Category Archives: Condiments & Seasoning

Pork Roast with Bengali Five Spice Blend (Panch Phoron)

Most of you probably know garam masala, but have you ever heard of panch phoron? During my recent web browsing I stumbled more and more often at this mysterious Bengali blend of spices. The day I decided to taste it, I realised I had all the necessary ingredients, so it took me five minutes to make my own panch phoron and get ready to cook. I prepared one Bengali recipe, several days later another, then another… and now I’m so hooked on this mixture of aromatic seeds, I started my own experiments, such as this pork roast. Apart from my usual powdered roasting rub (powdered garlic, turmeric and chilli), I added a generous amount of panch phoron, mixed everything with oil and basted the meat, hoping it would create a spicy crust on top. The roast did end up with a nice crunchy texture and a wonderful array of addictive flavours. It was perfect in wraps with my homemade chapatti.

Phanch phoron (“five spices”) is a Bengali mixture of five seeds: fennel, nigella (black onion/kalonji), black mustard, cumin and fenugreek. All the seeds are whole and used usually at the beginning of a cooking process, stir-fried in oil until they start to pop (it’s called “tempering”), before other ingredients are added. I have also seen tempered panch phoron used as a “topping” (added just before serving). Some web sources use an equal amount of each and some advise adding an equal amount of everything apart from fenugreek. I have opted for the latter because I know that fenugreek can easily overwhelm any dish and any other spice. Therefore this is what my very first panch phoron looked like:
-2 teaspoons fennel seeds
-2 teaspoons cumin seeds
-2 teaspoons nigella seeds
-2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
-1 teaspoon fenugreek

Apparently some Bengali cooks using radhuni seeds instead of mustard seeds, but the huge majority of Indian blogs and websites call for mustard seeds, so I didn’t bother checking this other version (but maybe one day… if I find radhuni…).

All the spices are easily available in every Indian/Pakistani grocery shop and of course online (I bet one can buy all the seeds on Amazon too). All of them are regularly used, ground or not, in Indian dishes, they keep their freshness for quite a long time (unless ground), so if you cook or intend to cook Indian, it’s a wise investment.

TIPS: This lean pork loin roast is treated rather like a cold meat, so you will probably find it too dry if eaten hot as a part fo a Western-style meal. I advise using a fatter cut (such as shoulder) or tenderloin instead if you want a juicier result. Personally I don’t mind if pork roast is a bit dry (not too dry of course!), so I often bake loin anyway.

I have a very old oven, so you might want to adjust the roasting time according to yours. I start with high temperature and never reduce it because I like the results: I have noticed the crust forms quicker and the meat is less dry inside.

The pork should be at room temperature at the moment you put it into the oven, so make sure you take it out of the fridge early enough.

Preparation: about 50 minutes

Ingredients (serves four-five, if used in wraps or sandwiches):

600 g (bout 21 oz) pork roast (I have used the lean loin, but you can use any cut you like)

salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons chilli powder (or more, depending on the chilli powder and your heat resistance)

1 teaspoon powdered garlic (see the super easy home recipe here)

5-6 teaspoons of panch phoron (see the recipe above)

4 tablespoons oil (I have used coconut fat but any high heat resistant fat can be used)

Preheat the oven to 210°C (410°F).

Take out the pork out of the fridge, wash it, pat dry and season the with salt.

Make a mixture of oil and all the spices (turmeric, garlic, chilli powder and phaanch phoron).

Put the pork into a baking dish and rub with the spice and oil mixture (you can use a brush to do it).

Bake at 210°C for 40 minutes (make sure it’s no longer fridge-cold at the moment you put it into the oven).

Ten minutes before the end, take out the baking dish and baste the top of the roast with some of the spicy oil you will see at the bottom of the dish.

Put back to the oven for ten more minutes.

Serve sliced in wraps (it’s fabulous with Indian chapatti!) or in sandwiches.

Indian Chilli Pickles

indian_pickledchillipI you didn’t expect to see a pickling post in January, believe me, I’m as surprised as you are, but sometimes cravings make one forget about the seasonality of fresh produce. After my French cuisine-inspired Christmas and New Year’s Eve I’ve been craving fiery, spicy, rich Indian food more than ever, hence probably this pickling idea. As a chilli addict and a serial pickler I have my pantry, fridge and kitchen filled with different spicy jars. I’ve been pickling for years, constantly searching for new ideas from all around the world…. so finally I thought it was time to turn to Indian cuisine I love more and more every year. My first experiment was so successful, I can only regret I haven’t tried making any Indian preserves before and I strongly recommend trying these not only to Indian food lovers but all my fellow chilli addicts.

I have combined two sources, one from the fantastic book by Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and another from the newly discovered Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi), the latter recipe being much richer in spices and closer to what I had in mind thinking of Indian pickled chilli. If you know Patak’s, the famous British brand of Indian pickles, and if you love their products as much as I do (my favourite are chilli and mango pickles), you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover my very first homemamde Indian pickles had this distinctive Patak’s aroma I’m totally addicted to! Moreover, they seemed crunchier and less oily than the famous jars’ content. Needless to say, I feel it’s only the beginning of my long adventure with Indian pickling…

These chillies are perfect on sandwiches, in tortilla rolls, in scrambled eggs (!!!) and simply served with any dish, not necessarily Indian. My favourite light breakfast (I’m rarely hungry in them morning) is now a slice of crisp thin bread (Finncrisp is the best!) with a thick layer of goat cheese or quark/curd cheese and two or three slices of these pickles. I have no words to describe how fantastic it is!

TIPS: In theory fresh chilli is not now in season in this part of the world, but the one sold by my supermarket comes from Moroccan greenhouses, smells great and apparently is perfect for pickles even in the middle of winter.

I’ve checked on many online sources and I saw that Indian dried spices are available practically all around the world, so try not to skip any of the below ingredients (such as asafoetida, which cannot be substituted and it adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to these pickles and make them really special). Mustard oil is also very good here.

The below spice amounts can be changed to your taste, but be careful with fenugreek. It’s easy to overdose and thus make the whole jar of pickles bitter (I’ve had this awful experience once with a curry dish).  Asafoetida is quite strong, but it’s not as dangerous as fenugreek (in my opinion).

You will find all the spices and the mustard oil in Indian/Sri Lankan grocery shops. Mustard oil does make a huge difference in taste…

You can also use raw red chilli, but Indian sources suggest green raw chilli is the best for pickling. Obviously adapt the heat level to your taste and capacity to eat fiery food. In general, I’d recommend medium hot chillies (but this is a rather personal concept).

The chilli pieces must be submerged in the pickling liquid, so once you mix everything, you must put something heavy on top. A Japanese pickling jar with a weight will be perfect, but you can also use a bigger jar for pickling and a small clean jar filled with water as a weight. Afterwards you should put a lid on the jar or cover with plastic film, so that no unwanted bacteria gets inside.

Special equipment: disposable gloves

Preparation: 15 minutes + minimum 3 days

Ingredients:

250 g (about 1/2 lb) fresh green chillies without stalks

50 ml mustard oil

6 teaspoons salt

juice from 1 lime (or 1/2 lemon)

3 heaped teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons vinegar (I’ve used cider vinegar)

2 tablespoons white/yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1/3 teaspoon asafoetida powder

Grind all the spices in a spice grinder or in a cheap coffee grinder (I have one I bought only for spices, see TIPS above).

Put on disposable gloves. Slice the chillies or cut them into bite-sized pieces. (Remove the seeds and white parts if you want less heat).

Place the chilli pieces tightly in a glass jar or any other container (a Japanese pickling jar, such as this one is a fantastic gadget here).

Add the spices.

Heat the oil (but don’t boil it) and pour it over the chillies.

Add the lime juice, the vinegar, the salt and give it a good stir.

Put something heavy weight on top (if you have a Japanese pickling jar you have a special heavy “cover”), made of ceramic or glass (a small jar filled with water will be ok), so that the chillies are all submerged in the oily mixture.

Cover well with plastic wrap or a cover, so that no bacteria gets inside, and leave at room temperature for two-three days. Stir the content once a day with a clean fork or spoon.

The chillies will soften, their volume will be reduced and their colour will change to an olive hue; then they will be ready to eat.

Store the pickles tightly closed in the fridge and whenever you fish some pieces out, make sure you use a clean fork or spoon (i.e. not used on any other food product).

Homemade Savoury Edible Gifts

driedgFirst of all I would like to apologise to all my dear visitors for such a long silence (some have probably thought I’d stopped blogging…) due to long holidays. Just like every year, I had planned writing at least one post in advance and… just like every year, somehow it didn’t work…

Coming back from my holidays, I started to panic realising it’s time to think and start buying Christmas presents. I still haven’t decided on bigger ones, but I thought maybe this year, for the first time in my life, I might make and offer some edible gifts, at least as a small addition to the more “serious” stuff…

I know cookies, biscuits and jams are often offered, not only for Christmas, so I tried to list here some more unusual savoury edible gift ideas you might find inspiring (if you know my food preferences a bit, you will not be surprised by the abundance of chilli-based products….). All of these are easy to prepare, some can be made in almost no time at all, and all the ingredients are available in December, at least in Europe (fresh imported chilli is available all year round, I hope in the rest of the world too).

Made in less than 30 minutes

Quick Chilli and Garlic Oil with Sediments

Quick Chilli and Garlic Oil with Sediments

Peperoncini sott'olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Furikake (Rice Seasoning) with Chilli and Prune

Furikake (Rice Seasoning) with Chilli and Prune

Dried Bonito and Sesame Rice Topping (Furikake)

Dried Bonito and Sesame Rice Topping (Furikake)

Requiring more time but equally easy (or even much much easier)

Dried Vegetable Stock Mix

Dried Vegetable Stock Mix

Dried Powdered Garlic

Dried Powdered Garlic

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Dried Apples

Dried Apples

For those who are not afraid of preserving

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Time-consuming and requiring more efforts but a rare treat for Thai food lovers…

Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

Chilli Lovers’ Preserving Reminder

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

In many countries imported fresh chilli is available all year round, but the most delicious aromatic local ripe chilli – the best for preserves – is sold only for a limited time. In my part of Europe the beginning of August is the best moment to start thinking about preserving this fresh aromatic chilli, find the most interesting farmer market stalls, check the stock of empty jars, lids and, most of all, make a list of the fiery treats that will fill one’s pantry or fridge this year.

I have chosen here my favourite fresh chilli pickles and condiments, successfully tested every year (some short-term preserves are made even dozens of times a year). All of them are easy to prepare and guaranteed as addictive. Some can become long-term preserves, some keep for a limited time in the fridge. I hope my fellow chilli lovers will find at least one of them worth trying and those who cannot stand the heat might substitute chilli with sweet peppers. Write to me if you have any questions or problems.

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Peperoncini sott'olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Salt Brine Pickled CHilli

Salt Brine Pickled CHilli

Chilli Jelly

Chilli Jelly

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Habanero and Oil Paste

Habanero and Oil Paste

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Olives with Lemon Zest and Fennel Seeds

fennel_olivespI haven’t bought seasoned olives for long year because homemade ones are simply better, cheaper and can be ready in about five minutes. Until now I have been seasoning them either European or what I call Korean style, always applying the same method (i.e. combine everything and put into the fridge). I eat them all year round, at any time of the day, at every occasion and even take them as an afternoon snack to the office. Somehow I feel this newly discovered version will be my first choice for hot summer evenings… These olives are particularly refreshing, slightly tangy and, maybe because of the fennel seeds, they simply beg for a glass of ouzo!

I found this mixture of flavours in Smashing Plates by Maria Elia, a wonderful imaginative source of Greek- and Cypriot-inspired recipes. I’ve barely modified the amounts and the method, but I strongly encourage everyone to check Smashing Plates, an original take on traditional Greek culinary traditions.

TIPS: As a big fan of fennel seeds and in general whole seeds as condiments, I loved the additional crunch and texture they add. If you don’t like the idea of whole seeds (or you aren’t sure about your guests’ preferences), you might use of course ground fennel seeds, but I’d advise coarse ground (and do it after roasting whole seeds).

The author advises to warm in the pan all the seasoning ingredients, but I prefer harsher taste of both garlic and chilli, so I have skipped it and only roasted the fennel seeds. Choose the method that suits you best.

Preparation: about 5-10 minutes

Ingredients (serves as a drinks snack for 8 people):

500 g brined olives (unseasoned, of course), drained and rinsed

3 medium garlic cloves, grated, crushed or finely sliced

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

2 fresh chillies, chopped (any heat level and colour will be fine; all depends on your preferences)

lemon zest from one medium lemon, cut into small pieces

5 tablespoons olive oil (or more)

Heat a pan on medium heat and roast fennel seeds for about 30 seconds (don’t burn them).

Combine with all the remaining ingredients and olives.

You can serve these olives straight away if you are in a hurry, but they improve after a night in the fridge (of course covered). If you have kept them in the fridge, take them out about 30 minutes before serving because the oil will solidify during the refrigeration.

They usually keep in the fridge for at least a week (or more).