Chhota seed bada dhamaka

Our tadkas will not be the same without this little seed that may be small but packs a punch that...

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Mustard seeds

That is what I would like to call the mustard seeds, which is an integral part of Indian masala box. Our tadkas will not be the same without this little seed that may be small but packs a punch that wins over most hearts.

Also called as rai or sarson, mustard seeds are used all over India. We all know that the winter speciality sarson da saag, the green parent of this seed, is the soul of Punjabi food. Served with makki di roti it is something to die for. However, Punjabis do not use the seed much in their cooking except in pickles or the other winter speciality gajar ki kanji.

Something about this tiny seed
Mustard seeds are obtained from a plant that belongs to brassica family which also includes vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, brussels-sprouts, etc. Mustard is a winter crop. The plant reaches about four to five feet in height and has golden yellow coloured flowers. Mustard flowers dancing gently in the winter winds is a sight to behold. Surely, you have seen it in moviews but if you want to see this heavenly sight in person, then go to the fields of Punjab during winter months. Its tiny, round seeds measuring about one mm in diameter is encased inside a fruit pod in a similar fashion like green pea pod.

There are three main varieties of mustard available around the world.

  • White mustard seeds: These are light straw yellow coloured and are slightly larger than the other two varieties. White seeds are mildly pungent.
  • Black mustards: Commonly seen in South Asia, these seeds are sharp and more pungent than other two varieties.
  • Brown mustards: This variety is found in the sub-Himalayan plains of North India.

Tadke ka raja
Used to temper many dishes, add it to hot oil and listen to them spluttering – it is almost like sweet music. It is really very necessary to wait till the seeds go plop in hot oil before you add the other ingredients of the tempering.

An integral part of paanch phoron that is a must in Bengali cuisine. The other four partners in the mix is cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds and onion seeds. Together they pack such a punch that can be relished in many dishes like chutneys, pickles, dals and vegetables.

I know you must be thinking, there he goes again stating the obvious! But there is so much in store for you when it comes to mustard. It is not only the leader in a phodni or vaghar lending the smoking oil a pungency that lines the dal or vegetable with a fine definite bite but also gives a character to the cuisine. Ask any one from South India or Bengal and see that they will defend rai to any extent. Like I say, a lot of rai (opinions) on rai!!

It reigns over our kitchens

Apart from being used in tempering of various dishes, its sauce finds favour with many. It provides a full range of sensations both on the tongue and in the eyes! Hot dog is not as enjoyable without this lip smacking sauce.

Bengalis use mustard to very good effect. Sorse Ilish Bata is perhaps one of the most relished dishes that Bengalis love to cook during all their special occasions. And yes one must add the chief cooking medium of Bengali cuisine that is the mustard oil. One must however remember when using mustard oil for cooking – first heat it till it smokes. Let it cool down slightly and then heat it again and proceed with cooking the dish. This is because mustard oil has a very pungent flavour which can be overpowering. However when you heat it first till it smokes, some of this pungency is diluted and the result is an extremely pleasant flavour.

Mustard has a wonderful ability to hold an oil and water mixture in suspension as can be seen when used in salad dressings and other emulsified sauces such as hollandaise sauce or mayonnaise or vinaigrette. All in all this little hero has a great value.