Oct 31, 2016

The Festival of Tihar (Part 1)

The five day long Hindu festival of Tihar has started across Nepal, as well as the Indian states of Assam, Sikkim, and Darjeeling. Also called Deepawali and Yamapanchak it is the second most important festival after Dashain. Tihar is generally called the festival of lights as oil or ghee burning lamps made of clay called diyas are lit nightly. 


Every day of Tihar has a special religious significance. I'm going to make this a two part post so I can go a little more into detail about each day of the festival. There are many variations in the celebration of Tihar in Nepal so this will be a broad overview. Above you see a rangoli which is a beautiful pattern made using materials such as colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals. These are made as a sacred welcoming sign to gods and goddesses in living rooms, courtyards, doorways, and gateways of homes. Rangolis are said to be especially appealing to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. 

Yama the god of death
The mythology of Tihar centers around the God of Death Yama and his sister Yamuna. Yama had avoided his sister Yamuna for a long time. Yamuna wished to meet Yama so she asked various minions to entreat Yama pay her a visit. She sent the crow, the dog, and the cow to plead with Yama. Eventually Yama gave in to the requests of his sister brought to him by the crow, dog, and cow. Upon seeing her brother Yama she became extremely happy and she did every possible thing to make her brother happy for five days. It is said that no one dies during the five days of Tihar if Yama is properly placated.


And so the festival begins with first day being Kaag Tihar or Kaag Puja meaning worship of the crows. Crows and ravens are often regarded as messengers of Yama and their cawing is associated with sadness and grief. Ceremonial foods and puja are offered to crows and ravens on banana leaves or plates made from banana leaves called tapari which are placed on rooftops.


The second day of the festival is called Kukur Tihar or worship of the dogs. Dogs are often depicted as Yama's guards in Hinduism. Dogs are fed ceremonial vegetarian treats, anointed with a tika on their foreheads, and honored with garlands of flowers around their necks. 


Our Ms Dawg went to the neighbors' house to be venerated. She ate her treats, got her garland, and left. She didn't stick around for her tika as she's not much for being propitiated. Ms Dawg is a 'no nonsense' kind of gal. I think she prefers the non veg Muslim fare served at our house.


Now supposedly AFTER the third day of the festival which is Gai Tihar (cow worship) and Laxmi Puja (goddess of wealth worship) starts a Nepali tradition called Bhailo. Bhailo and Deusi Re are traditional songs sung by groups of children and teenagers going door to door during Tihar . It is sort of like 'trick or treat' during Halloween. The children and teens sing and may do a little dance then the lady of the house comes out and gives them money and sweets. For whatever reason Bhailo now starts on the second day of the festival, only boys participate, and the only song they sing is Bhailo. The above photo is the first group of Bhailo-ers to come to our house on Kukur Tihar. As you can see the gangsta/rapper thing has caught on here in Nepal with middle class boys throwin' gang signs and wearing trucker style hats. Yes, everywhere you go in the world American culture pervades. Jeans, Marlboros, Coca Cola, Snickers bars, and rap music shall be the American legacy worldwide. Probably heart disease, rotten teeth, emphysema, and diabetes too.


Traditionally Bhailo would be sung by girls and Deusi Re would be sung by boys. Nowadays all you see around here are teen and tween boys who sing/yell one round of Bhailo then shout, "Gimme money!" No one quite knows what the lyrics of Deusi Re mean. Deusi Re seems to have  something to do with the legend of King Bali offering his head to Lord Vishnu. The song Bhailo's lyrics state today is no moon day, the house is clean, you have done Lakshmi puja, today is cow pooja day, and so today is BHAILO! (Bhailo sounds like 'buy low' so I always reply with 'sell high!'). The photo above this paragraph is the second set of Bhailo-ers to come to our house about twenty minutes after the first group. Now these boys were nice enough and even said thank you after I gave them some biscuits and a few rupees. I'd be fine if this were the limit to this Bhailo business. After this groups of teen boys came to our gate every fifteen minutes until midnight. Ms Dawg hid in back of the house when she tired of barking. I refuse to go out to the gate with money in my hand after dark. Not to mention the same groups of boys were coming back over and over and over again. So after dark I just lock the gate and said TSAO TO! (Go Away!)

An 18th century illustration of King Bali ministering to Lord Vishnu's request for three paces of land.
(Lord Vishnu is in his Vamana avatar as a dwarf Brahmin carrying an umbrella.) 
Stay tuned for the next installment on the last three days of Tihar!

Oct 27, 2016

Nepali Garam Masala

Nepali Garam Masala recipe szechuan peppercorns timur sichuan nepal

From the Himalayan nation of Nepal comes this version of the classic spice mix garam masala. Garam means heating in the Ayurvedic sense and masala means spices. What makes this recipe for garam masala unique is the use of Himalayan grown spices like zingy timur (Szechuan peppercorns), fragrant cassia leaves, and aromatic brown cardamoms. Try this simple to make spice mix to add some Nepalese flavor to any savory dish!

Nepali Garam Masala recipe szechuan peppercorns timur sichuan nepal
Don't let the use of timur or the Himalayan variety of Szechuan peppercorns in this recipe put you off. You most certainly can use the easier to find Chinese Szechuan peppercorns in place of the Nepali variety called timur. Let me tell you, the Chinese Szechuan peppercorns pack about half the wallop and pungency that the Nepali variety called timur does. This recipe has just the right proportion of black peppercorns to Szechuan peppercorns to give you a mild sensation of what the Chinese call ma la (translates as 'numbing heat').  I choose not to dry roast my garam masala as I usually fry it when adding to a dish but I've added directions on how to traditional dry roast the spices on the stove top or use an oven. Either way make this spice mix to add a bit of traditional Nepali zest and zing to any curry or chutney!

Ingredients:
1 TBS cumin seeds/jeera
1 TBS coriander seeds/dhania
1 TBS black peppercorns/kali mirch
2 tsp green cardamoms/elaichi
2 tsp black cardamoms/kali elaichi
1 inch piece of cassia bark/dalchini, broken into small pieces (or cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp cloves/laung
1/2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns/timur
1 cassia leaf/tej patta, cut into small pieces
Do not dry roast but mix in afterwards-
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg/jaiphal
1/2 tsp ground dried ginger/soonth

Here's what to do:
For raw/unroasted garam masala- 
Coarsely grind all spices until roughly the texture of coffee grounds. Traditionally a mortar and pestle or sil batta was used to get this texture. Garam masala is not supposed to be like the finely ground powdery stuff you see sold at stores. To get the traditional 'coffee grounds' texture we're looking for use the 'pulse' button on your mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder until you get the desired results. If you are using a coffee grinder or small mixie jar you might want to grind each spice separately in batches to get a consistent texture. Breaking the cassia bark (or cinnamon sticks) into smaller pieces before grinding helps also. Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.

Two methods to dry roast garam masala-

Traditional- 
1) Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan or tawa for 7-10 minutes.
2) Dry roast spices one at a time in batches, or toss all spices in and stir frequently until spices give off a fragrant aroma. Do not dry roast grated nutmeg or dried ginger.
3) Allow to cool completely. Grind coarsely (including grated nutmeg and dried ginger) using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.
(The problem with this traditional method is that the temperature isn't really even over a tawa on a gas flame and some spices may scorch while others remain unroasted. Cumin usually roasts faster than the other spices and when burned has an unpleasant bitter flavor.  Roasting spices separately reduces the risk of scorching but is tedious. Why do South Asians still do use traditional tawa method? Because most South Asians do not have any sort of oven in their homes.)

Fast & easy oven method-
1) Preheat oven to 220F/100C.
2) Spread all spices (except grated nutmeg and dried ginger) over 13 inch by 9 inch baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake spices for 10 minutes.
3) Allow to cool completely and grind coarsely (including mace, nutmeg, or allspice) using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.

Here's photo of a beautiful Nepali sunset I took from my roof yesterday evening.
There's Mt Macchapuchre on the right and Annapurna III on the left in the parting clouds at dusk. 


Oct 25, 2016

Ingredients: Szechuan Peppercorns, Sichuan Peppercorns, Timur, Teppal, Thirpal, Tippal, Thingye, Hua Jiao


Szechuan peppercorns, also called timur, teppal, thirpal, tippal, thingye,  jiao, and sansho are all taste sensations like none other in the spice world. Used in cuisines throughout Asia their flavor isn’t spicy, but rather lemony, citric, and woody. Instead of heat, they incite a tingly numbness or fizzing feeling in the mouth. Despite the name, the reddish-brown husks are not related to black pepper. Different species with varying nuances of flavor are used in the cuisines of China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand, and India.


The term Sichuan or Szechuan peppercorns refers to the spice obtained form a group of closely related plants of the genus Zantho­xylum. In Asia, most members of this genus are found in the Himalayan region as well as central, southern, and eastern Asia. The various species are all deciduous and prefer full sun or partial shade in hot areas. They range in size from multi-trunked trees around twenty feet in height to small woody shrubs. Leaves are leathery, pinnately compound, and green in color. The plant seems to prefer poor, well drained, rocky soils and is often planted for erosion control on steep bans and roadsides.


The Zantho­xylum genus all have very large thorns and are related to citrus as well as the tree known as 'prickly ash' in the United States. Some species are dioecious requiring both a male and female tree to produce fruit while some species are self-fertilizing and monoecious. Berries ripen and turn to a bright red in early Autumn.


The berries are sun dried which causes their pericarps or shells to split open and a seed to be exposed. The aroma, flavor, and pungency of the spice is only found in the fruit wall or pericarp of the fruit not in the black seeds. The seeds are purported to be bitter, hard, and gravel-like and so are usually removed. The exception is the Korean variety Z. schinifolium whose aromatic seeds are preferred for usage in cooking. The leaves of various species are also edible with a flavor similar to mint and lime in flavor and used in some of the cuisines of China and Japan.


Szechuan peppercorns were banned from import into the United States in 1968 for fear they could possibly carry the bacteria responsible for citrus canker and infect citrus trees. The ban was lifted in 2005 with the condition that all Szechuan peppercorns be roasted at 158F to kill the bacteria before entering the United States. 
Hydroxy-alpha sanshool is the molecule found in plants from the genus Zanthoxylum believed to be responsible for the numbing, tingling sensations of the spice. The compound's name is derived from the Japanese term for the Sichuan pepper, sanshō (literally mountain pepper). Though the chemical structure is similar to that of capsaicin (the substance that causes the sensation of burning heat in chilis), the mechanism of action by which hydroxy-alpha sanshool induces sensations has been a matter of debate. Apparently, sanshool causes a vibrational sensation equivalent to 50 taps per second rather than the heat or burning associated with pepper or chilis. According to a study at a prestigious university in London, the sensation caused by eating Szechuan peppercorns feels exactly the same as pressing a vibrator to your lips. To some this sensation can feel like the fizziness in a carbonated drink, a buzzing feeling, or touching your tongue to a battery.


There more than 250 species in the genus Zantho­xylum across Asia. Each have the same essential flavor characteristics but vary slightly in nuance. The pericarp pictured in the upper left is from the Himalayan species Z. alatum or armamatum, it is the most pungent species with a cassia-like aroma and is used Tibetan and Nepali cooking. On the upper right is the the Indonesian variety Z. acanthopodium, which is used in the Indonesian cuisine and is said to have a strong lime-like taste. At the lower left is the south Indian variety called tirphal from the species Z. rhetsa which has a delicate flavor and is used alone to flavor certain fish dishes. On the lower right is the famous Chinese Szechuan pepper called jiao from the species Z. piperitum/simulans. Jiao is an ingredient in the traditional five spice pow­der​ and is traditionally used in combinatiion with black pepper and red chilis in the fiery cuisine of the Szechuan region.
 

My experience tasting the spice:
In Nepal the local variety f this spice is called timur. Upon procuring some at the local market I placed one of the timur peppercorns in my mouth.  It started out with a pungent yet pleasant citric, lemony, black pepper, and slightly woodsy flavor. Immediately after that I felt something like the fizzing of 'pop rocks' candy in my mouth. Soon it grew more intense and I started to drool. After about two minutes a strong acid taste appeared and the fizzing sensation became nauseatingly overbearing. This was like having a mouthful of battery acid and weapons grade pop rocks. My eyes began watering and I began to retch so I finally spit the darned thing out. The fizzy sensation turned to numbness and an acrid flavor remained for about 5 minutes even after rinsing my mouth with water and milk. I deduced from this experiment that sparingly and dry roasted must be the key to effectively using timur in foodstuffs.

Nepali momos served with achar

It seems the higher in altitude and farther east you go in the Himalayas the more timur is used as a primary spice. In Nepal timur is used in pickles, savory curries, spice mixes, noodle dishes, and chutneys. The national dish of Tibet is the momo, a dumpling filled with stuffing made from vegetables, cheese, or meat and spiced with garlic, ginger, onion, and timur. Momos are quite popular in Nepal too and are always served with a spicy red dipping chutney made with just a little pinch of timur. Tibetan cuisine also makes use of the combination of hot red chilis with timur as is done in the Szechuan province of China. The Tibetan word for timur or Szechuan peppercorns is is g-yer ma. Tibet shares a border with the Szechuan region so that's not too surprising. The spicy Tibetan noodle dish called malaphing is served in yak broth seasoned with red chili paste, garlic, dark sesame oil, and ground timur - quite similar to any boiled noodle dish you'd be served in Szechuan.

Spiced, smoked, dried, buffalo meat called secuti.
What do you do with all the meat when you've sacrificed a water buffalo and you've no refrigeration? Well, here in Nepal you slice it thinly and marinate it with timur, salt, and red chili powder and smoke it! Above you can see a packet for sale at our local market of spiced, smoked, and dried buffalo meat called sukuti. It is the Nepali version of jerky. On the label it's called a 'special meat snack' and I have seen it eaten out of hand as such. I've also seen pieces boiled with greens for a simple soup too.

The eternal hipster, Johnny Depp simultaneously symbolizing all things radically fresh, raw, and noble.
Looks like Kim Kardashian's makeup artist did his contouring and eyeliner today.
What is that bold, brash, citrusy, and peppery opening note in the new and controversial men's fragrance by Dior called Sauvage? Why it's Szechuan peppercorns! I immediately recognized it at first sniff. I love the aroma of Szechuan peppercorns and have often thought their brisk and pungent aroma would make a great uplifting spa fragrance or men's cologne. I've been to Szechuan restaurants that actually scent their dining rooms with the tantalizing fragrance of Szechuan peppercorns dry roasted with rock salt. Apparently a significant amount of Westerners find Sauvage's scent too harsh and supposedly synthetic. I think Westerners are just unfamiliar with the naturally bright and brash fragrance of Szechuan peppercorns. You know how most human beings are, anything we don't immediately recognize makes us uncomfortable and we don't like being uncomfortable. The coupling of Szechuan peppercorns with Calabrian bergamot as in Sauvage really amps up it's fresh floral and hesperidic facets. Fret not though, that rip roaring opening mellows out in about a half an hour and a warm, woodsy, Ambroxan base comes forward that lasts for hours. I rather like Sauvage and think it's a brilliant, modern, minimalistic interpretation of classic masculine fragrance. The perfumer's description and advertising tagline for the fragrance is radically fresh, raw, and noble. I'd agree Sauvage fills the brief but an actor who is most famous for playing a Disney pirate hardly seems radical, fresh, raw, nor noble. Clive Owen or Daniel Craig would have been my picks.

Szechuan peppercorns are best purchased whole and ground as needed. When stored in an airtight container away from sunlight the whole peppercorns seem to last indefinitely. Dry roasting this spice mellows it and brings out it's aromatic flavor. Dry roast in a heavy frying pan or on a baking sheet in the oven for 3-4 minutes. When the peppercorns get hot they will begin to smoke so watch them carefully and remove any burnt berries. Allow to cool and then grind. Roast and grind in small batches as the flavor dissipates quickly. Try a little dry roasted and ground mixed with salt for a zingy rub for red meat or sprinkle a little atop your favorite savory curry as the Nepalis do for an exotic taste treat.

Oct 20, 2016

Doon Chetin (Kashmiri Walnut Chutney)


Doon Chetin Kashmiri Walnut Chutney recipe

In Kashmiri, doon means walnut and chetin means chutney. Kashmiri walnuts are famous for their superb quality and rich flavor. This authentic recipe blends traditional spices of Kashmiri cuisine with walnuts into a creamy and piquant chutney. Serve with kebabs, curry, tandoori, or any rice based meal as a tasty and nutritious accompaniment.

Doon Chetin Kashmiri Walnut Chutney recipe

My Kashmiri husband is a very good cook when it comes to Kashmiri cuisine but not the best teacher. Writing down recipes is not a Desi tradition. So when I ask him how to make something his usual reply is a series of vague comments recommending a little of this, a little of that, and often leaving out important bits. Watching my husband and mother-in-law cook is like that too, they wander about the kitchen repeatedly adding a little of this or that spice, tasting, then adding a little bit of something else, tasting again, then maybe a bit more of whatever they added initially, and so on. UGH. I learned to make this watching one of my sister-in-laws in Srinagar using a mortar and pestle as pictured below. 


This is Bibi's big ol' Kashmiri mortar and pestle. The mortar is made out of Himalayan granite and weighs a good 10lbs/5kgs. That pestle is made of lathe-turned Kashmiri walnut wood. It works a treat. You sort of kneel on the floor with your knees bracing the heavy mortar to keep it from rocking while you pound away. The extremely lightweight but rock-hard walnut wood pestle is easy to use and effective. It took my sister-in-law about 45 minutes of pounding to render a cup of chutney the traditional way with this mortar and pestle. Do you think Bibi's going to do that? NAH. I ran this recipe through the marvelous modern mixie and had it done in under 5 minutes! To get about the same texture with a few coarse bits as you would using a mortar and pestle just pulse the mixie for 2-3 minutes.


When I first heard what was in this chutney my reaction was, "Raw walnuts, yogurt, onion, and spices in a chutney? That couldn't possibly taste good." But I was wrong! It tastes rich, creamy, and refreshing with a delicious hint of savory spices, onion, chilis, and mint. A great way to get healthy omega-3 fatty acids into your diet and a wonderful pairing with spicy meats and curries.

Ingredients:
1/2 C walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 TBS onion, chopped roughly
1 TBS dry mint/pudina (or 2 TBS fresh mint/pudina or cilantro/dhania)
1/2 tsp Kashmiri mirch
1-2 green chilis/hari mirch
1 tsp shahi jeera/black cumin seeds (or 1/2 tsp cumin seeds/jeera)
1 tsp salt
1/4 C yogurt/dahi
Here's what to do:
1) Blend or grind all ingredients to a smooth emulsion in mixie, blender, food processor, or mortar and pestle. You may need to pulse the mixie, blender, food processor if you prefer the traditional coarser texture.


2)  Salt to taste and keep in refrigerator in airtight container until ready to serve for up to four days.


Helpful Hints:
If you fear your mixie, blender, or food processor is not powerful enough to grind walnuts you might have to grind them to powder in an electric spice grinder or mortar and pestle first. After grinding the walnuts to powder then blend them until smooth in your mixie, blender, or food processor.

Oct 18, 2016

Perfume Review: Ajmal's Ragheeb


Perfume Review Ajmal's Ragheeb attar perfume oil fragrance ajmal

With a slight nip in the air and the steamy rains of the Monsoon finally gone, Autumn has finally arrived. Now's the season to break out those warm, woodsy orientals and delectable gourmands from your fragrance wardrobe. Ajmal's 'Ragheeb' is one of my favorite oriental floral fragrances for the Fall.

The late Mr Ajmal Ali, founder of Ajmal perfumes. 
For those of you unfamiliar with Ajmal it is a luxury perfume house started in the 1950's in India by Mr Ajmal Ali. Mr Ali was a native of Assam where some of the best agarwood or oudh is sourced. Moving to Bombay (now known as Mumbai) he began by selling Assamese oudh to Arab countries. Eventually he began mixing perfume oils into brilliant compositions and became a premier supplier of perfumes to the Middle East. In 1976 the House of Ajmal moved it's headquarters to Dubai. In 1987 Ajmal was the first company to introduce the classic Dahn-Al-Oudh (literally fat of the wood) in an eau de parfum form bringing to a to wider, global audience. (Yes, Ajmal's Dahn-Al-Oudh eau de parfum started the Western world's craze for oudh that's still raging on presently.) The fine tradition Mr Ajmal Ali started in India in the 1950's has been carried on now for 3 generations of his family. Today Ajmal is represented by over 100 boutiques and showrooms across the Gulf countries and is quite popular in Russia too.


So, in and amongst the myriad traditional Arabic oudh and rose attars on offer at a posh boutique in the Bahrain airport in 2006 I found 'Ragheeb.' Instantly, this scent brought memories I couldn't quite place. Late Summer and early Fall mornings in northern California in a traditional Arab attar? That's what it reminded me of. The 'Ragheeb' means willing or desirous in Arabic. Ajmal's description of the fragrance and notes:
"This exotic bouquet opens with the floral essence of bergamot and rose creatively infused with spicy hints of saffron, nutmeg and clove, interspersed with geranium. The fragrance highlights aromatic, warm and contemporary base woody yet sweet notes, for that long lasting trail.
Fragrance Description
Top: Floral Citrus
Heart: Spicy
Base: Woody Ambery"



Ragheeb opens with a bittersweet blast of saffron after which the nutmeg, bergamot, rose, geranium, and cloves seamlessly appear. You might look at the note pyramid and wonder where the woods and amber are. Saffron this intense takes on a woodsy, ambery effect with an almost masculine tobacco-like tone. The spiciness of the cloves bolsters the warmth of the saffron. Bergamot and nutmeg brighten the composition with their citrusy notes and keep the saffron from going completely leathery, metallic, or dark. The rose is the classic deep and intense Taif rose so prized in Arab culture. Real Taif rose oil isn't very long-lasting on the skin so typically geranium is added to prolong it's presence. The famed Taif rose has tea-like notes but can have peppery or even sharply tannic edges. To Western noses the Taif rose can often be perceived as harsh and soapy. You might think the intensity of the saffron and the harshness of the rose would make the composition come off as acrid or astringent. It doesn't. Ragheeb perfectly emulates the uniquely warm, spicy, myrrh-like fragrance of certain old rose varieties. The bergamot, nutmeg, and rose are unfortunately first to go in this scent after about two hours. The drydown is gorgeously Autumnal as the saffron mellows to an almost honeyed amber and rich aromatic cloves remain for hours.

Photo from the Taif Rose festival in Saudi Arabia
That was it! When I lived in California in the 90's I began collecting David Austin's English roses in my garden. Not only for their gorgeous forms and color but I particularly loved the strength and complexity of their warm old rose fragrance with varying touches of myrrh, clove, musk, fruit, and tea. Somehow the saffron, bergamot, cloves, rose, geranium, and nutmeg in this attar captured that old rose scent perfectly. Mr Austin's pink and apricot colored rose cultivars were particularly known for their spicy, myrrh-like notes similar to the fragrance of Ragheeb.

'Constance Spry'
This was the grande dame that started it all. David Austin's first commercially available rose, 'Constance Spry.' Mr Austin's emphasis is on breeding roses with the character and fragrance of old roses such as gallicas, damasks and alba roses but with the repeat-flowering ability, disease resistance, and wide color range of modern roses such as hybrid teas. 'Constance Spry' was the incredible twelve foot climbing rose that graced the arched trellis over my front door in California. Richly myrrh scented she was supposed to only bloom once in Spring. I found that through rigorous deadheading she would keep blooming for about 3 months. Her spicy, warm, almost resinous old rose scent would grace my doorway along with her heavily cupped blooms. I had a collection of about 20 different David Austin roses interspersed with various lavenders, lavandins, yarrow, and a few Italian cypresses in that garden.


As you can see in the above photos Ragheeb comes in an opulent glass bottle with gold ornamentation and a scattering of sparkling white stones. (This is rather modest as Ajmal bottles go, some are like miniature fairy palaces or daring pieces of modern sculpture.) The bottle has some considerable heft as well as a delicate glass applicator. To use attars or fragrance oils like this you simply dab a few drops to the inside of each wrist. Then dab a little behind each ear with the inside of your wrists before it absorbs. You may also apply to the back of the knees so the fragrance envelops you. Attars and fragrance oils take a bit longer to develop on the skin than alcohol based perfumes. Wait at least an hour for the fragrance to develop before reapplying if necessary. I find Ragheeb lasts about six to eight hours with moderate sillage. Although I bought this bottle about ten years ago I believe this fragrance is still available for purchase as I've seen it on Russian websites. These Arab attars last for years and are not nearly as prone to degradation due to heat or light as alcohol based perfumes. As you can see in the above photo I probably have another ten years of use out of this bottle even though I wear it at least once weekly in the Fall and Winter. A little dab will definitely do with this type of fragrance.

I think I need a pink burqa like that.
And a hammam. Definitely a hammam.

Ragheeb makes me desirous of the late Summer days in northern California. The leaves were starting to fall, the grapes in the vineyards being harvested, the roses and other scented plants in my garden were at their most fragrant. I don't really miss California except for the gorgeous weather. The foggy days of Autumn would soon start and the holiday season would begin with all the festivals, food, and fun. Ragheeb is the last bloom of my old rose collection in the Fall before being tidied up and tucked in with a blanket of mulch for the coming Winter.

Do you have any favorite fragrances that remind you of certain times of the year?

Oct 13, 2016

Ingredients: Black Pepper, Kali Mirch, Gol Mirch, Gulki, Marts, Marich


Often called the "king of spices," black pepper is has a long history of use as a spice, a preservative, and even as currency. The history of black pepper is the history of the spice trade. By far the most widely seasoning in the world, black pepper adds it's pungent and aromatic warmth to dishes in nearly every cuisine. Originating in India's southern coastal region of Malabar, black pepper has been making it's way westward for over 2,000 years. 


The word pepper is derived from the Sanskrit word for long pepper, pippali. The ancient Greeks and Latin speakers turned pippali into the Greek word peperi and the Latin word piper. The Romans referred both to black pepper and long pepper as piper, as they erroneously believed that both of these spices were derived from the same plant. The names of pepper in almost all Euro­pean lan­guages are derived from the Latin root piper.  Ex­amples include Old English pipor which has evolved to pepper in modern English, Czech pepř, French poivre, German Pfeffer, Finnish pippuri, Ukrainian perets, and Yiddish fefer. In South Asia, the word for black pepper is derived from the Sanskrit root marichan. The modern Hindi word mirch meaning chili or pepper comes from this root. In Urdu and Hindi black pepper is called kali mirch (literally black pepper) or gol mirch (literally round pepper). In Kashmiri black pepper is called marts and in Nepali it is called marich staying closer to the Sanskrit root.

A black pepper farm in a forest in Southern India.
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a tropical, perennial vine in the family Piperaceae. Climbing with aerial roots the vine can grow to over thirty feet high. At maturity the vine sports glossy, green heart shaped alternate leaves. The leaves have a sweetly aromatic flavor and are edible also. In India and some parts of Southeast Asia the leaves are used to wrap betel nuts, making the slightly narcotic mouth freshener called paan. Black pepper vines need a a warm, wet, tropical climate and a well drained loamy soil rich in minerals and organic matter. Vines can yield for up to forty years. The plants are propagated by cuttings which are rooted and tied to rough barked trees or trellises.

Black pepper vines growing up brick trellises at a pepper plantation in Viet Nam.
In late spring, the vine produces pendulous spikes of tiny white flowers which develop into clusters of 50 to 100 small green berries. As the berries ripen they turn yellow and eventually become a rosy red. A single stem will bear 20 to 30 fruiting spikes.


Black pepper is produced from the berries of the pepper vine when they have grown to full size but still remain green. Since clusters mature at different times, harvesting from can take place over several months. 

The green berries are dried in the sun or by machine for several days. Traditionally, they are separated by hand and laid out on woven mats to dry in the hot sun. Some commercial growers speed the process up by dipping the berries in hot water and using a kiln to dry them. During the drying process an enzyme in the outer shell of the peppercorn is activated. This enzyme causes oxidation in the outer shell turning it black and creating a volatile oil containing piperine and oleoresins. The volatile oil is what gives black peppercorns their characteristic heat, pungency, and robust complexity of flavor. 


All black pepper is not the same. There's no shortage of places to get your black pepper from in modern times. Being the world's most popular spice it is grown all across the narrow, 15-degree band around the equator called the spice regions. There are over 75 cultivars of black pepper in India alone. As of 2013, Vietnam is the world's largest producer and exporter of pepper producing 34% of the world's black pepper crop. Varieties from Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Ecuador and Brazil are available also. As with wine grapes or other fruits and vegetables, the terroir or sun, rainfall, and minerals in the soil of the region where the black pepper is grown affects the flavor and aroma of black pepper.
Black peppercorns from the South Indian city of Tellicherry (now knoown as Thalassery) are considered the finest quality in the world. What makes the flavor of Tellicherry peppercorns so superior? Their bright freshness is described as being reminiscent of citrus, pine, or fruit is perfectly balanced with a sweet heat. This gives peppercorns from Tellicherry a superior complexity in aroma and flavor than rivals from other regions. The lack of the bitterness or earthiness found in other black pepper varieties also distinguishes Tellicherry peppercorns.


Black peppercorns are best bought whole. Black pepper begins to lose flavor as soon as it is ground. The volatile oils responsible for black peppers' complex blend of heat and pungency soon dissipate after grinding. For peak flavor grind pepper only as you need it. A peppermill or a mortar and pestle make grinding fresh black pepper a simple task. Whole black peppercorns will keep their flavor almost indefinitely if stored away from sunlight and heat. Good quality black peppercorns should also be uniform in size and dark in color.


While a shaker full of black pepper is a common sight on Western dining tables in most South Asian cuisines black pepper plays no special role. With a few exceptions black pepper is simply another member of the vast pantheon of spices the Subcontinent enjoys. Black pepper is a common minor ingredient the spice mixes of garam masala, South Indian sambar podi, and Anglo-Indian curry powders. You may occasionally see mangos and watermelon eaten with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper to intensify their flavor in India. You might even see lassi, a cold yogurt drink, made with black pepper. In the Winter an extra dash of black pepper may accompany fresh ginger in masala chai as it is considered warming to the body. Only in Rajasthani, Sri Lankan, and Chettinad cuisines is black pepper used as the main spice rather than an accent in dishes. Personally, I put a bit of black pepper into every savory dish as well as my wintertime cuppa chai!

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