Parsi Sev (Sweet, roasted Vermicelli)



A distinct memory from my childhood is that of sweet aromas wafting through our 1 bedroom apartment on birthdays, festivals or anniversaries or special days to mark a celebration. This has remained with me through my life and no festival, birthday or anniversary seems like a special day without these aromas permeating every corner of my home. It’s the aroma of slow roasting sev (vermicelli) in ghee, mixed with the fragrant lily garlands waiting to be hung on the door by the tallest member of the family (Mr.40 in this case) and my dad when I was a kid. It evokes such a feeling of festive nostalgia, that I resolved that wherever I was in life, this memory would always be re-created for my family.

The recipe ofcourse comes from the pompous ladies of the Kapadia and Patel clan who try to go one up on each other by repeating and parroting the recipe at every social gathering, to an extent that I have it memorised and can write down Hilla, Ruby, Aran and Nergis’ version word for word (LOL).

Sev is a thin wheat based vermicelli that comes in a pre- roasted or non- roasted avatar. Its sold in rolls. Its slow roasted or fried in ghee over low, low heat, patiently turned over and over so that its evenly browned and no strand is charred. The roasted ones also need to be roasted again….there is no escaping the ghee.


imageMy mom-in-law Ruby whose sev is legendary has a special vessel or kadai (for roasting or frying), a Katli (steel pot) to measure out the water and uses her fist to throw in the sugar. The frying process can take a long time depending on the quantity you are making and at the end of it expect muscular arms and shoulders.

The frying is done the previous day or evening and the addition of the water and final cooking on the morning of the big day.  Though I follow Ruby’s directions religiously I refuse to use copious amounts of ghee. Hence I end up frying my sev in far less ghee and I use a non-stick based pan or pot that I have reserved for making sweets. So this Parsi New Year as I imagepatiently stirred the Sev I felt my late Mamma’s presence telling me “Use more ghee, you silly girl. It will lubricate your joints”

I admit sev is not my favourite Parsi sweet, but I make it for the sheer happiness it brings to the day. A lot of Parsi dishes that require skill and patience are a dying art as not many of us have the time or patience to stir the pot and its so much easier to outsource. But this is one dish which I refuse to outsource as the store bought ready to make variety won’t spread the aromas of happiness. 🙂




200 grams Sev (roasted)

180 grams sugar

6-7 heaped tablespoons ghee

500 ml water

1 teaspoon finely ground mix of nutmeg, cardamom and mace*

2 teaspoons Vanilla Essence

1 tablespoons Rosewater (optional)

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons Milk

Garnish- 50 grm mixed nuts- cashew (halved or broken), blanched and slivered Almonds, Charoli

25-30 grms golden raisins (washed)

Blanch and cut almonds into thin sticks. Break cashews into halves or quarter pieces and wash the raisins to remove any dirt and dry on a kitchen towel. Fry all of the above, individually until a very light golden brown using 1 tablespoon of ghee. Drain on kitchen paper. The raisins burn easily so fry on low heat and remove as soon as they plump up.

Remove vermilcelli from its roll and breqk it into 4-5 inch pieces. In a heavy based non-stick pot heat 2 heaped tablespoons ghee. Put the sev into the pot and keep stirring it on low heat so that it browns evenly. You will notice that as you stir it around the sev breaks down further to 1 cm or abouts. If you feel the need for more ghee add a teaspoon.

Once the sev is evenly browned either plunge the bottom of the pan in cold water or remove the sev to another platter, to stop it from browning further. Once cool return to the pot and add the sugar, nutmeg-cardamom powder, pinch of salt. You can prepare upto this stage the night before or the previous day.

Heat a litre of water till it comes to a rolling boil. Pour a little less than half of it into the sev and turn the heat to high. Give the sev a gentle stir so as to get the spices, sugar, water mixed in. Add the milk and vanilla essence. Stir gently. Once it reaches a boil skim off any scum from the surface. Lower the heat, cover the pot and let the sev simmer. Check it every 5 minutes to see if its cooked. It should appear slightly tramnsculent and the texture should be firm without being mushy. Be careful whilst stirring at this stage, do so with a butter knife so as not to break the delicate strands. If its not cooked in 10 minutes and the water has dried up, add 3-4 tablespoons of hot water and cover and continue cooking.

Remove to a platter, garnish with nuts and raisins and serve warm.

* Spice mix: Cardamon 20 pieces + 1 large nutmeg + 4-5 strands mace. Grind to a fine powder and store in an airtight bottle. Makes a great tastemaker for French toasts or a bowl of porridge.

  • Tip: Its better to add less water to the sev and add a little more later. Initially add enough water so that it just about covers the sev. Keep the remaining water hot so that you can use it as required


MAWA CAKES (Milk Cakes) image This week I dare to delve into my rich Parsi heritage and unearth a recipe which will be a hit in any kitchen. I come from a miniscule community that has settled in India since the 1500s-Parsis or Zorastrians or Bawas (called lovingly throughout the world). We are known for our great love of food, more food, and all food and drink…. The Parsis originally from Iran escaped on a boat, to avoid religious persecution. They landed on the western shores of India and soon became an integral part of their adopted country. Hence many recipes which are part of the Parsi cuisine have an Irani, Arabic influence and Indian too. Almost all Parsi food is meant for hardcore carnivores and it’s blasphemous to be a “veggy Parsi” (me for example). The food is spice laden, rich and comfortingly heavy. No guest goes home from a Parsi household complaining, except for a vegetarian! Many recipes that I prepare on a day to day basis are watered down versions of what my mother or grandma would have made, less oil, no red meat and lesser spice. Very few recipes I follow are written, they have been passed down by the talkative women in my family who couldn’t stop boasting about their culinary skills (Thank Heavens!!). That was their version of blogging, I guess. (LOL) imageBaking and cakes is not a part of Parsi culture but is influenced by the British who ruled India for over a century. The Paris of my Grandmother’s and Mother’s generation considered themselves to be the Queen’s far off cousins and hence acted the part of “propah” British ladies, complete with bone china tea sets and tea times with cakes, pastries and delicate sandwiches. They have disowned daughters like me who turned vegetarian, drink tea from chipped mugs, accompanied by last night’s, cold pizza! 🙂 To get back to baking, Mawa cake is an iconic Parsi take on the classic Pound Cake. It has been a part of the Mumbai culinary scene for decades. Newspapers were filled with obits when a famous Parsi bakery shut shop. As kids we have eaten endless mawa cakes from tiny Irani cafes and stores which dotted South Mumbai’s Parsi areas of Grant Road, Lamington Road, Fort (note the British names please).

Mawa cakes could be the cousin of another Parsi tea-time treat called Kumas, which is similar but uses semolina, wheat flour and ghee (clarified butter). imageMawa is basically full cream milk reduced to a thick creamy mix. It is also known as Khoya and widely available at milk centres all over the city. For years I have used the store bought mawa but this time I dared to try my hand at making it and at the end of an hour and a half my legs craved a massage and my arms looked toned. Its an easy task but extremely time consuming and the heat makes it worse. The superior taste was worth the exercise.

The cake making process is the same as for a pound cake. The mawa adds a dense, milky richness to the cake and the cardamom and nutmeg powders elevate it to another level. Its tastes like Indian Mithai, only much lighter and a little more Anglicised. image image image image imageTop it with cashews soaked for an hour in milk, this prevents them from burning to a dark brown piece of inedible cardboard. Be generous when spooning the batter into the muffin tins, they rise beautifully and end up looking golden brown like a balding Head (LOL!!). The cakes are rich, buttery, golden and “mawaddictive”. And any Bawa worth his milky-sweet-tea will tell you they are best eaten dunked in a hot cuppa chai…..slurp!! 🙂



Makes- 24 muffins / 2 large loaves

300 grms Mawa (recipe follows)

300 grms caster sugar

300 grms butter

300 grms all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoon Baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

½ cup milk

1 heaped teaspoon cardamom and nutmeg powdered (alternately grind seeds of 10 cardamom pods and half a nutmeg with a tablespoon of sugar)

2 teaspoons Vanilla extract

50 grms cashew nuts, broken into halves and soaked in ¼ cup milk

  1. Preheat oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
  2. Prepare your cupcake or muffin tins by oiling them and lining with paper cups.
  3. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder.
  4. In a large bowl beat together mawa, butter and sugar until light.
  5. Add eggs one at a time a beat thoroughly to incorporate.
  6. Add in the vanilla and spice powders and beat for another 30 seconds
  7. Add 1/3rd of the flour alternating with the milk and fold in gently but thoroughly. Scrape the bottom of the bowl so that no flour pockets remain. Start and end with the flour. The mixture will be very thick, thicker than dropping consistency.
  8. Spoon the mixture into muffin tins, filling them a little over ¾. Top with milk soaked cashew nuts and bake for 20-25 minutes in a pre heated oven. If you find the cakes browning a bit too fast lower the oven temperature to 170. When done the cakes will be springy to touch and golden brown.
  9. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an air tight container at room temperature for a day. Transfer to the refrigerator for long term storage and thaw before serving.