by Kate Heyhoe
According to the Oxford Companion to Food: "Panch phoron is a combination of five spices (panch in Hindi and in Persian means five). The most popular quintet is: mustard seed, cumin seed, fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds, and fennel seeds. However, alternatives include aniseed, cassia leaves, and red chillies."
You can mix your own blend, using equal quantities of each spice, but Indian markets carry pre-mixed panch phoron, in the same way that Asian markets carry Chinese five-spice. It's a handy, quick seasoning for dals, vegetables, chicken, fish and other dishes. The key to releasing the flavors, though, is to fry the panch phoron in ghee (clarified butter) or hot oil, being careful not to cook the seeds more than a few seconds to avoid burning them. (Burned seeds will taste bitter; if this happens, throw out the mixture and start again.)
Often, the toasted panch phoron mixture is made first and other ingredients are then added. Frequently, though, the oil and panch phoron mixture are poured on top of a dish just before serving, as with dal and lentil dishes and with the cabbage dish below.
This is my version of a recipe which hails from Bengali, on India's east coast, where panch phoron is most widely used.
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 head cabbage, finely shredded
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ghee (or canola oil)
2 teaspoons panch phoron
Heat the ghee in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the ginger, turmeric, and onion. Stir-fry until the onion is soft and beginning to brown. Add the cabbage and salt and stir fry until the cabbage is slightly wilted. Heat the ghee in the small skillet and when hot, add the panch phoron. As soon as the mixture crackles and is aromatic, pour it over the cabbage and mix. Serve hot as a side dish.
What Food Writers Read: The Oxford Companions
This page created February 2000
Copyright © 1994-2017,