Prawn Patia is a classic dish made with shellfish and it comes from India’s small but prominent Parsi community. Its incredible explosion of flavors–sweet, spicy, salty, tangy and savory–works just as well with tofu in this vegan version.
In my memory, a Prawn Patia will forever be the dish that made me sick as a dog the first time I ate it, yet it was so good I fell in love with it.
The sickness I chalked down to the prawns, a shellfish very similar in appearance to shrimp, and the possibility that hygiene at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Bombay we had eaten at, known for its Patia, may have been short of stellar.
And the love? Well, it was impossible not to adore a coconut curry that’s a tango of salty, sweet, tangy and spicy.
I learned how to make a prawn patia just as delicious, and after becoming vegan, I morphed it, effortlessly I think, into a Tofu Patia, where chewy chunks of tofu stand in for the shrimp.
My Tofu Patia recipe has lived on this blog for 12 years now, and so many of you have made it and loved it, so I wanted to bring it back to the top for anyone who’s new to the blog, with new photos.
The Parsis– who migrated to India from Persia more than a thousand years ago because of religious persecution– are also some of its most interesting and, to some extent, inscrutable residents. The story goes that when they landed in Gujarat, a state in western India, the king there accepted them on the condition that they would not seek converts. They assured the king that they would assimilate into the local culture as a spoonful of sugar in a glass of milk–a promise they lived up to.
Parsis are often described in cliches like tight-knit, wealthy, insular and eccentric, and there’s some truth in all of that. But to my mind no one describes the community better than my friend Lyla, a willowy, green-eyed woman with a quick wit and a ready laugh.
At the Bombay newspaper where we worked, Lyla would often regale us with stories of her adventures about the city which, one time, included taking her aging mom and aunt to a strip joint in South Bombay because, she said, she had never been in one but didn’t dare to go alone. The next day she related, deadpan, a colorful account of the goings-on, including what the dancers did and her mom’s and aunt’s reactions.
Parsi cuisine is just as delightful. The settlers borrowed from the flavors of western India, where they settled in, as well as from the flavors of their native Iranian cuisine to come up with unique dishes like koimino patio (prawn patia), dhansaak, a combination of mutton and dal, and akoori, a spicy, scrambled egg preparation.
Prawn Patia sparkles with vibrant flavors. Instead of the prawns I used tofu air-fried with turmeric, cayenne and a touch of Old Bay seasoning for the seafood flavor.
What you’ll love about this vegan Tofu Prawn Patia
- It is vibrant with so many flavors–sweet, tangy, salty, spicy and savory. There’s something here to tickle every tastebud. The tangy note is added by tomatoes and lemon, the sweetness comes from coconut and jaggery (an unrefined Indian sugar), and the spice is added by cayenne and a touch of garam masala.
- It is creamy. I use coconut milk for the curry base which makes it really creamy and smooth. The non-vegan recipe I first learned to cook used coconut shreds which were ground up into a paste, but I so much prefer the version with the coconut milk because it’s easier and tastier. There are versions of patia that don’t use coconut at all but I really like it in here.
- It is easy. You can air-fry or bake the tofu, which adds a bit of time, but if you’d like to save on that just used storebought baked tofu. The rest of the curry takes barely any time to make.
- Extra firm or super firm tofu. This adds some protein muscle and stands in nicely for the shrimp. If using extra firm be sure to press out any water.
- Red chili peppers. I used Kashmiri red chilies, which add really nice color to the curry and are mildly spicy. But any mildly hot dry chili pepper would work or, alternatively, use red pepper flakes.
- Coconut milk. Use the full-fat version in the can, not the one in a carton.
- Turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander and garam masala. For the spice base.
- Ginger. For more spiciness and depth.
- Onions. These add amazing flavor but they also help thicken the sauce.
- Tomatoes. The tomatoes should go in toward the end of cooking, rather than toward the beginning. That way they will not break down fully but will rather melt into the curry, which is exactly what you want.
- Jaggery. Jaggery, or gur, is an unrefined sugar sold in blocks that you shave bits off and use. In appearance, and in flavor, it is not unlike piloncillo, the Mexican sugar you can easily find at supermarkets here, and piloncillo is a fine substitute in this dish. If you can’t find either, use coconut sugar or just plain sugar.
- Old Bay seasoning (optional). Old Bay adds a nice seafood-y flavor to the tofu, but it is entirely optional and you don’t have to use it. If you do use it, use no more than a teaspoon before air-frying or baking the tofu.
- Lemon: Lemon finishes off the dish nicely and adds a nice tang along with the tomatoes.
- Cilantro or mint. Either of these herbs adds a nice, complementary finish to the dish.
What to serve with the tofu patia
Jeera Rice or Cumin Rice is really nice with this patia. But plain boiled white or brown rice will do too.
Serve with a fresh salad or a Cucumber Raita on the side.