Smoke that Signals Purity

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Various foods have essential characteristics that underline their genuineness and purity. For instance, when you cut onions, your eyes tend to water. If black peppercorn powder gets into your nostrils, you are likely to have an extended bout of sneezing. Likewise, ginger gives you that typical little sting in the throat – without that it would have no efficacy as either an ingredient or a natural cold cure.

In exactly the same way, the tendency of Mustard Oil to emit wisps of white smoke on reaching its smoking point is an essential characteristic. Today, with elegant modular kitchens and open kitchen formats, many young generation consumers find this aspect of “smoking” to be inconvenient. Yes, the oil may take a couple of minutes to reach its smoking point; the smoke may be somewhat acrid, stinging your nostrils and sending you out of the kitchen; but the good news is that all these attributes point towards the oil being pure and of good quality.

If you are using mustard oil that doesn’t smoke, you can be pretty sure that it is blended with some other (cheaper) oil. Worse still, it could signal the presence of impurities. It may also be very low-grade oil crushed from inferior seeds.

Without the assurance of smoking, you may well be denied the diverse health benefits that Mustard Oil has to offer – and that would be a meaningless sacrifice in the long-run.

So do remember – just like those onions that make you cry and the pepper powder that makes you sneeze, Mustard Oil that emits smoke on heating is the real thing. Don’t unwittingly settle for less!

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Passionate about Parathas

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In an earlier post, we told you about the history of the Paratha (or Parantha) – a traditional flatbread – which has a wide range of variations that have developed across centuries of evolution. To offer variety throughout the year, Indian mothers and grandmothers experimented with various types of stuffing. In vegetarian Parathas, this usually meant making the most of vegetables that were in season at that time. That’s why, across India, there are hundreds of popular variants to satiate the taste-buds of Paratha lovers.

In today’s recipe, we are going to make a Carrot Paratha. This is a traditional north Indian recipe which uses a neat little trick – mixing wheat flour with gram flour to create the perfect consistency for the dough… and the ideal texture for the final Paratha.

The ingredients that you will require are:

Ingredients:

  • Whole Wheat Flour: 250 gram
  • Gram Flour: 100 gram
  • Mustard Oil: 100 millilitres
  • Carrots: 250 gram
  • Turmeric (Haldi) Powder: Just a pinch
  • Sugar: 1 teaspoon
  • Green Chilli: 4
  • Ginger (Adrak): 5 gram
  • Salt: 1 teaspoon

Preparation:

Wash, peel and cut the carrots into small pieces.

Wash, peel and cut the ginger into small pieces.

Finely chop the green chillies.

In a Mixer, grind the carrots, chillies and ginger into a thick paste.

Mix the whole wheat flour with the gram flour. Add the turmeric powder, sugar and salt, along with around 60 millilitres of Mustard Oil. Mix and knead.

Now add the carrot-chilli-ginger mixture along with a little water, and continue kneading to create a soft dough.

Tear off small palm-sized portions of the dough and use a rolling pin (Belan) to roll out small round Parathas.

Method:

Heat the remaining Mustard Oil in a tava or a frying pan on a Medium flame. Once the oil reaches its smoking point, apply a little oil on each side of the Paratha and shallow-fry till the surface of the Paratha turns light pink. Repeat the process till all your Parathas are done.

Your Carrot Paratha is now ready to be served. Unlike other Parathas that are usually brown in colour, this Paratha is a delicate shade of pink – because of the colour of the carrots. They are pretty attractive – and extremely delicious!

Correcting a Seasonal Misconception

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There are some articles and websites that recommend avoiding Mustard Oil as a cooking medium during the monsoons because it is a “heavy oil”. This is a complete misconception that stems from a lack of understanding of the unique health and wellness properties that Mustard Oil has in comparison with other oils. To avoid any confusion that may arise from such viewpoints, let us set the record straight.

The monsoons are a time when stomach ailments and gastrointestinal diseases are on the rise. That’s precisely why Mustard Oil is the ideal cooking oil during this time. Mustard Oil has powerful antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial properties that help fight infections in all parts of the body – especially, in the gastrointestinal tract. Isn’t it wonderful when your cooking oil also takes on the role of a multipurpose health tonic?

The monsoons are also a time when the metabolism of your body turns sluggish. Mustard Oil is known to tone the digestive system and increase the secretion of digestive juices – thereby enhancing the functioning of the digestive system and boosting metabolic activity.

Moreover, Mustard Oil has the ability to fight common colds and boosts your immune system.

Far from staying away from it, Mustard Oil is exactly what you need to get you through the monsoons.

The Ever-Popular Paratha

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There is a misconception that the Paratha (or Parantha) – a traditional flatbread – was introduced to Indian cuisine by the Mughals. On the contrary, the Paratha originated in ancient India. The word “Paratha” has Sanskrit roots that mean “layered dough” and has been mentioned in numerous ancient Sanskrit texts. In fact, the Paratha was so popular that the Mughal chefs later integrated it with their own cuisine and added a wide range of variations.

Even today, the Paratha continues to be extremely popular and makes its way into school Tiffin boxes and office lunchboxes – and is an important part of Indian meals. By varying the stuffing inside the Paratha, a wide range of flavours can be created. In today’s recipe, we look at a modern-day variation: the Cheese-Onion Paratha.

Here are the ingredients that you will require:

Ingredients:

  • Plain Wheat Flour: 125 gram
  • Mustard Oil: 4 tablespoon
  • Ghee: 1 teaspoon
  • Cheese: 50 gram
  • Onion: 1, medium-sized
  • Tomato: 1
  • Green Chilli: 1
  • Ginger (Adrak) Paste: half a teaspoon
  • Garlic (Lasun) Paste: half a teaspoon
  • Black Pepper Powder: half a teaspoon
  • Coriander (Dhania) Leaves: One small bunch
  • Salt: half a teaspoon

The ingredients mentioned above are for making four Parathas. Please adjust the quantities if you require less or more.

Preparation:

Mix the plain wheat flour with a little water, salt and a teaspoon of ghee, and knead it to turn it into soft dough.

Grate the cheese.

Chop and dice the tomato.

Finely chop the onion.

Finely chop the green chilli.

Coarsely chop the coriander leaves.

Method:

Heat the Mustard Oil in a pan on a Medium flame. Add the onions and fry. Add the green chillies, ginger paste, garlic paste and black pepper powder. Mix well and continue frying.

Add the chopped tomatoes and grated cheese – and cook for a couple of minutes.

Remove the pan from the flame and transfer the contents to another dish; let them cool down.

Take the dough and divide it into four equal portions. Roll them into chapatti-sized circles. Divide the cheese-onion-tomato-spices mixture into four parts and spread it on the circles. Sprinkle the chopped coriander leaves over this mixture. Draw up the edges of the circles and pull them towards the centre to cover the mixture. Use a rolling pin (Belan) to turn the layered and stuffed dough into neat round Parathas.

Now apply a little Mustard Oil to both sides of each Paratha and shallow fry in Mustard Oil till the Paratha turns medium brown on both sides.

Your Cheese Onion Paratha is now ready to be served. Eat it hot – and if you have any mango pickle left over from the recently concluded pickling season, it is a great accompaniment for this Paratha.

Mustard Oil for the Monsoon

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The onset of the Monsoons in India marks a time of high humidity, sticky weather and the risk of various fungal and bacterial infections. All this is bad news for your skin.

Since ancient times, Mustard Oil has been used in India to enrich and detoxify the skin. The wise sages who prepared Ayurvedic formulations were, obviously, aware of the unique properties that Mustard Oil has. It has a revitalizing effect on skin cells; it tones the skin; it acts as a natural moisturizer preventing dry, flaky skin; it improves blood circulation; it cleanses the pores of the skin while its natural heating action opens these pores up, enabling them to flush toxins out through the skin; and it even acts as a natural de-tanning agent clearing up spots and marks on the surface of the skin.

Mustard Oil is a rich source of natural Vitamin E and is also packed with natural antioxidants. Both these attributes are excellent for your skin. As atmospheric pollution reaches alarming levels all around you, you can use Mustard Oil to protect your skin from the cellular damage caused by harmful free radicals floating in the air.

During the monsoons, it is a good idea to have a pre-bath Mustard Oil massage, especially before going out. And while the idea of using Mustard Oil in this sticky weather doesn’t sound too attractive, the benefits far outweigh the discomfiture and inconvenience.

Do remember – Mustard Oil has powerful antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral properties. These are just perfect for protecting you and your family from the onslaught of infections and diseases that the rainy weather brings in its wake.

Mustard Oil – it’s your antidote for Monsoon Madness!

A Royal Biryani from Bengal

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1856 was a dismal year for Wajid Ali Shah. The British had taken over Oudh, and Shah – then the tenth Nawab of Oudh – was banished from Lucknow.

Shah settled in a place called Metiabruz on the outskirts of Calcutta, and he tried to maintain the regal lifestyle he was accustomed to – but the British hadn’t left him with much money, so it was a bit of a struggle. The royal feasts were scaled down considerably because the financially squeezed establishment just couldn’t afford large quantities of meat for the exiled monarch, his entourage and his guests.

Wajid Ali Shah’s favourite dish was Avadhi Biryani and that required large amounts of meat. The royal chefs came up with an innovative solution: they added a potato and an egg to fill each platter and compensate for the shortage of meat on the banquet table.

People who have eaten Biryani in places like Delhi and Lucknow are often surprised to find eggs and potatoes in the Bengal Biryani. Well… now you know why!

Here’s the recipe for this famous Biryani from Bengal. You will notice that some of the spices are repeated in the list of ingredients. That’s because separate sets of spices are required for the rice, for marinating the chicken and for giving the Biryani its traditional flavour.

The ingredients that you will need are:

Ingredients:

  • Chicken: 500 grams
  • Mustard Oil: 300 millilitres
  • Hung Curd: 5 tablespoon
  • Onions: 2, large
  • Potatoes: 4, medium-sized
  • Eggs: 4
  • Milk: 50 millilitres
  • Ginger (Adrak) Paste: 2 teaspoon
  • Garlic (Lasun) Paste: 2 teaspoon
  • Red Chilli Powder: 1 teaspoon
  • Black Pepper Powder: Just a pinch
  • Biryani Masala: 1 tablespoon
  • Basmati Rice: 700 grams
  • Saffron: 10 strands
  • Cloves (Laung): 5
  • Green Cardamom (Elaichi): 4
  • Black Cardamom (Elaichi): 1
  • Bay Leaf (Tej Patta): 1
  • Cinnamon (Dalchini): 1 two-inch stick
  • Nutmeg (Jaiphal) Powder: Just a pinch
  • Cumin (Jeera) Seeds: 1 teaspoon
  • Black Peppercorn: 1 teaspoon

Separate Set of Spices:

  • Green Cardamom (Elaichi): 7
  • Black Cardamom (Elaichi): 2
  • Cinnamon (Dalchini): 2 one-inch sticks
  • Black Peppercorn: 1 teaspoon
  • Cloves (Laung): 4
  • Cumin (Jeera) Seeds: 1 teaspoon
  • Fennel (Saunf) Seeds: 1 teaspoon
  • Nutmeg (Jaiphal) Powder: Just a pinch
  • Salt: 2 teaspoon

The ingredients mentioned above are for serving four persons. Please adjust the quantities if you require less or more.

Preparation:

Wash and cut the chicken into standard pieces.

Hard boil the eggs.

Slice the onions.

Wash and peel the potatoes.

As mentioned earlier, there are three sets of spices: the first for the Biryani to give it its traditional flavour; the second to spice the rice up; and the third set for marinating the chicken.

On a tava roast the set of spices shown separately in the list of ingredients. Once these are roasted, grind them into a coarse powder.

Next, it’s time to prepare the marinade. Beat the hung curd in a bowl and add the ginger paste, the garlic paste, red chilli powder, black pepper powder and the Biryani Masala. Mix well till a smooth paste is formed. Then add the chicken pieces ensuring that each piece is thoroughly coated in the marinade. Add one teaspoon of salt, sprinkled over the top and keep the bowl aside for around 4 hours.

Wash and clean the rice. Soak it in water for around 30 minutes.

Use a piece of clean muslin cloth to prepare what is known as a “spice bag”. Place the four green cardamoms, black cardamom, five cloves, the cinnamon stick, a pinch of nutmeg powder, one teaspoon of cumin seeds and one teaspoon of black peppercorn in the muslin cloth and tie it into a small pouch. This is your spice bag.

Take a large pot (in ancient times, this would have been an earthen pot). Fill the pot with water, add one teaspoon of salt and the bay leaf. Bring the water to a boil. Add the rice along with the spice bag and cook till the rice is half done.

Drain the water and carefully spread the rice out on a large tray or plate. Pick out the bay leaf and the spice bag and discard them.

Method:

Heat half the Mustard Oil in a pan on a Medium flame. Fry the onion slices till they turn golden brown. Remove the fried onions from the oil and keep aside.

Add the remaining Mustard Oil and continue heating on a Medium flame till the oil reaches its smoking point. Add the potatoes (whole) and cook till they are half done. Remove the potatoes from the oil and keep aside.

Add the hard boiled eggs to the pan and cook for a minute or so. Remove the eggs from the pan and keep aside.

Next, take the bowl containing the marinated chicken pieces. Gently remove the marinade coating from each piece of chicken – but don’t throw the marinade away; keep it in the bowl.

Now add the chicken pieces to the hot Mustard Oil. Cook till the chicken is half done. Remove the chicken pieces from the oil and keep aside.

Next, add the left over marinade to the pan. Add the potatoes and the eggs and cook till the potatoes are done.

Take the milk in a bowl and warm it a little (don’t boil it). Carefully, place the strands of saffron in the warm milk, rubbing the strands gently between your fingertips to help them dissolve in the milk.

Take a large wide-mouthed pot or a Degchi. Create a series of layers as follows: arrange one layer of rice; sprinkle a little saffron milk over the top; place a layer of chicken and gravy; again sprinkle a little saffron milk; and then another layer of rice. Do the same thing with the potatoes and the eggs. Continue layering till all your ingredients are in the pot.

Now cover the mouth of the pot (or Degchi) and seal the edges using dough.

Place a large tava on a Low flame. Carefully place the pot on the tava and let the contents cook and simmer for around 45 minutes.

Switch the flame off – but let the pot stand on the tava for another 15 minutes. This allows the rice and chicken to absorb the flavours and aromas of the spices.

Your Royal Bengal Biryani is now ready to be served. Break the dough seal, remove the cover and serve straight out of the pot. You would have noticed that there is a lot of preparation and cooking time involved for this dish. That’s because the royal kitchens had dozens of assistants scurrying around, lending a helping hand and carrying out various chores. In a modern kitchen without the additional “manpower” it can be tough – but it’s worth all the trouble!

The Right Way to Cook in Mustard Oil

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When you prepare any recipe using cooking oil, the usage of the oil is simple and straightforward. You pour the oil into a pan, turn on the flame, add the ingredients – all at once or in stages as the recipe may demand – and start cooking. However, regular readers of this blog will know that Mustard Oil needs a slightly different treatment. In fact, our recipes will always tell you to “heat the Mustard Oil in a pan on a Medium flame till the oil reaches its smoking point.”

When Mustard Oil is heated to its smoking point, wisps of white smoke waft up and fill your kitchen. Some refined oil users are vexed by this smoke – but ardent fans of Mustard Oil know that it signals the readiness of your oil for cooking. It also signals that the Mustard Oil you are using is cold-pressed, pure and of good quality. The lack of smoke on heating is often a clear indicator that the oil contains impurities or that it has been mixed with some other – usually cheaper – oil.

The great thing about Mustard Oil is that it has a much higher smoking point in comparison with other cooking oils. With a smoking point that is around 250o Celsius Mustard Oil is ideal for Indian cooking which typically requires deep frying, a succession of ingredients to be heated, and prolonged cooking time.

Cold-pressed Mustard Oil has another great attribute: even when the oil reaches its smoking point, it retains all its nutrients. Its rich levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated Fatty Acids, Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, natural antioxidants and Vitamin E remain intact. As a result of this, all the health benefits that Mustard Oil offers in terms of its antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties are unaffected by the heating of the oil.

So now you know how to get the best out of this natural, cold-pressed health supplement.

  • Heat the oil on a Medium flame till it reaches its smoking point
  • Once the white wisps of smoke waft up, start your cooking
  • You don’t have to rush your cooking – the oil will remain stable and healthy even as the temperature rises

Moreover, do remember that Mustard Oil isn’t just a cooking medium. It’s an ingredient that adds a characteristic taste and aroma to the dish you are preparing. It’s an essential part of Indian gravies, especially in the cuisines of Bengal, Punjab, Bihar and Kashmir. And it has been part and parcel of India’s natural healthcare system (Ayurveda); home remedies; skincare; and hair care for thousands of years.

Mustard Oil may indeed be a rather different medium for cooking in, but the benefits it offers are definitely worth it. Use it with confidence – and pride.