Showing posts with label herb. Show all posts
Showing posts with label herb. Show all posts

Jan 23, 2017

Ingredients: Jimbu, Jambu, Jamboo, Jhiku-cha

jimbu, jambu, jamboo, jhiku-cha, himlayan, herb, allium, nepal, przewalskianum, hypsistum, dal, himalaya, dried, mustang, upper mustang, thakali,

Jimbu, jambu, jamboo, or  jhiku-cha is a dried herb used in Himalayan regions. It is the dried stalks and leaves of two species of wild onions and looks like dried grass. When fried in ghee or oil the dried herb has a pungent flavor much like garlic or shallots. After tempering in this manner it is traditionally used to flavor lentils, pickles, meat, salads, and vegetables.

jimbu, jambu, jamboo, jhiku-cha, himlayan, herb, allium, nepal, przewalskianum, hypsistum, dal, himalaya, dried, mustang, upper mustang, thakali,
 Allium przewalskianum 
jimbu, jambu, jamboo, jhiku-cha, himlayan, herb, allium, nepal, przewalskianum, hypsistum, dal, himalaya, dried, mustang, upper mustang, thakali,
Allium hypsistum
Allium hypsistum and Allium przewalskianum are the two perennial species of the onion family that are dried to make jimbu. The plants thrive in the sandy soils and cool arid climates of the Himalayas from 2,000m to 4,800m in altitude. Both are small species slightly over a foot in height and are found from Central Asia to China. Dense umbels of rose-purple flowers and fibrous orange-colored bulbs are distinctive of both species too.

jimbu, jambu, jamboo, jhiku-cha, himlayan, herb, allium, nepal, przewalskianum, hypsistum, dal, himalaya, dried, mustang, upper mustang, thakali,
A valley in the Upper Mustang region of Nepal, formerly known as the Kingdom of Lo

The high altitude Upper Mustang region of Nepal is where most jimbu is harvested.
The wild herb is seasonal and is foraged between June and September. The leaves and stems are then allowed to air-dry in sheds. The Thakali people of Nepal inhabit the Upper Mustang and the sale of jimbu is a significant part of their annual household income. About 3288 kilograms of dried jimbu was estimated to be collected in Upper Mustang during 2004. Most of the land in the high desert Mustang region lacks vegetation. The sandy soils are prone to erosion by wind, snow, and rain. Allium hypsistum and Allium przewalskianum grow in soil-binding clumps which help to prevent this erosion. Unfortunately over harvesting of these wild plants has been a problem with Allium przewalskianum listed as a vulnerable species in the 1990s.

jimbu, jambu, jamboo, jhiku-cha, himlayan, herb, allium, nepal, przewalskianum, hypsistum, dal, himalaya, dried, mustang, upper mustang, thakali,

Here in Pokhara we have a large population of Thakali folks so you'll often see jimbu in large sacks at markets in early Fall. If kept cool, dry, and out of direct sunlight jimbu stores well for about a year.

jimbu, jambu, jamboo, jhiku-cha, himlayan, herb, allium, nepal, przewalskianum, hypsistum, dal, himalaya, dried, mustang, upper mustang, thakali,

In the past few years I've even seen jimbu packaged at the local department store. Priced at a little over a dollar for 25 grams it's not cheap but not exorbitantly expensive compared to spices with similar flavor such as hing/asafoetida. Jimbu smells like dried onions to me.


So as you can imagine we have quite a few Thakali restaurants around here. We have other regional specialty restaurants such as Newari and Gurung too. One of the most famous Thakali dishes is made with black lentils called kalo maas. Kalo maas is a black lentil grown at lower hilly elevations. The Thakali also grow a red bean at higher elevations that is much like a pinto bean in flavor called Simi. The Thakali prefer to split their lentils before cooking so that's how you'll see them for sale at markets.

jimbu, jambu, jamboo, jhiku-cha, himlayan, herb, allium, nepal, przewalskianum, hypsistum, dal, himalaya, dried, mustang, upper mustang, thakali,
Split black lentils or urad dal, called kalo maas in Nepali
I've tried cooking this local kalo maas a few times with no success. You can see how tiny these split lentils are in the photo. They are riddled with tiny pieces of gravel that are about the same color and size as the lentil bits. Traditionally, one rinses the kalo maas vigorously then spreads it out on a plate to laboriously sort out all the gravel, twigs, and whatnot. Inevitably you miss a few gravelly bits and some unsuspecting diner bites down on a piece of gravel. NOT PLEASANT. Anyway, after you've sorted your lentils you boil them with a pinch of turmeric until creamy. Mine were more like gluey.

jimbu, jambu, jamboo, jhiku-cha, himlayan, herb, allium, nepal, przewalskianum, hypsistum, dal, himalaya, dried, mustang, upper mustang, thakali,

The jimbu and other spices used such as dry red chili, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, and garlic are then fried in smoking hot ghee in a technique called jhannu in Nepali. This same tempering technique is called chaunk in Hindi, tadka in Punjabi, and baghaar in Urdu. The tempered spices and hot ghee are poured onto the boiled lentils making a distinctive sizzling sound.

jimbu, jambu, jamboo, jhiku-cha, himlayan, herb, allium, nepal, przewalskianum, hypsistum, dal, himalaya, dried, mustang, upper mustang, thakali,

The jhannu or tempering technique is what gives this dish it's uniquely aromatic, garlicky, buttery and smoky flavor. The fried jimbu and I'm guessing the fried fenugreek seeds also lend the grayish cooked lentils a rather peculiar green cast.

jimbu, jambu, jamboo, jhiku-cha, himlayan, herb, allium, nepal, przewalskianum, hypsistum, dal, himalaya, dried, mustang, upper mustang, thakali,

Here's a typical thali from a local Thakali restaurant. This is the Thakali version of the traditional Nepali meal of dal-bhat-tarkaari or lentils-rice-vegetables. In the lower right corner is the dal or lentils made with jimbu. The bhat or rice is in the center and composes most of the meal. The tarkaari or vegetables are the sauteed greens and the yellow potatoes you see on the upper right as well as the bit of raw vegetables on the upper left. (The greens and potatoes were probably made with jimbu too.) The bits of meat in red sauce on the bottom center are a special treat and not usually an everyday occurrence. Just in case anything is too spicy or you're having a bit of tummy trouble a little bowl of yogurt or curd like you see on the upper left is usually served with all meals also.

That's all I know about the traditional and uniquely Himalayan herb called jimbu. Another uniquely Nepali spice is timur which you can read about here. Hope you enjoyed my little essay and keep calmly currying on,
Bibi


Feb 1, 2016

Ingredients: Let's All Reek With Fenugreek!

Fenugreek, methi or, samudra methi is an annual herb which is commonly featured in dishes of the Indian Subcontinent.  It is a member of the plant family Fabaceae, and of the genus and species Trigonella foenum-graecum. It's seeds are used as a spice while the plant is used in fresh and dried form as an herb.

Fenugreek or methi seeds
Fenugreek/methi can be used as a spice in the form of it's seeds. The square shaped yellow seeds can be utilized whole or powdered in pickles/achaari, dals, sambar, vegetable dishes, curries, and the traditional spice mixes of the various cuisines of South Asia. Dry roasting or fryingthe seeds mellows their pungent flavor a bit, but scorching them results in a strong, bitter flavor. Use them sparingly, for they are quite powerful in flavor.

The leaves of fenugreek look a bit like pea or vetch leaves.
Understandable, as fenugreek is also in the Fabaceae family.
Fenugreek/methi can be used in fresh or dried form as an herb. Fresh fenugreek/methi leaves are commonly sold at markets across the Subcontinent in bundles with the roots still attached. They feature in many curries and flatbreads also. The fresh leaves are much milder in flavor than the seeds. You'll often see fenugreek/methi growing wild in clumps near water where the soil is sandy across South Asia. The leaves are very rich in calcium and also make excellent cattle fodder. The sprouted seeds of fenugreek/methi can also be used in salads.
Dried fenugreek leaves are called kasoori methi.
The dried leaves of fenugreek are called kasoori methi in Hindi and are used in curries also. The dried leaves much stronger and pungent in flavor than the fresh leaves and can quickly overpower a dish if not used judiciously.

One of the many brands of dried fenugreek leaves available in India.

The flavor and scent of fenugreek/methi in all it's forms is very unique and unusual.
 It's flavor has been described as being a combination of celery, fennel, and maple syrup. It also has a very earthy and rather rank musty, fusty note.
Sotolon, 3-Hydroxy-4,5-dimethylfuran-2(5H)-one
(Also called caramel furanone, sugar lactone, fenugreek lactone)


Sotolon is the powerful aroma compound responsible for fenugreek/methi's distinctive fragrance and flavor. Sotolon is also the major aroma and flavor component of artificial maple syrup, the herb lovage, molasses, aged rum, aged sake, white wine, flor sherry, and toasted tobacco. High concentrations of sotolon result in the musty taste present in curries and pickles/achaari. At lower concentrations the flavor and scent of fenugreek/methi presents as a pleasant caramel or maple syrup note. Sotolon passes through the human body unchanged and is excreted in sweat and urine. Anyone consuming quite a bit of fenugreek/methi will thus reek of sotolon. I've often wondered if sotolon is the "curry smell" that many non Desi persons find objectionable. I've also wondered if sotolon is the "mysterious" note of "honey and decay" in Guerlain's famed perfume Djedi.  It would certainly be mysterious and unfamiliar to most Western palates. At any rate, go easy on the fenugreek/methi in all it's forms when cooking for Westerners whom are new to Desi cuisines.

Guerlain's Djedi

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