Born into a Parsi lineage, Zarine Khan, a model-turned-homemaker and star mother, said food is one of the few things that brings the large Khan family together.
“We are a very large family. Food binds us all. And definitely I believe that a family that dines together, stays together. We try to do that as often as possible,” Khan said in an interview about her recently launched book ‘Family Secrets: The Khan Family Cookbook’ (Roli Books; Pages: 191; Price: Rs.795)
Living in the private Jussawala Wadi compound in Juhu, Khan recollects in her book about the Parsi meals in her parental home, which were very dear to her.
As a 14-year-old girl, Khan reminisced about her daily morning walk to the school bus stop and being greeted with a wide smile by an elderly lady — Fatima Bibi. “Little did I imagine then that this very lady would be my mother-in-law,” she added.
Khan, who later fell in love and married one of Fatima’s five sons, Bollywood actor-producer Sanjay Khan, owes her interest in cooking to her mother-in-law.
Khan called her the “the one who helped her acquire a taste for good home-cooked food”.
“My mother-in-law gave me the interest for cooking. I was too young at that time to be interested in cooking. I wrote down those recipes my mother-in-law taught in my scrap book and slowly I enjoyed getting into the swing of cooking,” Khan said.
The recipes were printed out into books for Khan’s daughters when they were married. Only after a guest asked her daughter Suzanne Khan why a book wasn’t published on her food, she took up the task of getting the book published, Khan recalled.
The book features an interesting mix of a Parsi cooking she learnt from her mother and the Mughlai and Persian recipes from Fatima Bibi, along with a few continental recipes.
Her food, extremely popular even among the Bollywood fraternity, often has Khan’s household full of guests, with her biryani and shammi kebab being the hottest foods on demand, she said.
“I always make sure the table is full of good food. I’m particular that the dishes do not all have the same colour. We have a lot of friends who keep coming for my food. They all appreciate the food very much and look forward to it,” Khan said.
Sharing the secret behind her much-wowed biryani, Khan said, the key is to cook the biryani for the right time and also to make sure it is served at the right time.
“I don’t allow the biryani to sit and go cold. It’s very important to serve it mildly warm. The biryani we make is extremely light and aromatic but with not too many spices,” Khan said, adding that it was important to have grains separated and not mashed up.
The look of the dish is as important as it is to have a good taste, she added. With over 86 of the Khan family’s secret recipes — vegetarian and non-vegetarian — the cookbook is richly illustrated.
There is also a share of the family members’ favourites, photographs of some of the old family get-togethers, and black and white, when the Bollywood stars were all still young.
Peshawari Keema (lamb mince), bhindi gosht (lamb with okra), chicken green masala (chicken in a coriander gravy), spicy green mango prawn curry and dal parent (tamarind flavoured lentils) are some of the recipes in the book, which stem from this Parsi-Khan household.
Desserts could be what one would be looking for next. But for Khan, desserts were never on the family table as she was scared her children would put on too much weight and become obese.
“We would substitute desserts with some fresh fruit. We do make desserts for some occasions, but very rarely,” she said.
The best way one can preserve authentic food, according to Khan, is to keep cooking.
“As modernisation takes on, people find it very difficult to find time to cook at home. As a result, they start eating out. People have to keep cooking to preserve authentic food,” she said.