Showing posts with label ingredients. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ingredients. Show all posts

Apr 17, 2017

Ingredients: Radhuni, Ajmod, Wild Celery Seed

Radhuni, ajmod, or wild celery is a spice unique to the cuisine of Bengal. The dried fruits or seeds closely resemble ajwain, caraway, and celery seeds in both appearance and flavor. In Bengali cuisine the seeds are used whole and quickly fried in very hot oil to mellow their sharp taste. Radhuni is also used in the traditional Bengali five spice mixture called panch phoron.

The botanical names for the radhuni plant are Carum roxburghianum and Trachyspermum roxburghianum.  In Hindi the plant is called ajmod and in English it is also known as wild celery. The plant is a multi-branched flowering annual in the family Apiaceae and is related to ajwain and parsley.  It is grown extensively as a fresh herb in the South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia and reaches up to three feet in height. 

The fresh leaves of radhuni are used as an aromatic herb in Thailand and it is used medicinally in Myanmar. It is also known as kant-balu in Burmese, and phak chi lom in Thai. Young plants are harvested and consumed as s side salad or added to soup in Thailand, Viet Nam, and Myanmar. I've seen similar plants sold as a fresh herb here at markets in Nepal in the early Fall. I just thought they were lovage.

Radhuni is grown from seeds in small scale and multiple crops during rainy season. The plant or fresh herb looks like a cross between parsley, lovage, and celery. It prefers well drained soil that is calcium rich, a temperate climate, and partial sun.

The small dried fruits of the herb are commonly referred to as seeds. These seeds are utilized as the spice called radhuni in Bengali cuisine. They have a rather sharp, metallic parsley scent when raw. When fried in hot oil they mellow into a celery-like flavor. It is a very strong spice and more than couple of pinches can easily overpower a dish. After tempering the whole radhuni seeds are used to flavor pickles, chutneys, fish dishes, meat dishes, and dal.

The most common usage of radhuni in Bengali cuisine is in the famed five spice mixture called panch phoron. Panch means five and phoron means spice or flavor. The other ingredients in this blend are equal parts of cumin seed, fenugreek seed, fennel seed, and kalonji. Unlike most spice mixes, panch phoron is always used whole and never ground.

Panch phoron releases its aroma when the seeds are fried in hot oil or ghee. This tempering technique is called baghaar or chaunk and mellows the harsh flavors of the raw spices.  After tempering, other ingredients are added to the fried spices to be coated or infused with the mixture. Traditionally, panch phoron is used with vegetables, chicken or beef curry, fish, lentils, pickles, and a unique vegetable dish called shukto.

If you are unable to find radhuni where you're at a good substitute would be celery seed. Celery seed's grassy, savory, earthy, slightly bitter flavor is quite similar to radhuni. This only difference I can discern between celery seed and radhuni is a bit of a lemony note.

Calmly currying on,

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.

Nov 21, 2016

Ingredients: Red Millet, Finger Millet, Ragi, Kodo, Keppai

Red millet, finger millet, ragi, kodo, and keppai are all names of an annual plant grown as a cereal across Africa and Asia. Red millet was originally a native of the Ethiopian highlands of Africa but has been cultivated in India since the Iron Age. This hardy plant thrives in a variety of climates and can be made into a wide range of nutritious foodstuffs and alcoholic beverages. 

Eleusine coracana or red millet growing in the neighbors' field

Red millet or Eleusine coracana is called kodo or ragi in here in Nepal. It is usually planted during the arid Fall and Winter after the Monsoon season in Nepal. It is often interplanted with pigeon peas or maize as you see in the above photo of my neighbor's field. Red millet is extremely pest resistant and once harvested the seeds store nearly indefinitely. Freedom from moulds or insects and long storage capacity make red millet an important crop in risk-avoidance strategies for Third World farming communities. With a 1 tonne per hectare yield, it has the highest productivity among millets grown in the world. The straw from red millet can be also used as animal fodder.

Red millet is a nutritious source of calcium, iron, fiber, and the essential amino acid methionine. Methionine is often lacking in the diets of vegetarians and cultures who subsist on starchy staples such as rice and maize. As an essential amino acid methionine is important in angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels. Red millet's high fiber content and low glycemic index score make it an excellent choice for those suffering diabetes too. It is also easily digestible and gluten-free.

Dhido thali

is a traditional food in some areas of Nepal made from a thick paste of boiled red millet flour. You will find dhido eaten as a staple in areas of the Himalayas where the altitude and aridity do not allow the cultivation of wheat or rice. It is a lot like mush or polenta with a bit of a nutty flavor. Dhido is usually eaten with a dollop of butter or ghee accompanied by pickles, chutneys, curried vegetables and yogurt. It is served steaming hot as it hardens upon setting. To eat it you tear off bits by hand and dip it into one of the tasty sides served alongside. 

Kodo ko Roti

Red millet is also eaten as a pancake like flat bread called kodo ko roti. The millet flour is mixed into a simple batter with water and a pinch of sugar. The batter is then fried in a bit of ghee. Kodo ko roti is usually served with a variety of pickles, chutneys, and dal. To eat kodo ko roti one tears off a piece of the roti and uses it to scoop up the condiment of choice.

Nepalis are avid home brewers and distillers. Red millet is used to make a variety of alcoholic beverages. In the photo above you see an earthenware and copper still with firewood underneath it ready for use. There are many similar types of stills in various sizes in different communities across Nepal. Earthenware is preferred to for the fermentation process. Copper is preferred for distilling since it removes sulfur-based compounds from the alcohol that would make it unpleasant to drink. 

Rakshi is a traditional distilled alcoholic drink made from red millet or rice in Nepal and Tibet. It is clear like vodka and is reputed to taste much like Japanese sake. Rakshi is not aged before consumption and is usually stored and sold in plastic fuel containers as you see in the above photo. In 2011 Rakshi was deemed by CNN to be of the world's 50 most delicious drinks and was described thusly, "Made from millet or rice, Rakshi is strong on the nose and sends a burning sensation straight down your throat that resolves itself into a surprisingly smooth, velvety sensation. Nepalese drink this home brew to celebrate festivals, though some think that the prized drink itself is the reason to celebrate."

Newari lady in Kathmandu pouring rakshi from an anti (brass pitcher) into a pala (small clay bowl) for drinking

Rakshi is often served during special occasions in Nepal.
The alcoholic drink is poured from a great height via a brass pitcher with a small spout making an entertaining spectacle. This requires an expert hand and is an an art in itself.

Tongba containing chhaang with a perforated bamboo straw

Chhaang is a fermented beer often made from red millet in Nepal and Tibet. To drink chaang a fermented mash of red millet is first placed in a special drinking vessel called a tongba as you see in the above photo. Hot water is then poured into the tongba and left to steep for about five minutes. A fine bamboo straw with a perforated filter tip is then used slurp up the diluted alcohol out of the fermented mash. Hot water is replenished in the tongba until the all alcohol has been extracted from the mash.

Nutritionally, ecologically, and gastronomically, red millet is a truly versatile grain that is making a comeback in South Asian cuisines. During colonial times red millet was considered a coarse grain suitable only for the laboring classes. Nowadays, red millet is touted as a fashionable and healthy 'super food.' One can find all sorts of delicious preparations of red millet such as laddoos, biscuits, halva, and pakora all across the Indian subcontinent. (As well as alcoholic beverages.)

Nov 14, 2016

Ingredients: Pink Peppercorns

Pink peppercorns are not peppercorns at all. They are the dried fruits of two trees native to Brazil (Schinus terebinthi­folius) and Peru (Schinus molle).  Nouvelle cuisine gave rise to pink peppercorns' popularity in the 80's as a colorful garnish or a part of a decorative blend of white, black, and green peppercorns.

Popular 80's Gourmet Multicolored Peppercorn Mix
Pink pepper­corns are named for their shape not for their flavor. They are not particularly pungent, but rather mild and a bit sweet. Pink peppercorns should not be confused with the true ripe red peppercorns from the Piper nigrum vine that have a muted red or brownish hue and a distinctive peppery pungency. Both pink peppercorns and true red peppercorns are available either dried, freeze dried, or pickled in brine. True dried or freeze dried ripe red peppercorns are a very rare and expensive spice. 

Schinus molle fruit and leaves
Pink peppercorns are the dried fruits of two trees native to Brazil (Schinus terebinthi­folius) and Peru (Schinus molle).  Schinus molle is commonly known as the California peppertree, the Brazil peppertree, and the Peruvian peppertree. To add to the confusion the closely related Schinus terebinthi­folius tree is also called  Brazilian peppertree, the broadleaved peppertree, Florida holly, and Christmasberry. The Schinus genus is a member of the Anacardiaceae family which means both trees are related to cashews, pistachios, and mangoes. No sizable amount of the problematic and inflammatory uroshiols common to the Anacardiaceae family have been found in pink peppercorns. However, it is recommended that those suffering nut allergies should avoid pink peppercorns. The fruit and leaves of both Schinus Molle and Schinus terebinthi­folius have been reported to be potentially poisonous to poultry, pigs and possibly calves.

Schinus terebinthi­folius fruit and leaves

The Schinus molle tree is a common sight across California. You will commonly see them growing in groves around old Spanish missions in California. It was once mistakenly thought to be a California native before it was determined that Spanish priests and settlers brought the seeds from Peru and planted them. The Spanish prized the strong wood of the trees for use in making saddles. The long lived and prolific trees did indeed thrive in California's hot and arid climate. They have now become an invasive pest threatening native species in California, Florida, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, South Africa, and Australia.

A Schinus molle tree breaking up the sidewalk in San Francisco
Pink peppercorn trees are actually very beautiful with graceful, willowy branches, gnarled bark, and bright red clusters of fruits. Unfortunately nothing will grow under them. You'll have a continuous carpet of semi evergreen leaves that drop year round and pink peppercorns that freely reseed EVERYWHERE. 

Textured Trunk of Schinus molle
Pink peppercorn trees also grow quite fast with their beautifully gnarled trunks reaching up to six feet in diameter. Their roots grow large and near the surface so they will break up concrete side walks and expensive in-ground swimming pools. I have fond memories of peppercorn tees in California though. No matter how hot and dry it was the peppertrees would always be bright and green. I loved the brittle crunch of pink peppercorns under foot and their light peppery fragrance. We used to make wreaths, garlands, and table centerpieces out of their brilliant red peppercorns and bright green leaves for Fall and Winter holidays. 
Gourmet Food Fad of the 80's- "Peppercorn Medley"
What do dried pink peppercorns taste like? Not much of anything really. I've heard their flavor described as delicate, fruity, berry-like, sweet, chili-like, aromatic, juniper-like, punchy, and pepper-like. Personally, I think they taste and smell faintly like black pepper with a bit of tart sweetness. I can see pink peppercorns' appeal as a colorful garnish, their mild flavor suiting fruits and fish, and their delicate crunch adding some textural interest to a dish. Those pepper medleys and mixes of pink, white, black, and green peppercorns are a bit silly in my opinion. Pink peppercorns' delicate flavor is completely lost when combined with the strong flavors of black, green, and white peppercorns. If you'd like a pepper mix with an exotic and aromatic flavor, you'd be better off replacing the pink peppercorns with allspice. Or use the traditional French spice blend quatre épices which is a varying mixture of black pepper, white pepper, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and or cinnamon. A traditional Indian garam masala would be another good choice of a pepper mix depending on the dish.
Sublime Pink Peppercorns adorning a Mint Stewed Fig nestled in Vegan White Chocolate Mousse atop a Vegan Cookie
Other than a trendy garnish I don't see much use for pink peppercorns. I think they need to go they way of other silly 80's fads like giant shoulder pads, giant hairdos, irrational exuberance, grim optimism, overt materialism, and cosmetic application that looks like warpaint. When I researched this I had no idea that pink peppercorns were related to cashews, mangoes, and pistachios and a possible problem for people suffering nut allergies. That alone would make me hesitant to serve them. If you do find yourself needing to use pink peppercorns do be advised that they break apart easily. They should be crushed with a knife or a mortar and pestle, not a pepper mill. As they are so fragile, they're better purchased in small quantities to ensure top-quality freshness.
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