Showing posts with label india. Show all posts
Showing posts with label india. Show all posts

Feb 27, 2017

Ingredients: Cumin, Jeera, Zeera, Zira, Jira ko Geda, Zyur, Safed Jeera, Jeeragam, Jikaka

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,

Cumin is one of those spices that is absolutely essential in stocking any spice cupboard. It's warm, earthy, and smoky flavor works especially well in combination with chilis, cinnamon, and coriander. Cumin is native to southwest Asia and has made its way into cuisines around the world through the spice trade. It's a hallmark flavor in North African, Indian, Latin American, Spanish, Portuguese, and Middle Eastern cuisines.

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) was originally cultivated in the Mediterranean region and is a member of the parsley family. It is an annual herbaceous plant with slender, branched stems that grows to 8–12 inches tall. It's tiny white or pink flowers are borne in small compound umbels. The seeds come in paired or separate carpels and are 1/8-1/4 inches long bearing a striped pattern of nine ridges. The seeds do greatly resemble caraway seeds, but are lighter in color and have minute bristles barely visible to the naked eye.

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,

Cumin is a drought-tolerant, tropical, or subtropical crop with a growth season of 100 to 120 days. The main producer and consumer of cumin is India. Cumin is sown in India from October until the beginning of December, and harvesting by hand starts in February. Sandy, loamy soils with good aeration, proper drainage, slightly alkaline pH, and high oxygen availability are necessary for the optimal growth of cumin. The plant tends to droop under its own weight and so is planted closely together for support.

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,
Field of cumin in the Indian state of Gujarat
The main producer and consumer of cumin is India. Cumin is sown in India from October until the beginning of December and harvesting by hand starts in February. India produces 70% of the world supply of cumin and consumes 90% of that. That means that India consumes 63% of the world's cumin! In total, around 300,000 tons of cumin per year are produced worldwide.

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,
Workers bagging cumin at the wholesale spice market in Delhi
Cumin is used predominantly in cuisines where highly spiced foods are preferred. In the Middle East it is a familiar spice used in fish dishes, grilled meats, stews, falafel, couscous, and the spice mix baharat. In Europe, cumin flavors Portuguese and Spanish sausages as well as Dutch Leyden cheese. Cumin is an essential spice in just about every savory Mexican dish from chile con carne to enchiladas

Leyden cheese from the Netherlands flavored with cumin seeds
Indian cooking utilizes many spice mixtures which contain cumin. North Indian cooking features a spice mixture called garam masala meaning "hot spices." Garam masalas vary in composition by regional preferences but most often combine earthy spices like cumin and fenugreek with aromatic spices like green cardamom and cloves. In southern India there is sambar podi, a mix of mostly cumin, coriander, roasted lentils, and aromatics used to flavor vegetarian dishes. In Southern Nepal, Bengal, Bangladesh and parts of North East India, there is a spice mix called panch phoron meaning "five spices" which consists of cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, and nigella seeds. Panch phoron is never ground and is used to flavor vegetable, fish, and meat dishes of those regions. 

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,
Spice shop in Varanasi
Dry roasted cumin seeds are also used in refreshing drinks and cooling condiments in India. Jaljeera is a popular summer drink in India usually made with a blend of cumin, lime juice, mint, ginger, black pepper, and black salt. Jaljeera is purported to stimulate appetite and aid digestion and commercial mixes are widely available. A salted lassi is a traditional savory drink of chilled water blended with yogurt and oftentimes flavored with toasted cumin seeds. A raita is a dip made of yogurt with toasted cumin seeds and raw or cooked vegetables often served with spicy foods for it's cooling effect on the palate.

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,

The earthy, warm, and smoky flavor of cumin is best showcased when used with restraint and cooked or dry roasted. Cumin is one of those spices that can quickly overpower an entire dish. Some hearty meat dishes can accommodate a full tablespoon but usually no more than a teaspoon is required for legumes and vegetables. Frying or dry roasting cumin mellows it's harsh raw flavor to a pleasant nutty earthiness. Ground cumin can­ not be toasted as it would char quickly. However, dry roasted cumin can be ground and used as a sea­soning and added just before serving. Almost every North Indian curry starts with spices being fried in ghee or oil. Ground cumin can be used but it must be added after the onions have been fried to prevent burning. Burnt cumin in ground or seed form has an unpleasant bitter flavor. There really isn't anything you can do to rescue a dish tainted with the bitterness of burnt cumin but to toss it and start over. 

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,
Cumin or Safed Jeera seeds
Caraway seeds
An interesting aside:
I think I've found out why cumin, caraway, and black cumin are so often confused for each other.  The root of the English word cumin is from the Latin cuminum which is ultimately derived from Semitic origins. But many other European languages do not distinguish clearly between the cumin and caraway. In German the word for caraway is Kümmel while the name for cumin is Kreuzkümmel (literally "cross-caraway). This indicates that European cooks saw cumin as an exotic spice comparable to the native caraway. (Caraway's carrot-y dill flavor tastes nothing like cumin's earthy warmth to me but the plant and seeds do look similar.) Similarly in Swedish and Danish, caraway is kummin, while cumin is spiskummin. In Romanian cumin is called chimion turcesc or "Turkish caraway." In Hungarian cumin is egyiptomi kömény or "Egyptian caraway." Like most Mediterranean spices cumin seems to have been introduced to northern and eastern Europe around the 9th century by Charlemagne's Capitulare. The Capitulare de villis vel curtis imperii Caroli Magni was a complete list of administrative, legal, and agricultural rules for the new Frankish empire. Towards the end of the document is a complete list of culinary and medicinal herbs to be grown in imperial gardens. Apparently northern and eastern Europe never developed much of a taste for cumin yet it retained it's identity as an exotic variant of caraway. This probably explains why shahi jeera/black cumin is often confused with caraway also.

Black Cumin or Shahi Jeera seeds
Jeera is the Hindi word for cumin and is derived from the Sanskrit root jri meaning to digest. Related words for cumin are today found from the Caucasus to central and southeast Asia: Urdu = zeera, Farsi = zirah, Georgian = dzira, and Burmese = ziyah. In Hindi cumin is sometimes called safed jeera (literally white cumin)  in order to differentiate it from black cumin or shahi jeera.

Feb 20, 2017

Parsi Garam Masala

Parsi Garam Masala, parsi, garam, masala, recipe, authentic, star anise, parsee, persia, iran, india, spice mix, spices, chakra phool,

Parsis are an ethnic and religious group that emigrated from ancient Persia to India in the 10th century. Parsi cuisine has evolved into a delicious fusion of Persian and Indian influences. This recipe for Parsi style garam masala perfectly reflects this unique blend of cultures. The earthy warmth of green cardamom, cumin, and black pepper are perfectly balanced by the sweet heat of cinnamon, cloves, and star anise in this flavorsome mix.



"Parsis of Bombay" engraving, ca. 1878

Parsis practice a unique religion called Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism encourages wealth creation as well as charity.
 For centuries, prominent Parsis have shared their success through philanthropy. The names of top Parsi traders and industrialists are a common sight on hospitals, schools, and libraries in India.

Parsis celebrating Navroze Mubarak

No Parsi function is complete without good food that has been laboriously and lovingly prepared. The Zoroastrian community gathers for six annual feasts called gahambars and a new year's celebration called Navroze. Weddings too require a lavish multi-course feast called a lagan no bhonu. Parsi dishes reveal traces of their Persian past in a fondness for nuts, dry fruits, and sweetness. The Indian influence on Parsi cuisine is the addition of garlic, ginger, and subcontinental spices.


I've adapted this recipe from Neela Batra's cookbook, 1,000 Indian Recipes. Unfortunately Ms Batra's book has rather incongruent instructions for those 1,000 recipes. The recipes also often result in unsuitably large quantities for the home cook. So I reduced the amounts by half to yield a half cup. The quantities in the original recipe were for ground spices so I've left them that way. I used whole spices and ground them in the same amounts with excellent results. It's the ratio that's most important in spice mixes. Ms Batra's recipe calls for dry roasting the ground spices too. DO NOT DRY ROAST GROUND SPICES OR YOU'LL END UP WITH A SCORCHED MESS.  I don't dry roast my spices for reasons listed here. I'll include instructions for roasting whole spices if you are one of those sorts who simply must dry roast though.

Parsi Garam Masala, parsi, garam, masala, recipe, authentic, star anise, parsee, persia, iran, india, spice mix, spices, chakra phool,

Ingredients:
2&1/2 TBS ground green cardamom/elaichi
2 TBS ground cinnamon or cassia/dalchini (or four 2 inch pieces of cassia bark/cinnamon sticks)
2 TBS ground black peppercorns/kali mirch
2 TBS ground cumin/jeera
1&1/2 TBS star anise/chakra phool
1 TBS ground cloves/laung

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 that finely ground powdery stuff you see sold at stores. To get the traditional 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 or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

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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.
3) Allow to cool completely. Grind coarsely using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight or in freezer for up to 3 months.
(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 over 13 inch by 9 inch baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake spices for 10 minutes.
3) Allow to cool completely and grind coarsely using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight  or in freezer for up to 3 months.

Dec 19, 2016

Ingredients: Persimmons, Kaki, Shizi, Haluuabed

One of the most beautiful fruits of Autumn is the brilliant orange-red persimmon. Persimmons are quite a versatile Fall fruit and work well in both sweet and savory applications. There are over two hundred documented cultivars of persimmons, although it is estimated that there are over a thousand actual varieties. Persimmons begin appearing in markets in late September and are often available through December. 

 The lotus persimmon or date-plum (Diospyros lotus) is native to southwest Asia and southeastern Europe.
 The ancient Greeks referred to it as "the fruit of the gods." 

The English word persimmon is derived from the Native American words pasiminan or pessamin from an Algonquian language of the eastern United States meaning, "dry fruit." 
Modern Greek name for the fruit is λωτός (lotos), which has led modern Greeks to the assumption that this is the lotus referred to in Homer's Odyssey. The botanical name of the persimmon family is Diospyros which is said to mean, "divine fruit." In Nepali persimmons are called haluaabed. In Chinese persimmons are called shizi and in Japanese they are called kaki.

A persimmon tree laden with ornament-like fruits after a frost has killed it's leaves in Fall.

The persimmon is multi-trunked or single-stemmed deciduous tree up to twenty-five feet high and at least as wide.
It is a handsome ornamental with drooping leaves and branches that give it a rather tropical and graceful appearance. Persimmon leaves are alternate, simple, ovate and up to seven inches long and four inches wide. They are often a pale, yellowish green in youth, turning to a dark, glossy green as they age. Under mild autumnal conditions persimmon leaves turn vividly dramatic shades of yellow, orange, and red. Tea can also be made from fresh or dried leaves.

A female persimmon flower.

The persimmon's inconspicuous flowers appear in very early Spring are surrounded by a green calyx tube borne on leaf axils of one-year old wood. Female flowers are single and cream-colored while the pink-tinged male flowers are typically occur in threes. Persimmon trees are usually either male or female, but some trees have both male and female flowers. A tree's gender expression can vary from one year to the other. Many cultivars are parthenocarpic and set seedless fruit without pollination. Some varieties require pollination for adequate production. When persimmon plants that do not require pollination are pollinated, they will produce unique fruits with seeds that may be larger and have a different flavor and texture than their seedless counterparts. Persimmons prefer a deep, loamy soil and require a chill time of at least 100 hours to blossom and set fruit annually. The fruits are technically a berry.

The tiny American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).

There are many different species of persimmons worldwide. The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is quite small and native to the eastern United States. The black persimmon or black sapote (Diospyros digyna) is native to Mexico. The mabolo or velvet-apple (Diospyros discolor) is native to the Philippines. The lotus persimmon or date-plum (Diospyros lotus) is native to southwest Asia and southeastern Europe and was known to the ancient Greeks as "the fruit of the gods." The large and fleshy Asian or Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is native to Japan, China, Korea, Burma, and Nepal and is the most widely cultivated species. There are several cultivars of Asian or Japanese persimmons each with unique flavors and qualities of fruit.

A hachiya persimmon that must ripen to a jelly-like pulp before it can be eaten.

The two most common types of persimmon found in modern markets are the Asian varietals Hachiya and Fuyu. Fuyus are squat and round, and Hachiyas are long, heart-shaped, and pointed. Hachiyas are tart and bitterly astringent due to their high tannic acid content until they are extremely ripe. Fuyus can be eaten while still firm with a texture much like a peach. Choose Fuyus when their flesh is firm but gently yielding like a ripe tomato. Fuyus are mildly sweet and excellent eaten out of hand or sliced into fresh salads. Unripened Hachiyas are too tannic to eat, but once ripe the fruit becomes jelly-like and pulpy and is wonderful pureed for use in baked goods. Look for Hachiyas with taut and glossy skin, but avoid fruit with bruises as they may rot before ripening. To ripen persimmons simply leave them out at room temperature in a sunny spot until they soften or freeze them overnight and allow to thaw the next day. Store soft, ripened persimmons in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

A firm fleshed and non-astringent Fuyu persimmon.

Persimmons are enjoyed in many different ways around the world. The Japanese enjoy them pickled in lime water or massaged and air dried as hoshigaki. The Chinese love them salted and dried. They can be can be made into purees, fruit leather, candies, sherbets, ice creams, jams, compotes, puddings, breads, cookies, muffins, cobblers, clafoutis, cakes, pies, and tarts. Complimentary pairings include pomegranates, pears, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, mace, vanilla, cream, maple syrup, honey, prunes, dates, citrus zest, almonds, pistachios, vinaigrettes, basil, Thai and Serrano chilis, and hard cheeses such as cheddar-y Manchego and salty Parmesan.

The Japanese specialty hoshigaki, an air dried and gently massaged Hachiya persimmon.

The easiest way to store persimmons is to freeze them. As you can see by the photos of fruiting trees above persimmons are quite prolific. They also tend to all ripen at once. While they are delicious to eat fresh there's usually more than enough from one tree for the entire neighborhood and then some. What to do with all this persimmon largesse? Freeze 'em! You can either freeze the entire fruit for later use by just putting it in an airtight plastic bag or container. (This works really well for fruit that isn't ripe yet. When the frozen persimmon thaws et voila! It's ripe and ready to be eaten.) You can also puree them and put the pulp in an airtight plastic bag or container. Your persimmons must be perfectly ripe if you wish to puree them before freezing though.


Here's Bibi pureeing ripe Fuyu persimmons in her mixie. I just give them a good wash, remove the stems, and put them in the mixie skin and all. You might want give the persimmon flesh a bit of a going through before pureeing as there might be seeds. The seeds can be rounded like plum stones or oblong like date pits. Your mixie, food processor, or blender will NOT puree these rock-like seeds. You will hear them quite loudly bouncing off the blades and mixing container of your appliance. 


See? Beautiful orange persimmon pulp ready to be eaten as is, enjoyed as frozen sorbet, or stored for your next baking project. I usually measure the pulp out by cupful and store them in Ziploc bags in the freezer. Persimmons will keep frozen for up to 8 months. You might see some separation or darkening of the persimmon pulp but the flavor will be the same as fresh.

My favorite treat! Spicy persimmon cookies with walnut and raisins. Mmmmm!
When you're ready to make a delicious treat like these cookies or just enjoy a healthy frozen snack just grab a bag out of the freezer. Hope you enjoyed my little overview of persimmons and stick around for lots of persimmon recipes too!

Dec 14, 2016

Nimbu-Mirchi Totka

If you come to India or Nepal you will see nimbu-mirchi totkas consisting of chilis and limes hanging on a string over doorways everywhere. Nimbu means lime, mirchi means chilis, and a totka is a sort of charm to ward off evils. Displaying the nimbu-mirchi is an ancient Hindu practice that you'll see not only over doorways, but also adorning vehicles and dangling from portraits of beloved ancestors and politicians.

Unknown Bollywood starlet chatting with nimbu-mirchi sellers.
The custom of tying limes and chilis on a thread and hung outside the door or on a vehicle is intended to distract the inauspicious Hindu goddess called Alakshmi or Jayestha. Alakshmi is the older sister of the very auspicious goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. Alakshmi is said to bring poverty, strife, mayhem, discord, misfortune, barrenness, strife, jealousy, malice, hardship and ruination where ever she goes. She plants distrust and misunderstanding among family members, friends, and relatives. She is often depicted as a withered hag or a dark skinned woman with pendulous belly and breasts enthroned or astride a donkey and accompanied by crows or an owl. Alakshmi also loves to eat hot, sour, and pungent things. The hope is that the nimbu-mirchi will avert Alakshmi's inauspicious attentions and she'll continue on her devastating way.

Lakshmi the Goddess of Wealth with an owl.
Interestingly, you will often the goddess of wealth Lakshmi pictured with an owl. Owls represent arrogance and willful ignorance in Hindu culture. The owl in Lakshmi's beneficent presence represents a warning that wherever she goes so does Alakshmi and her misfortune. The message is to beware of the potential for calamity that may accompany Lakshmi's blessings if both goddesses are not propitiated properly. It's sort of the Hindu version of the Western proverb, "Pride goeth before a fall." Meaning that if you're too boastful and self-important, something bad will inevitably happen.


You can easily make your own nimbu-mirchi totka! All you need is black thread, a needle, seven green chillies and one ripe yellow lime. Take a needle and the thread and tie a thick knot, a black stone, or piece of charcoal at the end. Pierce the threaded needle through the lime first and then through the seven green chillies. Depending on region the chilis and lemon can be strung in different order but there are usually seven chilis and one lemon per nimbu-mirchi wherever you go.


Preferably on a Saturday morning tie your nimbu-mirchi in center of the main door of your house or establishment. Take care that it does not interfere with the opening or closing of the door and movements of people. On vehicles you may attach the nimbu-mirchi to the front bumper, top center of the windshield, or near the wheel well on motorcycles or bicycles. The following Monday morning take the nimbu-mirchi down and throw it away from your house, establishment, or vehicle near to the roadside. Generally in busy marketplace areas the spent nimbu-mirchi is thrown on the road. This is not a good practice as whomever steps upon the discarded nimbu-mirchi imbibes all the bad effects accrued by it during the week. So when you visit crowded marketplaces beware of stepping on a discarded nimbu-mirchi!
Don't step on that!!!
If perchance you do happen to step upon a discarded nimbu-mirchi there is a special procedure to undo any ill effects. First, pick up the nimbu-mirchi with a piece of cloth or handkerchief. Then take it to a place of your choice and burn it while reciting this mantra to the goddess Lakshmi nine times. You must only touch the totka with the cloth and burn the cloth with the totka. Fire is believed to cleanse the negative energies accumulated in the nimbu-mirchi. The mantra is an appeal to the goddess Lakshmi to counter any adverse effects as well.
Should you feel you need a less perishable totka for your inauspicious problems nimbu-mirchis are available in more permanent forms also. The enameled metal nimbu-mirchi pictured above is featured in an online home furnishing company in India. Plastic, resin, and silicone nimbu-mirchis are  also available as key fobs, luggage tags, earrings, and necklaces. As if that weren't enough you can buy smartphone cases, t-shirts, tea sets, and umbrellas emblazoned with nimbu-mirchis too!

Feb 22, 2016

Ingredients: Mango Powder, Aamchoor, Amchur

Amchur, aamchoor, or aamchur is a spice powder made from dehydrated unripe mangoes. It's tart, fruity, sweet, and honey-like flavor is used to add acidity and brightness to dishes in north Indian cuisines. You can taste amchur's tangy note gracing samosa and pakora fillings, stews, soups, fruit salads, pastries, curries, chutneys, pickles, and lentils. It is also used in marinades to tenderize meats, and poultry. 

An unripe, green mango destined to become amchur.
To make amchur, unripe mangoes are harvested, peeled, cut into thin strips and dried in the sun. This results in rather unappetizing slices of dried green mango that look like tree bark you see in the photo below.

Dried strip of green mango that will be ground to make amchur.

These unsightly dried slices of green mango are then ground into a fine pale beige powder that usually comes foil sealed in a box like this in India:


Amchur has a sour, citrusy, and slightly fruity flavor with a fragrance often described as honey-like.  In North Indian cuisines it is commonly used in curries, chutneys, dals, samosa fillings, and stir fried vegetable dishes. It is also used to tenderize chicken and mutton in marinades. Primarily it is used as a souring agent, but lends a bit of sweetness and fruit flavor along with it's acidic brightness to foods too.

Use amchur sparingly and always add it near the end of a recipe. Amchur is very potent and tart so about a 1/4 teaspoon or a pinch is all you need for most dishes. Amchur is also prone to scorching or burning so be sure to add it in towards the end of a recipe after any frying or high temperature cooking is over.

If you can't find amchur where you are, lime juice, lemon juice and tamarind are considered substitutes.

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