Showing posts with label elaichi. spice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label elaichi. spice. Show all posts

May 4, 2016

Tips & Tools: Why I Do Not Dry Roast My Spices

I'm probably going to draw brickbats but I'm going to say it anyway: 

 Dry roasting spices is unnecessary. *
Unnecessary. Tedious. Superfluous. Yet another dirty pan in Bibi's tiny kitchen.
 Yes I know, Bibi's ever the maverick.  I've found another kindred spirit via the internet who also questions dry roasting spices on her blog Azelia's Kitchen here.

When I first started cooking Desi dishes years ago I noticed some recipes would dry roast the spices before cooking and some would just add the raw spices to the pan and fry them with the dish. I wondered what the point of dry roasting spices was if you were just going to fry them in oil and then cook them even further until dish is finished. That's a lot of cooking for rather delicate spices whose flavors primarily come from heat sensitive volatile oils. I have several cookbooks featuring both recipes that dry roast the spices and use raw spices. They'll often say dry roasting enhances the flavor of spices in one recipe but give no reason why the masala is left raw in another recipe.

The only reasoning I could find behind dry roasting spices in Desi dishes was in Anjum Anand's brilliantly written Indian Every Day cookbook.  
In her book Ms. Anjum states, 
"Spices are roasted for two reasons; first to facilitate the grinding of potentially soggy seeds (India can be very damp) and secondly to change the basic flavour… during the monsoons in India, the damp gets into everything and the seeds would need a light roasting to crisp them up enough to grind them but not to change the flavour."
So dry roasting spices makes grinding them to powder easier in the humid weather of the Indian Subcontinent. That makes sense especially if you are grinding spices the old fashioned way with a mortar and pestle or sil-batta. It would seem Ms Anjum is waffling a bit on whether it's to change the flavor or not though.

For a more scientific explanation of what goes on when spices are dry roasted or heated in any way  let's take a look at page in the famed food science writer Harold McGee's famed tome  On Food and Cooking. 
Mr. McGee writes,
"Once the aroma molecules in herbs and spices are released into a preparation and exposed to other ingredients, the air, and heat, they begin to undergo a host of chemical reactions. Some fraction of the original aroma chemicals becomes altered into a variety  of other chemicals, so the initially strong, characteristic notes become more subdued, and the general complexity of the mixture increases… When cumin or coriander are toasted on their own,  for example, their sugars and amino acids undergo browning reactions and generate savory aroma molecules typical of roasted and toasted foods (pyrazines), thus developing a new layer of flavor that complements the original raw aroma." 
"The toasting on a hot pan of whole dry spices, typically mustard, cumin or fenugreek, for a minute or two until the seeds begin to pop, the point at which their inner moisture has vaporized and they are just beginning to brown.  Spices cooked in this way are mellowed, but individually; they retain their own identities."
So heating spices mellows and subdues them but can also lend complexity to a mixture. Desi dishes are definitely known for their complexity of flavor, that's true. This still left me wondering if spices really need to be dry roasted if they're also going to be fried, and pressure cooked or simmered in order to bring out their layers of complexity. Seems like that's overdoing it a bit to to me.

Most of the modern Indian cookbooks I've tried have been rather disappointing due to the lack of flavor in the resulting dishes. Most of the modern recipes utilized dry roasting spices first then frying and further cooking them after. After watching my Kashmiri family cook and noticing how different what they did was from what the modern cookbooks advised I started perusing informal "homely" Desi recipe exchange forums online.

I noticed two trends in the older traditional recipes that had the bold flavors I love:

If the masala was dry roasted it was added towards the end of the cooking of the dish.

If the masala was used raw it was fried early on in the cooking of the dish.

I can only conclude that dry roasting all spices regardless of cooking technique was as Azelia puts it "a modern mantra" with not a lot of thought behind it.

So does dry roasting spices prior to cooking really enhance their flavor?
I'd say it makes them different, and not necessarily in a good way. When you're cooking you just have to make the choice as to whether you prefer a more mellow and subdued flavor in your dish. Also keep in mind all the cooking those spices will endure after the initial dry roasting, and whether there's yogurt or coconut in your dish whose fat will dilute the spices' flavor too.

My reasons for not dry roasting spices:

All those gorgeous aromas filling your kitchen as you dry roast the spices is actually flavor lost. You're filling the air with fragrant volatile molecules that could be flavoring your food.

When you degrade those volatile aroma chemicals by heating them you are shortening the spices' shelf life. Spices are far more prone to going rancid or losing flavor after being heated.

Why bother going through the hassle of dry roasting spices if you're going to fry, simmer, or pressure cook them anyway? All that heat in cooking is enough to mellow, subdue, and bring out all the spices' complexities.

*There are only 2 exceptions I'd make in dry roasting:

Coconut meat, there's only one way to get toasted coconut flavor and that's by dry roasting. If toasted coconut's the flavor you're after then dry roasting's the only way to go.

If you're going to add spices to a dish after cooking or to a dish that won't be cooked. There is a practice in some regions and households of stirring a small amount of garam masala into a dish to season it just before serving. Because the garam masala used in this technique doesn't undergo any cooking you must dry roast it previously. I've also seen a lot of South Indian recipes that dry roast the spices and add them to a dish at a late stage in cooking. I don't really think either of these techniques result in enhanced flavor so I don't use them.  I do dry roast cumin to add to raw chutneys also.

Mar 3, 2016

Kashmiri Ghanduh Maaz (Mutton with Onions)

mutton curry lamb onions kashmiri indian Kashmiri Indian easy recipe

In Kashmiri "ghanduh" means onion and "maaz" means mutton. This hearty homestyle dish is commonly served in Kashmir and has a rich, spicy broth much like a stew. So easy to make for a delicious Fall or Winter meal, serve with steamed rice, pulao, rotis, or a simple loaf of crusty bread. This recipe also works well with lamb or beef stew meat.

Mutton is a daily staple in a Kashmiri household, chicken and fish are almost considered vegetables. You have not properly eaten in Kashmir unless your meal contains some form of mutton. It is considered the utmost in Kashmiri hospitality to serve a guest as much mutton as possible. (Even if they are vegetarian.) This recipe also works well with lamb or beef stew meat.

1 kg/2lbs mutton/goat or lamb, cut into 3 inch pieces, bone in preferred
3 TBS cooking oil, (mustard oil if you wish to be authentic)
2 tsp salt
2 C onions, sliced into wedges
1/2 C tomatoes/tamatar, diced finely
1 TBS garlic/lahsun paste
1 TBS ginger/adrak paste
1 TBS coriander/dhania, ground
2 tsp Kashmiri mirch (or 1 tsp paprika plus 1 tsp cayenne)
1/2 tsp dry ginger/adrak
1/4 tsp turmeric/haldi
5 cloves/laung
7 green cardamoms/elaichi, bruised with mortar & pestle
2 inch piece cassia bark/dalchini
1&1/2 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
15 black peppercorns/kali mirch, coarsely ground
1 cassia leaf/tej patta or 2 small ones

Here's what to do:
1) In a pressure cooker or deep, heavy bottomed skillet or stock pot heat oil with 2 tsp salt for 5 minutes. Add mutton pieces and fry until beginning to brown. Depending on how fresh your mutton is, or whether you're using lamb or beef, this may take 10 to 15 minutes.

This is the brown we're looking for.
The Kashmiris call this "red."
2) Add onions and tomatoes. Stir well and continue cooking until onions are translucent and tomatoes have softened, about 5-7 minutes. (This is not a browned onion dish.)

3) Add 1/2 C water, garlic paste, ginger paste, whole spices, powdered spices, and cassia leaves/tej patta. Stir well and simmer for 5 minutes.

4) Add 3 cups water or at least enough so there is water covering the meat mixture if using pressure cooker. Seal up pressure cooker & continue cooking for 5-6 whistles or until meat is to desired tenderness. If using deep skillet or stock pot add enough water so that meat mixture is covered by at least 3 inches. Simmer without lid until meat is of desired tenderness, adding water if necessary. Salt to taste and serve.

Helpful Hints:
If you are married to a Kashmiri do not ever be a dumb "nabrim" (outsider) and serve your Kashmiri in laws chicken or fish without at least one mutton dish at a meal. I'm still not hearing the end of it. Who knew?

Mutton? NAH!!!

Feb 21, 2016

Tamatar Wangan (Kashmiri Tomatoes With Eggplant)

indian mughal tamatar aubergines spicy

From the vale of Kashmir comes this delectable combination of warmly spiced tomatoes and eggplant. Tamatar means tomato in Hindi and wangan means eggplant in Kashmiri.  In this dish tomatoes are slowly infused with the aromatic flavors of cardamom, cassia, cloves, cumin and a fiery burst of crimson Kashmiri chili. The eggplant is sauteed until tender yet delicately crisp. Both are combined in the final step of this dish to create a brilliant fusion of flavors and textures.

This dish is intensive to make even with the time saving advantage of the pressure cooker. I do promise you it is worth it though. The flavor of the tomato sauce is like nothing I've ever tasted before. It's a bit Middle Eastern in feel but still Indian, very different but very delicious. It's also vegan, dairy free, veg, gluten free, and ticks all the right boxes for the "clean eating" that's so fashionable these days.

7-8 long skinny eggplants/wangan, sliced into quarters with caps & stems attached
1 C cooking oil, (mustard oil if you wish to be authentic)
1 tsp salt
For tomato sauce:
1/2kg/1lb of the ripest, reddest tomatoes you can find, chopped roughly
5 cloves garlic/lahsun, peeled and chopped roughly
1 TBS onion, diced finely
2 inch piece of cassia bark/dalchini
5 cloves/laung
2 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
4 brown cardamoms/kali elaichi, bruised with mortar and pestle
5 green cardamoms/elaichi
2 tsp Kashmiri mirch (or 1 tsp paprika plus 1 tsp cayenne powder)
1/4 tsp turmeric/haldi
3 TBS mint/pudina leaves, chopped roughly (optional)
1/4 C cooking oil (mustard oil if you want to be authentic)
2 tsp salt

Here's what to do:
1) Place all ingredients listed for tomato sauce into pressure cooker. Seal pressure cooker and allow to cook for 10 minutes. 

2) While tomato sauce is cooking we'll going to shallow fry the eggplant. Heat 1 C cooking oil and 1 tsp salt in a deep heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai for 9 to 10 minutes or almost smoking. Slice eggplants lengthwise into quarters leaving the stems and caps attached.

The eggplant MUST be sliced this way or "It will not be tasty'" says my Kashmiri family. I had never seen eggplant cut this way before.

3) When oil is hot fry sliced eggplant until evenly golden brown on the outside and just tender inside. This usually takes about 2 to 3 minutes on each side of the eggplant, use tongs to grasp eggplants by the stem to flip them over. Set eggplants aside to cool.

4) Back to the tomato sauce: remove lid from pressure cooker when cooled, the mixture inside will be a bit soupy. Place pressure cooker over low heat and bring mixture to simmer. Stir mixture frequently and mash tomatoes with the back a large wooden spoon to help the tomatoes, onion, and garlic break down to a smooth paste. Allow mixture to simmer until reduced to a deep red sauce that pulls away from the sides of the pot and oil separates out.  This usually takes about 10 to 20 minutes. 

This is Bibi's big ol' hand carved Kashmiri willow wood spoon. Great for mashing tomatoes & dals while cooking. Also works a treat for disciplining smart mouthed teenagers, disobedient husbands, & troublesome in laws.

5) Salt the tomato sauce to taste and combine with fried eggplant. Stir well to combine and allow to warm through over low heat for 3 minutes. Serve with rice or pulao. Any leftover sauce can be served at room temperature as a chutney.
The oil has separated from the sauce and the tomatoes and spices are rendered to a smooth paste.

Helpful Hints:
If you wish to do this without a pressure cooker then place just the tomatoes, salt and oil in a deep, heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai. Fry tomatoes over low heat for about 10 minutes, then add garlic, spices, and onion and fry over low heat for another 10 to 15 minutes. Stir frequently and mash tomatoes with the back of a large wooden spoon. If mixture begins to scorch or stick add 1/4 C water and reduce heat. Keep frying over low heat for about another hour until oil separates out and mixture has been reduced to a deep red paste that pulls away from the pan.  Salt the tomato sauce to taste and combine with eggplants that have been sliced and fried as in steps 2 and 3, then warm dish through over low heat for 3 minutes. Your dish is ready to serve.

In Kashmiri this dish would be called "ruhwangan wangan," because "ruhwangan" means tomato in Kashmiri. That just sounded too silly so I named it "tamatar wangan."

Feb 19, 2016

Nepali Rahar Dal (Curried Pigeon Peas)

The national dish of Nepal is Dal Bhat and consists of a huge serving of steamed white rice (bhat) and a healthy helping of cooked lentils (dal). A common greeting in Nepal is "Bhat-kyo?" which literally means "Have you eaten rice today?" There are many different dals that can be prepared in several different ways. This is a simple and tasty recipe for dal made with split pigeon peas which are called rahar in Nepali, but are called toor or toovar dal in India.

Nepali Rahar Dal curried pigeon peas easy vegetarian lentil recipe

This recipe is so easy to make and is a family favorite in our house. Traditionally, Nepalis would serve this with rice, a serving of tarkaari (vegetables), a chutney or two, and perhaps some acchaari (pickles). This dish also makes for a delicious Autumn meal when served as a soup with a crusty slice of buttered bread in Western fashion also.

1&1/2 C split pigeon peas/toor dal/rahar dal
3 TBS ghee or cooking oil
1/2 C onion, diced finely
2 tsp ginger/adrak paste
2 tsp garlic/lahsun paste
2 green chilis/hari mirch, chopped finely (omit for less heat)
1 cassia leaf/tej patta
1&1/2 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
3 cloves/laung
1 inch piece cassia bark/dalchini (or cinnamon stick)
1/2 tsp turmeric/haldi
2 tsp salt
6-8 C water
1 TBS lime juice (optional)

Here's what to do:
1) Heat ghee or cooking oil over medium heat in a large stock pot or pressure cooker. Fry onions until  just beginning to brown. Add ginger, garlic, and green chilis and fry for 3-4 minutes or until raw smell has left garlic. Add cassia leaf, cumin seeds, cloves, and cassia bark and fry for 2 minutes.

All the spices are tempered.
2) Add turmeric, salt, and pigeon peas to pot. If using pressure cooker add enough water so that dal is covered by at least 2 inches, seal and allow to steam for 4-5 whistles. Remove pressure cooker from heat and allow to cool. (If cooking on burner with stock pot add enough water so that dal mixture is covered by 4 inches and bring to a boil over medium heat. Allow to simmer until dal is are tender, usually about one and a half hours. Stir frequently and add more water if necessary.) When dal is to preferred consistency stir in lime juice, salt to taste and serve.

Add turmeric, salt, pigeon peas and a lot of water.
Helpful Hints:
I would really recommend cooking this in a pressure cooker or crock pot/slow cooker as it takes such a long time to cook on top of the stove.

Our neighbor Ganga says "Ramro!" which means "Excellent!" in Nepali.

Dec 14, 2015

Ingredients: Kali Elaichi, Black or Brown Cardamom

This is the spice commonly referred to as black or brown cardamom. It is a seed pod with an intense, smoky, resinous, and almost anti-septic camphor-like flavor. Both the seeds and pods are traditionally used to flavor hearty, savory dishes of certain regional cuisines of India and Pakistan. It is often used in garam masala mixes. The spice is called badi elaichi or kali elaichi in Hindi and Urdu.

Amomum subulatum (also known as Nepal cardamom). 
The black or brown cardamom plant is a member of the ginger family like it's close relative the green cardamom.  It has rather inconspicuous blossoms and the seed pods form at the base. The seed pods are dried and supposedly smoked before being sold for consumption. Black cardamom is unusual in that the flavor actually improves with age. The harsh camphor flavor mellows to smooth smoky notes over time.

Look closely at the base of the plant to see its creamy yellow flowers.
Black and brown cardamoms are primarily grown in Nepal. I have been told the seed pods are picked when unripe and traditionally dried over an open flame in large iron pans intensifyin their smoky flavor. I've never actually seen this done. I've only seen the red, unripened pods lying on nanglo (Nepali basket trays) drying in the sun. Nepalis often chew the seeds of black/brown cardamoms to freshen the breath, calm an upset stomach, or after dinner as a palate cleanser.

I had never seen, heard of, nor tasted black/brown cardamom before moving to the Subcontinent. I would reckon most westerners are not familiar with this spice either. Black/brown cardamom has the same sort of camphor/citrus notes as green cardamom but has a smokiness that's almost like bacon. So if your vegan friends miss that bacon-y smokiness in their beans or pea soup you can use black/brown cardamom!

The perfume by i Profumo di Firenze called "Ambra di Nepal" is said to have notes of amber, vanilla, and cardamom. I wonder if the accord described as "deep, rich resinous, like incense smoke swirling over dusty cardamom" contains this native Nepali black/brown spice, not the green or white cardamom we westerners are more familiar with in Scandinavian treats?
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