Showing posts with label ingredient. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ingredient. 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!

Jul 17, 2017

Ingredients: Yard-Long beans, Snake beans, Asparagus beans, Bodi, Bora, Tane Bodi, Chang Jiang Dou, Jhudunga, Choda, Chawli, Barbati, Lubiya, Payaru

This variety of cowpea is variously called yard-long beans, asparagus beans, snake beans, bodi, bora, tane bodi, chang jiang dou, jhudunga, choda, chawli, barbati, lubiya, payaru, or Chinese long beans. These quick-growing beans are a staple vegetable in much of South Asia due to their tolerance of harsh sun, heavy rains, high humidity, tropical diseases and pests. While they can be eaten raw they’re often enjoyed in tasty stir-fries, curries, and omelettes.

Yard-long beans can certainly grow up to a yard in length, but most types should be picked when they’re much shorter. Their scientific name, Vigna unguiculata subspecies sesquipedalis, actually gives the best indicator of their length. Sesquipedalis literally means a foot and a half. Many varieties are indeed best enjoyed as a vegetable when around around eighteen inches in length. 


In Nepal these beans are called tane bodi which simply means "long beans." In different regions of India they are called payaru, jhudunga, chawli, bodi, barbati, lubiya, and chora. In Central America, South America, and the Caribbean they are known as bora or bodi. In the Philippines, they are known as sitaw or butong. In China they are called chang jiang dou. In Thailand they are called tua fak yaw.

Flower of  Vigna unguiculata subspecies sesquipedalis

Yard-long beans do look a bit like overgrown green beans as they are both members of the legume family. But yard-long beans belong to different genera than green beans. They're actually close relatives of cowpeas, field peas, crowder peas, and black-eyed peas. With most types of cowpeas only the hulled peas are consumed. However, with yard-long beans it’s more common to eat the immature green pod- just like green beans. In some parts of Africa and Asia the thetender green leaves are prepared and eaten like spinach too.


The yard-long bean is a vigorous climbing annual vine growing 9 to 12 feet and requires a trellis or support. The vine prefers a light, well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.8 which has been  enriched with compost or rotted chicken manure. The plant begins to produce long pods ranging from 14 to 30 inches as soon as 60 days after sowing. The pods hang in pairs that should be picked for vegetable use before matured. Checking or harvesting yard-long beans daily is a necessity because they grow extremely quickly in warm climates. When harvesting it is important not to pick the buds which are above the bean as the plant will set more beans upon the same stem. They tolerate heat and humidity much better than common beans. Keeping the pods picked is essential to maintain production.

 Seeds or beans from Vigna unguiculata subspecies sesquipedalis

If left unpicked the yard-long bean pods will grow up to 1 meter (3 feet) in length and produce beans that look very similar to black-eyed peas. Fret not if you find yourself with several forgotten pods as these beans can be used like dry beans in soups.



You’ll find yard-long beans in light and dark shades of green most often. They do come in in red, purplish, or speckled varieties too. The lighter green yard-long beans are purported to have a sweeter, nuttier, more delicate flavor than the deeper colored varieties. The palest green ones are therefore favored for quick-cooking dishes. When cooked the red, purple, and speckled beans turn green. All yard-long beans are stringless too unlike green beans.


Yard-long beans are normally sold in bundles in markets. I've always seen them in Asian markets and wondered how to cook them. Choose thin beans free from bulging or splitting. Split or bulging pods indicate that the beans inside are too developed. Don’t be overly concerned with floppiness or wrinkles. Use your yard-long beans within two to three days as they can quickly go from floppy to limp and wilted after which they fall to pieces.

Chopped yard-long beans just dropped into hot oil for a Nepali style stir-fry

Yard-long beans become soggy and bland when boiled, blanched, or steamed. The beans are best chopped into smaller lengths and cooked quickly in oil. When sautéed, stir-fried, or deep-fried, their flavor intensifies and their texture becomes deliciously crispy. Most Asian recipes wisely use these methods to prepare yard-long beans. Please ignore crazy westerners who implore you to blanch, steam, or boil yard-long beans in their ridiculous recipes- they know not what they do. 

Chopped yard-long beans after stir-frying for about 7 minutes, shriveled, wrinkled, and tenderly crisp

As you can see in the photos above yard-long beans wrinkle or shrivel and crisp up as they fry down. I've heard yard-long beans described as being similar to green beans, asparagus, and mushrooms in flavor. To me they don't taste nor smell anything like green beans, asparagus, or mushrooms. The texture is completely different that green beans when cooked also. While cooking they give off a scent similar to peanuts and potatoes. When prepared in a traditional Nepali stir-fry or tareko their flavor and texture reminds me of hash browns or shredded pan-fried potatoes.


If you live in an area with  hot, humid, tropical Summers you might consider planting yard-long beans in your garden. They are easy to cook, easy to grow, attractive to look at, and quite nutritious being rich in vitamin C and calcium. These are one of the few vegetables that will actually continue to bear throughout the Monsoon. If not just stop by your local Asian market and buy some! I'm certainly going to try growing them in my garden and will be featuring recipes utilizing yard-long beans on this very blog!

Calmly currying on,
Bibi

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!

Nov 7, 2016

Ingredients: White Pepper, Safed Mirch, Safed Golmirch, Shada Golmorich

White Pepper, Safed Mirch, Safed Golmirch, Shada Golmorich

White peppercorns and black peppercorns come from the same plant, but are processed differently. White peppercorns are allowed to fully ripen on the vine and are stripped of their dark shell after soaking. Their flavor is sharper, hotter, and less complex than black peppercorns. White pepper is the pepper of choice in many Asian cuisines including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. In classic Western and Indian cooking, white pepper is primarily used in light-colored dishes for aesthetic reasons.


To make white pepper the berries from the pepper vine (Piper nigrum) are picked when they are fully ripened and red. (In contrast black peppercorns are picked just when they are beginning to turn from green to yellow or pinkish.) The outer skin of fully mature red peppercorns is removed by process called retting. Retting consists of soaking the berries in water for one to two weeks until the shell loosens. The outer shell is then removed or rubbed off by various methods to reveal the cream-colored white seed. The white peppercorns are washed once again and sun-dried.

White Pepper, Safed Mirch, Safed Golmirch, Shada Golmorich

Although India is one of the world’s largest producers of black pepper, only a small amount of white pepper is actually produced for domestic use or sale. Compared to black pepper, good quality white pepper can fetch nearly four times more value in the international market. Using traditional methods to process white peppercorns has been fraught with problems for Indian farmers. Retting or soaking the peppercorns takes quite a bit of water and predisposes the peppercorns to fermentation, internal mold, and fungi.

White Pepper, Safed Mirch, Safed Golmirch, Shada Golmorich

The Post Harvest Technology Centre at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, developed the white peppercorn processing machine you see in the above photo in 2007. This unit mechanically processes white pepper from mature pepper berries that have undergone retting or soaking pre-treatment.  The pre-treated pepper berries are fed into the unit through a hopper into a drum that has a water jet, four nylon brushes, and a double layered metallic sieve. This provides the abrasion necessary to remove the outer shell or pericarp of the retted berries. A 1.0 hp single phase electric motor powers the device and only two people are required to operate the machine. About 120-150 kg of pre-soaked pepper berries can be processed into white peppercorns in one hour.

Piperidine- 1-[5-(1,3-Benzodioxol-5-yl)-1-oxo-2,4-pentadienyl]piperidine


White peppercorns have a sharper, hotter flavor than black peppercorns because the essential oils that provide most of the woodsy, lemony notes have been removed with the outer layer of the fruit.  The flavor of white peppercorns comes primarily from the alkaloid molecule piperine. This gives white peppercorns a far less complex flavor profile than black peppercorns. I have read descriptions of the taste of white peppercorns as lemony, citrusy, earthy, wine-like, hot, sharp, and creamy. The flavor of white peppercorns always reminds me of clam chowder, gefilte fish, and sometimes even the Meyer lemons of my native California. The scent of uncooked white pepper has a distinctive and musty barnyard odor. You can practically smell the rotting hay and horse urine. I suppose that's earthy.


In both Western and Indian cuisines white peppercorns are often used in cream or light-colored sauces where black pepper would visibly stand out. The photo above is of a black pepper flecked sauce which apparently neither Westerners nor Indians can abide. Black flecks in a white sauce denote rusticity and we can't be having that in an ethereally pale French béchamel or hollandaise sauce. Mughlai dishes such as Safed Maas (white mutton) or Rezala Chicken cannot suffer the indignity of darks flecks lurking in their silvery yet sumptuous gravies either. In northern Europe white pepper outsells black 10 to 1. The Cajuns of Louisiana use it quite a bit in their highly spiced cuisine too. There's an old Cajun cooking saying "Black pepper is for the taste, white for the heat, and red for the bite." In China, Malaysia, and Thailand white pepper is used extensively. You can taste the sharp heat of white pepper prominently in the famous Chinese 'hot and sour' soup. I love the way the Chinese and Thai use white pepper paired with fresh ginger. Interestingly, the Chinese never cook white pepper but add it at the end of cooking a dish believing that it will get bitter if heated. 

The volcanic soil of the Penja valley in the West African nation of Cameroon produces the world’s most coveted white pepper. Prized by Michelin-starred chefs it's flavor is described as musky, herbaceous, grassy, and delicate. In addition to the unique terroir of Cameroon, Penja white pepper is said to undergo a special processing technique that doesn't promote fermentation. This supposedly prevents the bitter, harsh, or 'off' taste that inferior white peppercorns may have. The Penja white peppercorn owes its rise to fame to French entrepreneur Erwann De Kerros, who came across a farm while traveling in Cameroon in 1992. Mr De Kerros stayed for four years, and began sending chefs and culinary journalists samples of his discovery. Today, Mr De Kerros runs Terre Exotique, a well-known spice company with almost $10 million in revenue. Among Mr De Kerros’ customers are the posh spice shop La Boîte in New York City and the luxury department store Harrods in London. Incidentally, I also saw this product on sale on Amazon for $13.95 for 80g. Apparently the price Penja white pepper has recently precipitously dropped for some reason from about $35 per 80g in 2015.

I'm pretty sure most of us have not sampled Penja white peppercorns but we probably have tasted the more mundane Indonesian varieties Sarawak and Muntok. These are what you'll commonly find at most grocery stores and spice shops worldwide. When buying white peppercorns it's best to buy them whole and grind them as needed. White peppercorns' flavor quickly dissipates after grinding just like black peppercorns. Store them away from direct sunlight in an airtight container and they should be good for about a year. I'm really not that fond of the flavor of white pepper except for in fish or seafood dishes. Perhaps I should try adding it at the end of cooking like the Chinese do? I've never found white pepper to develop a bitter taste with cooking. I have found you do have to be careful how much you use though, a little too much and it's sharpness will easily take over an entire dish. White pepper does NOT mellow out with cooking as black pepper does.
The only way I've seen white pepper sold in India: powdered.
Evidently I'm not alone in my dislike of white pepper. Supposedly there was an ongoing feud between the famed french chef Jacques Pepin and the iconic American chef Julia Child over the use of white pepper. Ms Child used white pepper for aesthetic reasons, while Mr Pepin hated the stuff and used black pepper only. Mr Pepin was even willing to suffer black specks in his béchamel!

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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Printfriendly