The Indian palate, has always loved strong flavours and mustard with its ability to pack a punch is a much loved spice in our country.
Mustard is one of the oldest, most widely used spices in Indian cuisine. Its leaves are also consumed as a vegetable, beloved for their pungent notes. The brassica genus to which mustard belongs, includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips and radishes. The mustard family also includes plants grown for their leaves, like arugula, a number of Oriental greens, as well as mustard greens.
Mustard is a cool season vegetable that prefers plenty of sunlight with fertile, well-drained soils. The leaves are ovate and the pods are 3 -5 cm long. Mustard pods must be harvested before they burst, that is when they are almost fully developed but not ripe. The seeds are available whole, dehusked or coarsely ground and store well for long periods of time.This spice can be used whole or ground into dry powder with no aroma or flavour until mixed with a liquid. Pounding the mustard seeds releases its essential oils and its characteristic flavour.
Mustard’s most prominent avatar is in the ‘tadka’ or tempering that goes into dal on a daily basis. Stored in the little spice boxes of the Indian kitchen alongside other spices, the cook will grab a large pinch and scatter it into the hot ghee, give it a few seconds to splutter and pour over the freshly cooked dal. But there is so much more one can do with this unassuming ingredient.
Mustard’s qualities truly come to the fore in the summer months between April and July. The weather patterns of the Indian subcontinent dictate what we eat seasonally and a large onus of balancing the vagaries of the weather on the body is laid on spices. India, home to one of the oldest culinary histories in the world has a large space for mustard which is invaluable in summer for its medicinal qualities. The preservative qualities of mustard make it an essentialingredient in pickling season and its astringent properties make it an important ingredient in fermented cooling summer drinks like kanji.Whole seeds are also included in most pickling spice mixes although coarsely ground mustard is also sometimes used.
Mustard leaves on the other hand are popular during winter when they are cooked into stir-fries, vegetable side dishes and the legendary sarsonkasaag of Punjab but the true aroma of the ingredient is revealed in the use of the cold pressed raw mustard oil.
Entrapping the pungency of mustard into a magical condiment is a specialty of Bengali cuisine! Called Kasundi, this mustard paste is served as a chutney or condiment to dip foods in or spice up simple meals of rice and aluseddho (simple boiled potatoes) or sautéed leafy greens. Most especially it is used in the legendary ilishpaturito coat chunks of hilsa fish which are then wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked. Made of black or brown mustard crushed and pounded with green chilies and salt, Kasundi is never ground in a mixer, always in the stone mortar and pestle that draws out the true flavor of mustardby agitating the inherent oils in seeds through the pounding.
There is nothing like freshly made mustard. Here is my favourite recipe.
Honey Chilli Mustard
1 cup yellow mustard seeds
1/2 cup black/brown mustard seeds
1/4 cup natural (not synthetic) vinegar
1/2-1 cup water for grinding + for soaking
Salt to taste
1 tbsp chilli flakes
2 tbsp honey
Soak the mustard for at least 8 hours, overnight or until the seeds turn soft in water. Drain completely.
Transfer the soaked mustard to a blender and grind with ½ to 1 cup fresh water as needed. The mustard will get pungent and aromatic.
Add the vinegar and grind again.
Add salt, chilli flakes and honey and grind to desired consistency - coarse or fine.
Transfer to anairtight bottle. This can be consumed right away.
It can be refrigerated for months.
Profile -RushinaMunshaw-Ghildiyal is a gastronome, author, menu consultant,food historian and teacher. One of India’s pioneering food bloggers she is an expert inIndianandWorldcuisines she has a keen understanding of ingredients and flavour combinations. She is committed to inspiring people, especially children, to cook, through her many endeavours as owner of A Perfect Bite® Consulting, a premier food consulting firm and APB Cook Studio® , India's first kitchen studio.
(This article was first published on https://rushinamunshawghildiyal.blogspot.in)