By Naini Setalvad
Mustard is an indispensable part of Indian cuisine, be it in the form of spice, cooking medium or masala. The flavour adds zing to a dish, says Naini Setalvad
The mustard seed has a distinctive aroma and a slightly nutty flavor and is used as a spice and oil in food for thousands of years, in many countries. It has even been mentioned in ancient Sanskrit writings dating back about 5,000 years ago. The seed of the mustard plant is a cruciferous vegetable making it a powerful antioxidant. As it grows well in temperate climates, it is used on a substantial scale in the Indian subcontinent. Unbelievable as it may sound, there are as many as 40 varieties of mustard, though the popular ones are black, white and brown. Black mustard seeds are the most pungent. It is an important seasoning agent in Indian cuisine. Mustard oil is also commonly used as a cooking/frying medium. This tiny seed, no more than a tenth of a millimeter in diameter, has often been used as a metaphor by the great saints and prophets of the world. Gautam Buddha compared a world cycle to the time it would take to move a pile of mustard seeds, if one seed was moved every one hundred years. Jesus Christ said that even those with faith as small as a mustard seed could move mountains. The Koran says that even the equivalent of a mustard seed will be accounted for on the day of judgment.
Tiny as it is, its effects are potent, a fact that even scientists are acknowledging today. As it belongs to the cruciferous group, the mustard seed contains cancer- fighting properties. Consuming mustard seeds daily plays a significant role in protection against obesity-related colon cancer. Mustard oil is popularly used in India for cooking, and as a preservative agent in pickles and preserves. It is said to act as a detoxifier against cancer-causing chemicals and thus protects cells.
The Harvard School of Public Health found that cooking in mustard oil lowers the risk of heart disease by a staggering 51 per cent as compared to sunflower oil. They also discovered that mustard seeds help stabilize insulin levels.
The Romans took mustard seeds to Dijon in France in the 14th century, and that city started commercially selling mustard. They have more than 3,500 preparations of mustard, and till today the most popular mustard paste in the world is said to be from Dijon. In the 18th century, the English invented a way to make it into a dry powder and the famous Coleman’s Mustard in 1904 made its debut in America, slathered on a hot dog.
Mustard oil is cold pressed from the whole seed, with no heat treatment, and is then filtered through cotton and paper, and bottled. The characteristic mustard flavor is developed in the presence of water through the action of the enzyme system.
There are many of ways of using mustard.
Add whole seeds to temper and saute dishes. Coarsely grind seeds and add it to curds to make raitas, dips or marinades. Add whole seeds to vinegar and use as a dressing. Use paste to braise fish or paneer or chicken. Dry roast and add to vegetables or salads.
200 gms potato, boiled and cut into squares
50 gms low fat yogurt
1 tsp mustard paste
1/2 tsp honey
Pinch of dry herbs (coriander, mint, parsley, oregano)
1 green chili optional
A few lettuce leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
250 gms ordinary black/brown mustard seeds
100 gms yellow mustard seeds
5 whole dry kashmiri red chillies
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin
3 tsp oil (mustard or sunflower)
4 pods of garlic
salt to taste
1 tbsp jaggery/sugar
Balsamic vinegar as required for grinding
Use when needed.
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