Prasadam - Mustard, Part 2


Nov 07, 2016 — CANADA (SUN) — A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.

Lying in the spice box, mustard seeds appear to have little to recommend them. They have no aroma, and if you put one on your tongue, there is no real flavor. But as soon as the seed is cracked open or fried until it 'pops', a wonderful pungent aroma rises to greet you. Both the aroma and the flavor of mustard come from an essential oil contained in the seeds. (Of course, when cooking for Krsna, devotees avoid enjoying the cooking armoas until the preparation is offered.)

Fried in hot oil, mustard seeds splutter to release a fine nutty flavor in the seed, as the internal oils are activated. The same constituents are found in the leaves of the mustard plant. When the leaf is crushed or the stems broken, volatile oils are activated. The flavors differ from plant to plant amongst the 40 or so varieties of mustard, ranging from a mild cauliflower-like flavor to a very sharp, pungent mustard.

Likewise, the active elements in mustard seeds come to life when the seeds are ground to a powder. Dry mustard is usually made from the yellow seeds. The powder itself is very bland to the taste, but as soon as it's mixed with cool water, the pungency rises. This reaction takes about 10 minutes when powdered mustard is mixed with liquid. Using hot water will kill the enzymes, so always soak your mustard powder in cool water before mixing into a dish to get the rich flavor.

Bee on a Mustard Flower

Mustard seeds are included in almost all pickling spice mixes. Whatever acid you're using to pickle (e.g., citric acid or lemon juice instead of vinegar), the acids will keep the mustard flavor from developing, so be sure you get the flavor to fully release first, by frying the seeds, or mixing the powder with water, before adding the lemon juice or other acids.

While cooks don't often consider the 'science' behind ingredients and how the chemical reactions work to create flavor, aroma, and texture (who has time for that?!), in the case of mustard, it's well worth it to understand the technicalities, because mustard has amazing properties. The enzyme which activates the mustard oil, myrosinase, also acts as an excellent natural pesticide. Once the oils kick-in, mustard can be mixed with water and sprayed onto plants, or even applied to the skin as a bug repellant.

Mustard is now being used as a biofuel, and in the toxic Kaliyuga world, it's also been recognized as a powerful bioremediation agent. Where the ground has become toxic from lead, copper, zinc, and other chemical elements, planting mustard will naturally remediate the soil, significantly lowering the levels of toxicity. As we'll discuss tomorrow, Ayurveda also recognizes this quality of mustard, which is taken as a detoxifier in the body.

Mustard Leaves (Brassica juncea)

The leaves of the mustard plant are very delicious greens, high in Vitamins A and C. Indian mustard (Brassica juncea), which produces the brown or reddish seeds, tends to produce the best greens for eating. The plants that give black and yellow seeds have quite meager leaves.

Mustard Greens and Spinach


    7 Tblsp. Mustard Oil
    1/8 tsp ground Asofoetida
    1 tsp Cumin Seeds
    1 Green Chili, minced
    1 inch fresh Ginger, minced
    1 bunch Mustard greens
    1 bunch Spinach leaves
    1/2 tsp Turmeric
    1/2 tsp Red Chili powder
    Salt to taste

Wash all the greens, remove the thick stems, and chop coarsely. Heat the oil until it smokes, then add the asofoetida and cumin seeds until they darken a few shades. Add the minched chilis and ginger and fry until crisped, then add the greens and remaining spices. Continue frying until the greens are wilted. Add a cup of water, transfer the mixture to a clay pot, and bake in the over for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.

If you like, add cubes of fresh cheese to the dish for a spicy Sag Paneer.

Mustard & Spinach Sag Paneer

Srila Prabhupada gave the devotees instruction on using mustard on a number of occasions. In a letter to Kirtanananda (Aug 6, 1969), he gave a very nice alternative for using mustard in pickled foods. The devotees don't cook with vinegar, which is tamasic and therefore not offerable. But rather than use a citric acid and mustard seeds in the pickling spice, as many do, Srila Prabhupada recommended the following procedure, which still allows the excellent mustard flavor to be imparted to the preserved foods: "Cut berries, green apples or green tomatoes into pieces. Without adding water, add a mixture of equal quantities of salt, turmeric and red peppers. Then let it be dried in the sunlight as far as possible. When this is done, put it either in mustard oil or in olive oil, and it will then keep for years."

In a letter several years later to Balavanta (Jul 8, 1976), Srila Prabhupada gave a similar version of this recipe:

    "From the green mangos you can make pickles. Cut them into pieces with skin intact, and sprinkle with salt and turmeric. Dry them well in the sunshine and put into mustard oil. They will keep for years, and you can enjoy with eating. They are nice and soft and good for digestion."

A similar mango pickle was prepared by Damayanti and tucked into Raghava's bag, along with an array of glorious eatables for Caitanya Mahaprabhu's pleasure while on sankirtana. In this case, the preparation is called tailamra -- "mango within mustard oil" (Caitanya-caritamrta Antya 10.15-16)

Srila Prabhupada also recommended using mustard oil on roasted eggplant, first roasting them in the fire, then adding a little mustard oil, salt and chilis. This preparation is taken in Bengal along with puffed rice as a breakfast tiffin.

Another vegetable sabji is described in Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 6.43, wherein Sri Caitanya asked Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya to prepare a dish of boiled vegetables, called Laphra-vyanjana. Srila Prabhupada describes the chenka (tempered spices) being composed of items like cumin, black pepper and mustard seed.

Brown Mustard

Here is a traditional Bengali preparation, Sorshe Begun, in which tender young brinjals (eggplants) are fried in ghee, then tossed with a freshly ground paste of mustard and yoghurt, and seasoned with more mustard in the panch phoron:

Sorshe Begun


    Baby brinjals, 8 (long purple)
    Yoghurt, 3/4 cup
    Ginger, 1/2 " knob
    Green chilis, 2 or 3, slit lengthwise
    Mustard seeds, 1-1/2 Tblsp.
    Gram Flour (besan), 1 Tblsp
    Turmeric powder, 2 tsp
    Red chili powder, to taste
    Panch Phoron, 1 tsp
    Mustard oil, 4 Tblsp
    Sugar, 2 tsp.
    Salt to taste
    a handful of Coriander leaves

Trim the brinjals and cut lengthwise. Rub the cut side with a little salt and turmeric, then fry in mustard oil over medium flame until soft and almost done. Remove and drain on paper. Meanwhile, soak the mustard seeds in a few tablespoons of hot water, then grind to a paste. In a separate bowl, grind another paste with the turmeric, red chili powder, and ginger. And in a third bowl, whisk together the yoghurt, gram flour, sugar and a little salt.

In a large pan, heat a little oil and add the green chilis and panch phoron. When the mustard seeds pop, add the ginger paste and fry for a few minutes. Reduce heat to simmer and add the yoghurt mixture, but don't allow it to boil. Cook and stir gently for a few minutes, than add the mustard paste and blend thoroughly. Add the fried brinjals to the curry, sprinkle chopped coriander leaves overtop, cover and simmer for 5 minutes, then offer.

Tok Daal
[Photo courtesy WellSeasonedCook @ Flikr]

Tok daal (Green Mango Dal)


    1 cup Matar Daal (yellow split peas)
    2-3/4 cups Water
    5 teaspoon Cumin seeds
    1 large Raw (green) Mango
    2 Tblsp. Mustard Oil
    1 Tblsp. Mustard Seeds
    a few Red and Green Chilis, dried
    1/2 tsp Ginger paste
    1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
    2 cups Water
    5 tsp Sugar
    a spring of Curry Leaves
    Salt to taste

Cook the dal in water until fully cooked and soft. Meanwhile, roast and grind the cumin. Peel and slice the mango. In a little mustard oil, fry the mustard seeds, 1 dry red chili, ginger and turmeric. When the mustard splutters, add the mango slices and fry for a few minutes. Add the daal and mix well, adding the remaining water, salt and sugar. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for another 15 minutes or so, until the mango is cooked. Add the roasted cumin powder and mix well. Last, in a little oil, fry the curry leaves and remaining chilis, drain the oil off and set aside, and sprinkle the crisped leaves and chilis on top of the dal, then offer.

Close-up of a Mustard Seed


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