the way she did,” she reminisces.

Way to Ryna’s patia
This is the dish I make when I wish to impress someone. It’s a modified version of the traditional recipe — I use Serrano peppers instead of green chilies, and add a dash of balsamic vinegar — but, as Field will agree, it turns out well.
Traditionally, you make this dish with shrimp (kolmi), but eggplant, whole button mushrooms, tofu and paneer work just as well.


>> 3 medium onions, chopped fine
>> 4 medium tomatoes, chopped fine
>> 1 large Serrano pepper, minced fine
>> 1 large bunch of coriander, chopped fine
>> 2-inch ginger piece, minced fine
>> 10 cloves of garlic, minced fine
>> 1 tsp turmeric
>> 1⁄2 tsp ground cumin
>> 1⁄2 tsp chili powder
>> Salt to taste
>> 1⁄2 tsp grated jaggery
>> 1 tsp tamarind
>> 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
>> 0.5 kg shrimp

>> Heat oil in a large pan or wok until the cumin thrown in sizzles
>> Add onions and cook for 30 seconds. Add garlic, ginger, Serrano, turmeric and chilli powder. Cook for 10 minutes or until onions
are caramelised
>> Add tomatoes and cook until excess water evaporates and mixture turns into a thick paste. Add tamarind, jaggery, and shrimp/mushroom. Cook on slow flame until meat/veggies are tender
>> Sprinkle coriander and add a dash of balsamic vinegar. Serve with rice and toor dal or Parsi khichdi

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.