Showing posts with label condiment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label condiment. Show all posts

May 21, 2018

Ingredients: Sesame Seeds, Til, Tal, Tillu, Teel, Gingelly, Gingili, Gingilli, Semsem, Simsim


Sesame seeds are believed to be the world's oldest condiment, and one of the first recorded plants used for its seeds. For thousands of years, sesame seeds have been an integral part of the cuisines of northern Africa, the Middle East, and across Asia. Even today, sesame seeds are used worldwide for  nutritional, medicinal, and industrial purposes.



Archaeological findings suggest sesame was first domesticated in the Indian subcontinent around 5,500 years ago. Sesame was cultivated during the Indus valley civilization where it was the main oil crop. Sesame oil was probably exported to Mesopotamia as early as 2500 BC. The genus Sesamum has many species, most are wild and found in northern Africa. Sesamum indicum is the cultivated variety that originated in India. Sesame seeds are such a part of India's history that they are revered by Hindus as droplets of Lord Vishnu's sweat.  The domestication of sesame was favored by its ability to grow in areas that do not support the growth of other crops. It is a robust crop that needs little tending. The sesame plant will tolerate high heat and drought conditions or excessive rain and moisture. Its hardy nature allows subsistence farmers to plant it along the edge of deserts and other marginally arable areas where no other crops will grow.

Scheherazade probably saying "Open al-juljulan!" not "Open sesame!"
The etymology of the words used for sesame seeds is just as ancient and interesting as the plant.  In India, where sesame has been cultivated since the Harappan period, the words for sesame derive from the Sanskrit root tila (तिल.) Therefore you hear sesame called til in Nepali, Punjabi, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu. In Gujurati sesame is called tal and in Telegu tillu. The English word sesame is derived from the Greek sesamon which appears to be a borrowed word from ancient Akkadia. European words for sesame like ajonjolí in Spanish, gergelim in Portuguese, ġulġlien in Maltese, and the now archaic English word gingelly are derived from the Arabic al-juljulan (الجلجلان). In the American South, you will hear sesame seeds referred to as benniseed or benne seeds. This is because benne is the word for sesame seeds in the Bantu dialect of the West African slaves brought to the United States.

Flowering sesame plant
Sesame plants are actually quite beautiful. They have attractive dark-green leaves and tubular flowers similar to foxgloves that can be white or pale pink. Mature plants can grow 3 to 6 feet tall depending on the variety. The seeds are collected from the dried seed pods at the end of the growing season.

Immature sesame pods
Seeds are ready for harvest when the pods turn brown and begin to crack open slightly. The seed pods at the bottom of the plant will often be ready to harvest while the flowers toward the top of the plant are still in bloom, necessitating multiple harvests toward the end of the growing season.

Dry, ripened, & dehisced sesame pods
The sesame pod or capsule only explodes open when the seeds are completely ripe in a process called dehiscence. Dehiscence time tends to vary, so farmers cut plants by hand and place them together in an upright position to continue ripening until all the pods have opened. The dried stalks can also be used as cooking fuel. I have read that before World War I about 30% of American households used sesame oil as their primary vegetable oil for cooking. Unfortunately, the intense manual labor required to harvest sesame seeds became its downfall in most western countries. Today, the American fast-food chain McDonald buys 75% of Mexico's sesame seed crop to top it's hamburger buns.

Bundles of sesame plants cut by hand to dry, note the pods still on the dry plants.
Since sesame has such tiny, flat, and compact seeds, it is difficult to dry after harvest. The small size and shape of the seed makes the movement of air around the seed difficult. The seeds need to be harvested when as dry as possible and stored at 6% moisture or less. If the seed is too moist, fermentation and rot can begin.

Unhulled sesame seeds on the left and hulled sesame seeds on the right
After harvesting, the sesame seeds are normally cleaned and hulled. Hulling the seeds makes them less prone to going rancid and results in a less bitter flavor profile. In some countries, they are passed through an electronic sorting machine that rejects any discolored seeds to ensure perfect color. This is done because sesame seeds with consistent appearance are perceived as better quality, and sell for a higher price. Immature, discolored or off-sized seeds are removed and used for sesame oil production.


Sesame seeds occur in many colors depending on the cultivar. The most preferred variety of sesame is an off-white color. Other common colours are buff, tan, gold, brown, reddish, gray, and black. The color is the same for the hull and the fruit.

Sesamol- natural antioxidant found in sesame oil
Sesame seeds are composed of 5% water, 23% carbohydrates, 12% dietary fiber, 50% to 60% fat, and 15% to 18% protein. Whole sesame seeds are also rich in several B vitamins, vitamin K, iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc. Sesame oil has significant resistance against oxidation as a result of containing endogenous antioxidants including lignins and tocopherols. This combination of powerful natural antioxidants and lack of triple unsaturated fats give sesame oil a long shelf life. The byproduct or sesame seed meal that remains after oil extraction is so rich in protein (35-50%) that it can be used as feed for livestock.

Sesame & peanut chikki

Sesame seeds and oil are used extensively in India. Currently, India remains the world's second largest producer of sesame oil and seeds. Nearly every region of India has a unique sweet made of sesame seeds mixed with melted sugar. The candies are made into balls, bars, or clusters and have a delightful crunch similar to peanut brittle. Chikki is a popular treat all over India made of melted jaggery and various nuts and seeds or puffed rice as a flat bar. Sesame chikki is called til ki chikki in Hindi. In Assam, black sesame seeds are used to make ball-shaped  treats called til pitha and tilor laru during the festival of bihu. In northern and southern India sweet sesame balls called pindi in Urdu, ell urundai in Tamil, ellunda in Malayalam are eaten during the festival of Makar Sankranti and at weddings.

South Indian dry chutney called podi

In the cuisines of the southern Indian regions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala sesame oil and seeds are used extensively. A powdered chutney called podi made of ground sesame seeds, urad dal, chickpea, dry chilis is often served as a condiment with idli and dosa. After serving the podi is mixed with a little sesame oil to make a paste to be used as a dipping sauce. I've also seen sesame seeds dry roasted and ground to make gravy for curries in South India.

Traditional sweet Nepali dumpling called yomari

Nepalis use sesame seeds in a variety of savory vegetable chutneys, potato dishes, sweet laddoos, and a sweet dumpling called yomari. As with most Nepali sweets, yomari are only made and eaten for special holidays such as Purnima or Yomari Punhi. The steamed dumpling is made out of rice flour dough shaped like a fish and filled with a mixture of sesame seeds and chaku. (Chaku is jaggery or raw sugar that's been cooked down to an almost molasses-like dark caramel. ) The rich and sugary filling of yomari is quite the delicious contrast to the tender rice dough shell. I've only seen Nepalis using sesame oil for shallow or deep frying traditional sweets and samosas. They like to use sesame oil diluted in a ratio of 1:3 with a flavorless oil like sunflower seed or soy oil just like the Japanese do for frying tempura.


For culinary use, sesame oil is available in light and dark versions. The pale yellow or golden oil is pressed from raw sesame seeds resulting in a high smoke point and is thus suitable for use as a frying oil. Light sesame oil has a mild, nutty flavor. The dark amber or brown oil is pressed from sesame seeds that have been roasted and has a rich, aromatic flavor. Dark sesame oil also has a  lower smoke point and is unsuitable for deep-frying, it can be used for stir-frying of meats and vegetables or to cook omelets. East Asian cuisines often use roasted sesame oil for seasoning or as a condiment.

I just went and bought a kilo bag of sesame seeds for about $2 USD. I'm all jazzed to try my hand at making all sorts of sesame treats for Iftar this Ramadan from tahini to laddoos! How about you?


Ramadan Mubarak!

Aug 28, 2017

Bibi's Tomato and Bell Pepper Chutney

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Get some tasty vegetables into your diet with this South Indian inspired bell pepper and tomato chutney! A savory vegan recipe that's so easy to make and a great way to enjoy Summer's bountiful produce. Pairs well with any rice or roti based meal and makes a great tortilla chip dip!

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We're still enjoying tomatoes from our garden here in Nepal. Vegetables usually get expensive during the Monsoon season so I planted tomatoes, chili peppers, bell peppers, and eggplant in the sheltered areas of our yard. Above you see a day's harvest from our sixteen tomato plants, about a kilogram or two full pounds. You must pick tomatoes when they're not quite ripe here as they'll ripen and rot quickly in the heat and humidity of the Monsoon weather.

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Here's about a day's harvest of bell peppers from our six bell pepper plants. Bell peppers are called capsicums or Shimla mirch in India and Nepal. What to do with all this vegetable largesse? Well, I made this recipe up! There aren't a lot of Indian or Nepali recipes for bell peppers aside from jalfrezi or tossing them into a veg omelet so I thought I'd try putting them into a South Indian inspired cooked chutney. And it worked beautifully! Now most South Indian chutneys require you to fry the vegetables first, cool them, grind them, and then fry the ground mixture again with spices. This double frying of vegetables goes on in a lot of Indian recipes. I'm not a fat-o-phobe nor a grease-o-phobe. But sometimes I think the goal of these Indian techniques is to get every pot in the kitchen dirty or to get as much grease flying around as possible! I thought about steaming the vegetables first but that's yet more gadgetry to clean. Recently, I suffered through watched a Jamie Oliver show where he made a tomato chutney by simmering the vegetables with a little water first and then frying the resulting mixture.

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 SHABASH! (wonderful!) So I just combined the vegetables with a little water and spices in a pot and let them simmer until tender on the back burner while I cooked the rest of the day's meal. Then I let the mixture cool, ground it in the mixie, and then fried it to gorgeous glossiness. The result was fantastic! You probably do use a few less tablespoons of oil too. The spices I used were Kashmiri mirch, turmeric, cumin seeds, and black mustard seeds. Kashmiri mirch gives this condiment a rich red chili flavor with just a hint of heat. If you'd like more heat try using cayenne powder/degi mirch. If you'd like less heat try a mild and smoky paprika powder. Cumin seeds add their earthy warmth also. Turmeric is in there for it's bright color and antioxidants. Black mustard seeds add a bit of nutty flavor and are traditionally used in many South Indian cooked chutneys. If you wanted to make this even more South Indian you could fry some fresh curry leaves in the oil with the mustard seeds. Anyway you choose to spice it this recipe cooks up to a delicious, flavorful, fresh, and healthy chutney!

Ingredients:
7 medium sized tomatoes, roughly chopped
8 cloves of garlic/lahsun or 2&1/2 TBS garlic paste
1 large bell pepper/capsicum, roughly chopped
1 tsp Kashmiri mirch (or 1/2 tsp cayenne plus 1/2 tsp paprika)
1 tsp cumin seeds/jeera
1/2 tsp turmeric/haldi
3/4 C water
2 TBS cooking oil of choice
1 tsp black mustard seeds/rai
salt to taste

Here's what to do:
1) Combine tomatoes, garlic, bell pepper, Kashmiri mirch, cumin seeds, turmeric, 1/2 C water and 1 tsp salt in a deep pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes.

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2) Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool for about 15 to 20 minutes.

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3) Transfer the contents of the pan to a mixie or blender and grind the mixture to a paste.

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bell pepper and tomato chutney, recipe, south indian, capsicum, tomato, fried, garlic, spicy, easy, chutney, condiment, vegan, vegetarian, indian, simple,

4) Heat the cooking oil in the same pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, add ground tomato mixture. (Be careful when adding the tomato mixture to the hot oil as it may splatter.)

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5) Fry mixture over low/medium heat for 15–20 minutes until it becomes a thick paste and separates from the oil. Salt to taste and allow chutney to cool a little before serving. This chutney will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days

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Helpful hints:
Kashmiri mirch gives this condiment a rich red chili flavor with just a hint of heat. If you'd like more heat try using cayenne powder/degi mirch. If you'd like less heat try a smoky paprika powder.

If you wanted to make this even more South Indian you could fry some fresh curry leaves in the oil with the mustard seeds.

Jun 12, 2017

Cucumber and Mint Raita

cucumber and mint raita, recipe, vegetarian, easy, cucumber, mint, cumin, yoghurt, chili, raita, cool, dip, condiment, salad,

Try this cool and refreshing Cucumber and Mint Raita recipe paired with any spicy meal. Traditionally, this dish is served in warm weather months in India alongside fiery curries and kebabs for it's cooling properties. Yogurt, mint, and cucumber really beat the heat in this famed Indian condiment! 

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This is about as close as you'll get to a western-style salad in our Kashmiri home. Grated cucumbers and an onion dressed in spiced yogurt. It is amazingly simple and amazingly tasty! It's also great way to use up all those amazingly prolific cucumbers and fresh mint from a summer garden. We enjoy this yummy treat every year when the weather warms and cucumbers abound. The local variety of cucumber you see in the above photo is not quite as firm fleshed as the fancy English cucumbers you'll see in the western countries. They're a bit more pulpy and can grow to an astonishing two feet in length. Plant one vine and you're supplied with fresh cucumbers for the season around here. Choose a thick and tangy yogurt like the Greek-style ones in western markets for the most authenticity in this recipe. I prefer this dish with dried mint and whole cumin seeds but it can be made with fresh mint and ground cumin for a slightly different flavor. Some folks insist on dry roasting the cumin seeds to mellow their peppery warmth but I don't. If you can't handle the heat of green chilis - leave them out. As with most Desi dishes there's enough flavor going on here that you really won't miss them. Be sure to make this dish at least 2 hours in advance of serving to allow the flavors to meld. Always serve a raita chilled too. A fabulous paired with spicy curries, fiery kebabs, or as a cooling dip for peppery pappadums. Enjoy:

Ingredients:
1&1/2 C grated cucumber, (be sure to peel and deseed cucumber before grating)
1/3 C grated onion
1 C yogurt, beaten until smooth
2 TBS fresh mint/pudina chopped finely or 1 TBS dried mint
1-2 green chilis/hari mirch, minced finely (omit for less heat)
1 tsp ground cumin/jeera or 1&1/2 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
salt to taste
Optional for garnish: 1/4 tsp Kashmiri mirch or paprika

Here's what to do:
1) Whisk together yogurt, mint, cumin, green chilis, and 1 teaspoon salt.

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2) Add grated cucumber and onion and toss until well mixed. Salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Serve chilled and garnish with a pinch of Kashmiri mirch or paprika before serving if desired. Can be prepared up to one day in advance.

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May the Spirit of Ramadan stay in our hearts and illuminate our souls. 
Happy Ramadan!

Bibi

Mar 8, 2017

Kashmiri Onion Chutney (Ganduh Chetin)

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In Kashmiri, ganda means onion and chetin means chutney. This authentic recipe is a savory relish that often accompanies meals and street foods like kebabs in Kashmir. A simple pickling process and marination with traditional herbs and spices brings out the piquant and zesty flavors typical of Kashmiri cuisine.

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This is a favorite chutney or chetin that regularly graces our family dinner table. It's so easy to make and we most always have all the ingredients necessary on hand. We usually enjoy it as a condiment alongside our rice based lunches and dinners. Be forewarned, this chutney is quite fiery and a bit tart so it is definitely not for the timid of palate!

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The red chili powder or Kashmiri mirch, dried mint, and shahi jeera or black cumin are all hallmark flavors of Kashmiri cuisine. The locally grown and brilliant red Kashmiri mirch chili powder is what gives this condiment its color and rich flavor. If you don't have Kashmiri mirch a mix of half paprika and half cayenne powder makes a good substitute. Dried mint is very much a signature taste in Kashmiri dishes but fresh mint is often used in a lesser amount when available. Shahi jeera or black cumin is a spice native to Kashmir with a uniquely herbaceous and mild cumin-like flavor. A reasonable substitute for shahi jeera or black cumin is a lesser amount of regular cumin. Anyway you choose to make this recipe, if you love hot and spicy foods you'll love this!

Ingredients:
2 C onions, thinly sliced into half moons
2 tsp salt
3 TBS vinegar or lime/nimbu juice
2 tsp Kashmiri mirch (or 1 tsp paprika plus 1 tsp cayenne powder)
2-3 green chilis/hari mirch, chopped finely
1 TBS cilantro/dhania or fresh mint/pudina leaves, chopped finely (or  2 tsp dry mint/pudina)
1 tsp black cumin/shahi jeera (or 1/4 tsp cumin/jeera)

Here's what to do:
1) Mix together sliced onions with 2 teaspoons salt and place in sieve or colander over plate. Allow mixture to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Some liquid may or may not come out of the onions.

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2) After 20 minutes transfer salted onions to a plastic, glass, or stainless steel container that can be sealed airtight. Mix salted onions with vinegar or lime juice, Kashmiri mirch, chopped green chilis, chopped cilantro, dry mint, and shahi jeera.

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3) Seal container with mixture airtight and place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. Stir well before serving as a condiment alongside savory dishes. Makes a great sandwich or salad topping as well as a relish with kebabs. Keeps for about 3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Helpful hints:
If the chutney is just way more heat than you can handle try adding a couple of tablespoons of yogurt to it to cool it off.
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