June 07, 2011

Panch Phoron + Cauliflower and Potatoes with Bengali Spices

I recently read about a spice mix called panch phoron, which translates to "five spices" or "five flavors."  It is a common feature of Bengali cooking, and is sometimes referred to as "Bengali Five-Spice."  This mix of ingredients - equal amounts black mustard seed, cumin seed, fennel seed, fenugreek seed and nigella seed - sounded pretty good, so I decided to read a bit about Bengali dishes and either find a good recipe to make or make up one of my own.   After studying a bunch of Bengali recipes, I decided to toss together some common aspects of Bengali cooking to make a vegetable dish of my own to go along with a shrimp curry I was planning to make for the same dinner.

Based on what I've seen of Bengali cooking, panch phoron appears to be at the core of a lot of Bengali dishes.  Most typically, the first step of a dish using panch phoron is to heat up some oil and cook the spice mix until the various seeds start to pop.   That basic technique - add some spices to hot oil so as to flavor the oil and thus everything subsequently added to the oil - is a common one to several Indian cuisines, and the results are usually pretty good, so I decided to use that as the starting point of my dish as well.   I was sort of torn as to whether to make something with cauliflower or potatoes - both are common to Bengali cooking, and to Indian cuisine in general - so I decided I'd make a dish including both.  Those decisions made, the rest of the recipe was pretty obvious, and it came together quickly. 

The resulting dish was really, really good.  The various spices went well with the vegetables, and the cayenne gave the dish  just the slightest bit of heat.  I think this one ranks high among the best Indian and Indian-inspired vegetable dishes I've made, and Juli also liked it quite a bit.  It's quick and easy to make and quite satisfying, either on its own or along with some other Indian dishes, and I know I'll be making this again in the future. 

If you'd like a fast, easy, flavorful Indian dish, you might want to give this one a try.

Panch Phoron

2             tablespoons black (or brown) mustard seed
2             tablespoons cumin seed
2             tablespoons fennel seed
2             tablespoons fenugreek seed
2             tablespoons nigella (aka charnushka) seed

Combine all five spices in a bowl.  Mix thoroughly and store in a tightly-sealed glass jar.

Note:  Panch phoron is always made with whole seeds, not ground spices.

Cauliflower and Potatoes with Bengali Spices

yield = 4-5 servings

2             tablespoons vegetable oil
2             tablespoons panch phoron
1             teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2       small potatoes, halved or quartered
1             large head broccoli, cut into florets
1             teaspoon minced garlic
1/4          teaspoon table salt
1/8          teaspoon cayenne pepper
1             cup water
               juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
               chopped fresh cilantro to garnish

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add panch phoron and cook unil the seeds are steadily popping (about 1 minute).  Stir in turmeric, then add potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have started to brown, about 5 minutes. 

Add cauliflower florets, stir and cook about 2 minutes.  Push aside vegetables to clear a spot at the bottom of the pan and add garlic.  Cook 45 seconds, then add salt, cayenne and water. 

When the water is boiling, stir then reduce heat to low simmer and cover.  Cook 4 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender.  

Transfer to a serving dish, squeeze in lemon juice and top with chopped cilantro.  Serve.

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