Showing posts with label spice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spice. 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,
Bibi

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.

Jan 25, 2017

Mughlai Garam Masala

garam masala, mughal, mughlai, recipe, easy, garam, masala, traditional, authentic, simple, hot, spice, blend, mixture, indian, north indian, sahni, julie,

In Hindi, masala refers to a mixture of spices and garam means hot or warming in the Ayurvedic sense. Mughlai garam masala is a traditional mixture of cardamom, cassia bark, cloves, black pepper, and nutmeg added. It adds a subtle aromatic flavor to dishes and is considered a hallmark of classical north Indian cooking.


Garam masala is used as a finishing touch in many Subcontinental cuisines just as ground black pepper is used in Western cooking. Recipes for garam masala vary from region to region and even household to household! This classic recipe for garam masala in royal Mughal style is adapted from the famed chef Julie Sahni's brilliant cookbook, Classic Indian Cooking. Differing in the lavish use of expensive spices this particular blend is not often commercially available. If you were to purchase the ingredients for this garam masala at a western supermarket or specialty spice store the cost would be exorbitant. However, if you buy the whole spices at your local Indian grocer and grind them yourself, this blend will cost mere pennies!

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The flavor of this garam masala is sweeter and more delicate compared to most ready made blends too. I like to use this recipe when cooking the rich cream, milk, or meat-based dishes of north Indian cuisines. According to Chef Sahni, the spices in this blend are so naturally fragrant and easily digested that dry roasting them isn't necessary. I chose green cardamoms for this batch but using black or brown cardamoms results in a deeper, smoky flavor. I also used cassia bark rather than cinnamon sticks because it's traditional and I prefer it's peppery bite over the sweeter cinnamon. Anyway you choose to customize this blend it's sure to add a little Mughal splendor to everything you make!

Ingredients:
1/3 cup (about 200) green cardamom/elaichi pods or 1/2 C (about 60) black cardamoms/badi elaichi
2 three inch pieces of cassia bark/dalchini or cinnamon sticks
1 TBS whole cloves/laung
1 TBS black peppercorns/kali mirch
1&1/2 tsp grated nutmeg/jaiphal (optional)

Here's what to do:
1) Crush cassia bark or cinnamon sticks with a kitchen mallet, rolling pin, or belan to break it into small pieces. (If you have little bits and bobs of cassia bark or cinnamon stick about this is a good place to use them.)

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2) Combine all the spices except nutmeg and grind to a fine powder in a coffee grinder, a spice mill, or a mixie.
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3) Mix in the grated nutmeg, if desired. Store in an airtight container away from heat and light. Use within three months. Makes about 3/4C

Helpful Hints:
Chef Sahni advises removing the seeds from the cardamom pods and discarding the skins. I disagree, the skin of green cardamoms and black cardamoms have flavor. I can't bear to throw the skins away! Anyway, I use the whole pod when I grind my masalas but peel away if you must. (But don't throw away those skins, put them in your masala chai mix!)

If you are interested in trying other regional variations of this classic spice blend try Punjabi Garam Masala, Nepali Garam Masala, or Kashmiri Garam Masala.

Portrait of Mughal Emperor Zahir ud-Din Mohammad (Babur), founder of the Mughal empire
date 1630AD, artist unknown

Jan 9, 2017

Malai Methi Murgh

malai methi murgh recipe chicken curry indian fenugreek cream creamy easy

Malai means cream, methi means fenugreek, and murgh means chicken. In this dish chicken is simmered until meltingly tender in a rich, creamy gravy fragrant with fenugreek and traditional aromatic spices. A true North Indian delicacy that's mild in heat yet boldly spiced and flavorsome. A perfect recipe for a cozy and comforting Fall or Winter supper when paired with rice or rotis!

malai methi murgh recipe chicken curry indian fenugreek cream creamy easy

Fenugreek and I have not always been such good friends. It's not a familiar flavor to the Western palate and can easily overpower a dish if not used properly and judiciously. This dish uses the dried leaves of fenugreek which are usually available at any Indian grocers' by the name kasoori methi.

Kasoori Methi or dried fenugreek leaves usually come sealed in foil in a small box of a few ounces.

Dried fenugreek leaves or kasoori methi require a little special treatment to get them to release their rich and complex flavor without becoming bitter or overwhelming. As with herbs in general, fenugreek's flavor is much more concentrated in the dried form while the fresh leaves are much milder. A few pinches of the dried herb is all that's necessary to imbibe it's earthy flavor often said to be a bittersweet blend of celery, fennel, and maple.
The herb kasoori methi or dried fenugreek leaves.
Cream is the perfect agent to mellow the sharpness of kasoori methi and best bring out the rich, complex flavor. Never fry kasoori methi as it may scorch and turn unpalatably bitter. (One of my first unfriendly encounters with kasoori methi was the result of just such a scorching.) Only add the kasoori methi towards the end of the dish after the cream or other liquid has been added. Be sure to crush the kasoori methi between your fingers when adding it to a dish to help release it's flavor. Not more than a tablespoonful is usually all that's necessary, anymore than that in a recipe is cause for grave suspicion! If you follow all these suggestions you'll be rewarded with a gravy whose velvety texture is enhanced and warmly accented with kasoori methi's unique and robust flavor. If you wish to learn more about fenugreek when used as a spice, fresh herb, or dried herb you may do so on a post I did here. Despite any previous mishaps, I think you'll find when fenugreek is used gently and judiciously it's quite the taste sensation!

Ingredients:
1 kg/2lbs chicken pieces, skinless and bone in
3 TBS cooking oil or ghee (clarified butter)
1 C onions, thinly sliced into half moons
2 TBS garlic/lahsun paste
2 TBS ginger/adrak paste
2-3 green chilis/hari mirch, finely chopped (omit for less heat)
1 TBS coriander/dhania
1 tsp turmeric/haldi
2 tsp garam masala
5 green cardamoms/elaichi, bruised with mortar and pestle
3 black cardamoms/badi elaichi, bruised with mortar and pestle
5 cloves/laung
1 inch piece of cassia bark/dalchini (or cinnamon stick)
10 black peppercorns/kali mirch, ground coarsely
2 cassia leaves/
1 C milk mixed with 1/4 C cream
1 C water or stock/shorba
1/2 to 1 TBS dried fenugreek leaves/kasoori methi

Here's what to do:
1) Heat oil or ghee with 1 teaspoon salt over medium high heat in a deep heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai for 4-5 minutes. Add thinly sliced onions and fry for 8-10 minutes until medium brown. Add green chilis, garlic, and ginger paste and fry for 2 minutes stirring well. Add coriander, turmeric, garam masala, green cardamoms, black cardamoms, cloves, cassia bark, black peppercorns, and cassia leaves. Stir well and cook mixture for at least 2 minutes or until raw smell leaves spices.


2) Add chicken pieces to the pan. Allow chicken pieces to cook for about 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in milk mixed with cream. Return pan to heat and bring to simmer over medium heat.


3) Add 1 to 2 cups water or stock (or enough to cover chicken by at least a half an inch of liquid)  to chicken mixture in pan. Crumble dried fenugreek leaves/kasoori methi over chicken mixture and stir in well.

4) Allow to simmer over medium covered for 20 to 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and oil separates from the gravy. Salt to taste and serve with rice and/or rotis.



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 27, 2016

Nepali Garam Masala

Nepali Garam Masala recipe szechuan peppercorns timur sichuan nepal

From the Himalayan nation of Nepal comes this version of the classic spice mix garam masala. Garam means heating in the Ayurvedic sense and masala means spices. What makes this recipe for garam masala unique is the use of Himalayan grown spices like zingy timur (Szechuan peppercorns), fragrant cassia leaves, and aromatic brown cardamoms. Try this simple to make spice mix to add some Nepalese flavor to any savory dish!

Nepali Garam Masala recipe szechuan peppercorns timur sichuan nepal
Don't let the use of timur or the Himalayan variety of Szechuan peppercorns in this recipe put you off. You most certainly can use the easier to find Chinese Szechuan peppercorns in place of the Nepali variety called timur. Let me tell you, the Chinese Szechuan peppercorns pack about half the wallop and pungency that the Nepali variety called timur does. This recipe has just the right proportion of black peppercorns to Szechuan peppercorns to give you a mild sensation of what the Chinese call ma la (translates as 'numbing heat').  I choose not to dry roast my garam masala as I usually fry it when adding to a dish but I've added directions on how to traditional dry roast the spices on the stove top or use an oven. Either way make this spice mix to add a bit of traditional Nepali zest and zing to any curry or chutney!

Ingredients:
1 TBS cumin seeds/jeera
1 TBS coriander seeds/dhania
1 TBS black peppercorns/kali mirch
2 tsp green cardamoms/elaichi
2 tsp black cardamoms/kali elaichi
1 inch piece of cassia bark/dalchini, broken into small pieces (or cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp cloves/laung
1/2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns/timur
1 cassia leaf/tej patta, cut into small pieces
Do not dry roast but mix in afterwards-
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg/jaiphal
1/2 tsp ground dried ginger/soonth

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 the finely ground powdery stuff you see sold at stores. To get the traditional 'coffee grounds' 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.

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. Do not dry roast grated nutmeg or dried ginger.
3) Allow to cool completely. Grind coarsely (including grated nutmeg and dried ginger) using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.
(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 (except grated nutmeg and dried ginger) over 13 inch by 9 inch baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake spices for 10 minutes.
3) Allow to cool completely and grind coarsely (including mace, nutmeg, or allspice) using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.

Here's photo of a beautiful Nepali sunset I took from my roof yesterday evening.
There's Mt Macchapuchre on the right and Annapurna III on the left in the parting clouds at dusk. 


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.

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