Prasadam - Mustard


Nov 05, 2016 — CANADA (SUN) — A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.

Today we begin a new segment of the Prasadam series, this time featuring one of the most used items in the spice box – Mustard. Known in the west primarily as a condiment, jars of golden yellow prepared mustard are a familiar sight to everyone. But in India it's not the prepared condiment, but the seeds themselves that are commonly used. The seeds are fried, or tempered in ghee, forming the flavor base of countless chaunk combinations, or they are ground to a paste along with various other spices and liquids. Either way, the flavor is strong, distinctive, and a necessary component in many traditional preparations.

Mustard seeds are mentioned many times in sastra, although most often they are given as an illustrative example rather than being described as a spice in prasadam dishes. There are two particular examples that Srila Prabhupada repeated many times. In one, the earth planet is compared to a mustard seed, being like one seed in the universe, or bag full of seeds.

    Srimad Bhagavatam 2.6.18, Purport:

    "It is said there that those planets in the spiritual sky, which comprises the seventy-five percent expansion of the internal potency of the Lord, are far, far greater than those planets in the total universes composed of the external potency of the Lord. In the Caitanya-caritamrta, the total universes in the external potency of the Lord are compared to a bucketful of mustard seeds. One mustard seed is calculated to be a universe itself. In one of the universes, in which we are now living, the number of planets cannot be counted by human energy, and so how can we think of the sum total in all the universes, which are compared to a bucketful of mustard seeds?"

In Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 15.177 we find the term rai-nase used to describe the loss of a mustard seed:

    "Of the millions of mustard seeds floating in that pot, if one seed is lost, the loss is not at all significant. Similarly, if one universe is lost, it is not significant to Lord Krsna."

Likewise, in Madhya 15.176 the term rai-purna bhanda describes a pot filled with mustard seeds:

    "Maya and her unlimited material universes are situated in that Causal Ocean. Indeed, maya appears to be floating like a pot filled with mustard seeds."

Similarly, the mustard seed is commonly used in another analogy:

    Srimad Bhagavatam 6.16.48:

    "The Supreme Personality of Godhead holds all the universes on His heads like seeds of mustard [sarsapayati -- become like seeds of mustard]."

The Sanskrit terms sarsa (sarsapayati) and rai are used for mustard in various languages, and there are many other names for mustard in regional dialects. In Bengal, mustard seeds are called shorshe or sharshe, and elsewhere they're known as kadugu, aavalu, motti; mohair (Maharastrian), rai, saasam, sarson (Hindi), sarron (Punjabi) and sasuve.

While not nearly as popular as in the West, prepared mustards are sold in India, too, where they're known as Banarsi rai, Phari rai, and kimcea. Extremely popular in India is mustard oil, known as kurva teil or sarson ka tel.

The Mustard greens are also nice eatables, and the plant is often harvested as a leafy vegetable, called sarson, although this name is used broadly, like 'spinach', to describe many different green leafies, not just the leaves of the mustard plant.

There are also specific names for the different colors of mustard seeds, each of which has a particular flavor. The three main types are generally referred to as black, brown (or red) and yellow (or white). In Bengali the white seeds are sada sharshe, and the black are kalo sharshe.

Altogether, there are over forty different varieties of mustard plants, but the three most popularly used in cooking are Brassica alba, Brassica juncea, and Brassica nigra. As the name indicates, black mustard seeds are produced by the Brassica nigra. Brown, or the reddish seeds come from Brassica juncea, and the light yellow or whitish seeds are from Brassica alba, or b. hirta.

Most mustard plants look quite similar, being tall, leggy herbaceous plants with bright yellow flowers on top, with long, pointed leaves that are edible. The brown seeded mustards are thought to have originated in the Himalayas, while the yellow came from the Mediterranean region. All three varieties have become naturalized many places in the world, and are commonly found in North America. The fields of yellow have become a famous part of the landscape in the Napa region of California.

All three seed types -- black, brown and yellow – add a wonderful, pungent spicy flavor to dishes. The yellow seeds, slightly larger than the others, are mildest in taste, while the blacks are the most strongly flavored. Simply adjusting the type of mustard seed used in a particular preparation goes a long way towards improving the flavor, and producing a more traditional offering for Sri Krsna. Left whole, mustard seeds are quite uninteresting -- they must be crushed or fried in order to release their excellent flavor.

Yellow mustard is well suited to nearly all milk-based dishes, since the milk, curd, etc., easily takes on the flavor. Mixed with turmeric and an acid like lemon juice, you can produce a paste like bright yellow prepared mustards. Both yellow and brown mustard seeds are used in pickling and marinades, the brown some say are a little stronger flavored than black, therefore useful in long-life foods like pickles, etc. Black mustard is commonly used in dals and sabjis, where the pungent flavor can compete with all the other layers of flavor, without overpowering the dish.

One of the most popular masalas, or dry spice mixtures is panchforan, or panchpuram, in which cumin, nigella, fennel, fenugreek and mustard seeds are ground to a powder. This distinctive combination of flavors is perfect for a host of dishes, and most cooks keep a fresh, pre-ground supply on hand at all times.

Mustard pastes are another staple ingredient in the Krsna's kitchen. A basic paste is made by soaking a few tablespoons of mustard seeds in a little water along with a few green chilis and salt. When ground together, the chilis take the slightly bitter edge off the mustard, allowing the paste to be eaten directly, served alongside rice of bread. Poppy seeds are sometimes added to the paste for their mild, nutty, flavor.

Following are a few recipes that take advantage of the excellent flavor of mustard seeds, ground to a fresh paste.

Sharshe Paste


    1 Tblsp Mustard Seeds, soaked in water
    ½ tsp. Chili powder
    Salt to taste
    1/2 cup thick Coconut Milk
    2 tsp Mustard oil

Grind the mustard seeds with the salt and chili powder to form a paste. Stir into the coconut milk. Use the mixture to marinate vegetables before cooking them. You can also blend the paste directly into dals, sabjis or breads, or dip pakora vegetables into the paste before battering and frying them.

For a lighter taste, you can replace the coconut milk with yoghurt. Another nice way to use the paste is to first marinate cut vegetables or tofu in a little salt and turmeric, then fry them directly in the paste, using a little mustard oil.

Ginger & Yoghurt Chutney


    ½ cup Ginger (finely grated)
    ½ tsp Mustard Seeds
    a few Green Chilies
    1 tsp Water
    Salt to taste
    ½ cup plain Yogurt
    1 Tblsp Ghee
    1 dried Red Chili, halved
    a few Curry Leaves

Using scant water, grind the ginger, mustard, green chilies, and salt to a smooth paste. Add to the yogurt and stir well. In a little ghee, fry the red chili pepper and curry leaves. Add to the chutney, stir well, and offer.

Shorshe Sabji
(Vegetables in Mustard Sauce)


    2 lbs. Vegetables (potatoes, gourd, squash, etc.)
    1/4 teaspoon Turmeric
    Salt to taste
    Ghee for frying
    1 Tblsp. Mustard Seeds
    3 Green Chilies
    1/4 teaspoon Kala Jeera (black cumin seeds)
    2 Tomatoes, diced
    a handful fresh Coriander leaves
    Mustard oil (optional)

Chop the vegetables into chunks, smear with a little salt and turmeric and set aside for 10 minutes, then pan fry until slightly crispy, and set aside. Meanwhile, soak the mustard seeds in a little water for 10 minutes. Grind the mustard seeds and green chilis to a smooth paste, then strain to press out the liquid.

In a little ghee, fry the cumin until it darkens, add the tomatoes and cook until they're soft, and completely mashed. Add the vegetables and the mustard paste and stir well. Cover the pan and let it simmer on low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, adding scant water as necessary to keep from sticking. Garnish with chopped coriander, and offer alongside rice. If you like, add a ½ teaspoon mustard oil to the sabji just before removing it from the heat.



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