Archive for June 7, 2006

Mythili’s Mistress of Spices ~ Mustard Seed

Very talented Mythili of Vindhu kindly invited me to participate in her Mistress of Spices event. I hesitated at first, because I would not make the deadline, but once I had the idea in my head, and knew which spice I wanted to learn about, it rather took over… mustard seed. Then I saw RP of My Workshop did a lovely post about saffron after June 4 … so I didn’t feel so bad… hope you don’t mind if I am late, Mythili!


Lovely Mustard Seed


The following is a direct copy and paste (and so is credited as such) from Global Garden

Name: Mustard (Black) Brassica nigra
Description: Black Mustard is an annual herb that can grow up to 2m tall. The lower leaves are large and hairy and the younger leaves are softer and smoother. Bright yellow four-petalled flowers are borne in summer and are followed by pods which contain the dark reddish brown or black mustard seeds.

Origin: Europe, North Africa and Asia

Cultivation: Black Mustard grows very readily from seed sprinkled where the plants are to grow. The plants need a sunny, well-drained location. As a member of the Brassica genus, the plant attracts cabbage white butterflies and their caterpillars. The plant has the capacity to become a weed as it has done elsewhere. To prevent self-seeding and to ensure that the mustard seeds are not lost, pods should be harvested as soon as they start to colour and kept in paper or cloth bags until they dry out and split open.

Uses: Young leaves can add a peppery tang to green salads. The seeds can be crushed and used to flavour pickles, curries and other meat and vegetable dishes. Southern Indian cuisine makes use of roasted or popped mustard seed which has a nutty flavour. Black mustard is the favoured ingredient in French Mustard. The seed can also be sprouted and the sprouts used as a spicy and nutritious addition to salads and sandwiches. The seed has long been used for medicinal purposes. Mustard plasters and poultices were used in different cultures for the relief of inflammation and chest complaints, but this was not without its risks as the mustard oil that the plant contains is highly volatile and can easily cause skin to blister.


More basic information is found here at Spice Pages.


A few of my own thoughts on mustard seeds…

Over the past few months that I’ve been devouring new Indian dishes, I have discovered mustard belongs in everything from pickle to podi to popu. It’s essential, in fact, to many recipes that call for a tempering (tadka, popu, my own translation would be ‘extra splash of spice’). When I first began to cook authentic Indian, I sometimes found my tadka tasted ‘burned’. Because the mustard seeds pop and hiss about in the pan, I assumed I was cooking them at too high temperature. I experimented with putting cumin in first, mustard after, and found to my surprise it was the cumin getting a little too dark that caused that burned taste. Lesson relearned ~ never assume.

Mustard seed is the pleasing little pop in your teeth in that spoonful of dal. The appealing dark spots of color interspersed with the yellow of turmeric or the orangey-red of chili powder in your vegetable fry or curry ~ that’s mustard. It is also what spilled out all over everywhere one day when I opened a rather large package from Indian grocery ~ not easy to round up from counter and floor!

Together with cumin, mustard’s aroma is what reminds me I am cooking real food, not some doctored-up-for-western-palate restaurant dish. In all the Indian dishes I’ve had in a restaurant, I have never once seen a mustard seed or curry leaf… and the cumin only shows up in rice.

Here’s to Mustard, and thank you Mythili, for inviting me. 🙂

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