Thursday, November 8, 2012

Panch Phoron Blend

Spices play a a key role in Indian cuisine, perhaps more so than food from any other culture, and spice blends in particular. I have, in the past, worked with Garam Masala and curry powder (both easy to make at home, but also available for purchase in the spice aisle), but I had never before heard of the blend called panch phoron. Unlike other spice blends, the five types of seeds in panch phoron (panch means "five") are never ground or toasted, but instead left whole. This blend is so simple it hardly seems worth calling it a recipe; all you have to do is mix everything together.

  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tablespoon nigella seeds
1. Combine all of the ingredients, and store in an airtight container.

Now that you've made the blend, let's meet the seeds:

Cumin seeds are probably familiar to you - they have a strong, warm aroma and flavor, and actually contain a good bit of iron (although you'd have to eat an absurd amount of cumin to use this as your primary source of the mineral).

Fennel seeds come from the fennel plant, of course, the bulb and fronds of which you're likely familiar with. The seeds have a strong anise (licorice) flavor.

Be sure you choose brown mustard seeds for the blend, not yellow. The seeds are just lightly spicy, and the taste will be familiar to you from whole-grain Dijon mustard.

Fenugreek is an herb I didn't learn about until my late twenties. The seeds are bitter, but with what is described as a smoky, maple undertone.

And finally, nigella seeds (also called black caraway) are small and black ,with a bitter taste and smell. Don't confuse them with black onion seeds or black sesame seeds, which look similar.

Now that we've met our seeds, the question remains of how to use the blend. You will probably want to toast in a skillet first, and then can add to just about anything - vegetables, curries, lentil dishes, or prepared Indian pickles. 

Tonight I tried it with the vegan fish fillets from EcoVegan, alongside a store-bought spicy potato curry over rice.

Other options include: sauteed in a pan with Gardein's beefless tips;

stirred into spiced lentils;

toasted and stirred into rice with hot mango pickle: 

or with Gardein chicken (shown here with the hot mango pickle from Pataak's:   

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1 and 1/2 teaspoons), Calories 17

Tasting Notes:
For the sake of the blog, I did just take a bite of the raw seeds. Toasty on the front, with licorice from the fennel and nuttiness from the mustard seeds, and an aftertaste that's mostly bitter. But of course, it's not meant to be eaten by the spoonful. Once added to dishes, the spices gave warm, toasted flavor to a vegan fish and potato curry, and were a fantastic way to temper the heat of jarred hot mango pickle.  In fact, the spicier the dish I served this blend with, the more I liked it.  I'd really rate this a "2" if somebody handed me a plate and spoon and told me to eat it alone, but that's never how you'll serve it.


Vegan extra:
One thing I don't discuss often on this blog is cosmetics, but your bathroom cabinet is just as important as your food cabinets when it comes to being vegan. I recently wanted a fix for dry winter nails, and found this tea tree oil from Jason's, a company that does not test on animals:

Don't forget healthy nails should be shiny and pinkish; white nails can signal liver disease, and pale brittle nails might mean anemia.  Ever wonder about those white specks you sometimes see? It's a sign of mild trauma as the nail grew; enter my new tea tree oil, and shiny happy nails:

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