The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs - Padma Lakshmi

The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs: An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World by Padma Lakshmi with Judith Sutton and Kalustyan's was released this September. Kalustyan's is a specialty food store in New York City for those who may not have heard of it. 

Cooking is a passion of mine, as I'm sure the same can be said for most of you. And while I am fairly knowledgeable in the uses of most spices and herbs, there are still a great many I am unfamiliar with or could use more information on.  The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs is helping me become more informed in this area and will, I believe, help make me a better cook. 

Spices and herbs are the backbones to many dishes. Knowing their uses and which spices and herbs combine well with others is a valuable tool to a cook. The authors cover spice blends as well - such as Tunisian Five-Spice Mix and Egyptian Spice Blend. It is a beautiful book with photographs of the spices and one every serious cook should have in their arsenal. 

Be sure to enter our contest for a chance to win a copy of this book. In the meantime, thanks to the author and Ecco we are happy to share an excerpt from the book on Mustard.


BOTANICAL NAMES: Brassica alba or B. hirta, Sinapis alba (white or yellow);
B. juncea (brown); B. nigra (black)
OTHER NAMES:Chinese mustard, Indian mustard (brown mustard)
FORMS: whole seeds, cracked seeds, and ground

There are three main types of mustard plant, all of which are Brassicas, members of the same family as cabbage and broccoli. White (aka yellow) mustard, the most familiar to Westerners, is probably native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean, but it grows throughout Europe and North America; Canada is one of the largest producers today. (Because the mustard plant now grows in most temperate zones, the precise origins of the three types are subject to some debate.) Brown mustard is indigenous to India and China but is now grown in Great Britain, the United States, and throughout the central latitudes. Black mustard is native to Asia and India; because, unlike white and brown mustard, it is difficult to harvest mechanically, it is grown on a much smaller scale than the other two types. Mustard is an ancient plant-Pliny wrote about its medicinal benefits in first-century Rome, where it was also used as a condiment. It has been cultivated in Europe for centuries, and it was one of the most popular spices in medieval kitchens.

The mustard plant is an annual, and all varieties produce yellow flowers (those of white mustard are bright yellow; brown mustard flowers are paler); a field of mustard in bloom is a beautiful sight. The white mustard plant is the smallest, reaching about 3 feet; brown and black mustards can grow as tall as 9 feet. The seedpods contain from six to twelve seeds, depending on the variety. The seeds are harvested when the pods have matured but are not fully ripened, as they, especially those of black mustard, can shatter easily if left on the plant longer. The cut plants are then allowed to dry and threshed.

The tiny yellow to pale brown seeds of the white mustard plant are the largest of the three. Unlike other spices, mustard seeds have almost no aroma, because the enzyme that gives mustard its hot, sharp flavor is activated only when it comes into contact with a liquid. Black mustard seeds are the most pungent, followed by the brown and then yellow seeds. (The word mustard is believed to have come from the Latin term mustum ardens, meaning "burning must.") The brown seeds have a slightly bitter edge. Mustard powder can be made from any type of seeds or a combination. The seeds are finely ground and, for the finest result (also called mustard flour), sifted to remove the husks. Colman's dry mustard powder from England is one of the most highly regarded; it is a blend of finely ground yellow and brown mustard seeds. Cracked mustard seeds are also sometimes available in the market.

Mustard seeds are used in many Indian curries and other dishes. They are usually added at the beginning of cooking, heated in hot oil until they pop before the other seasonings and ingredients go into the pan. Mustard seeds that have been crushed to a paste are used in spicy Bengali marinades and pastes; the seeds are also an ingredient in the Bengali spice blend panch phoron. Mustard oil is used in Indian cooking, but it is a neutral oil, not a hot one as you might expect; it is cold-pressed from brown mustard seeds. Ghee or cooking oil that has been infused with the flavor of mustard seeds, as described above, is used as a rub or coating for roasted chicken, beef, or lamb. Whole mustard seeds are used for pickling in many cuisines. When cracked or coarsely ground, they may be added to rubs for grilled or roasted meats. The seeds have an affinity for cabbage, which is not surprising, given that they are members of the same family, and they are often an ingredient in potato salads. Mustard powder is added to many vinaigrettes, both for flavor and to aid emulsification.

To make homemade mustard from mustard powder, always use cold water, not hot, which would kill the enzymes that give mustard its flavor. Add enough water to give you the desired consistency and let stand for 10 minutes to bring out the flavor. The pungency will diminish on standing, so homemade mustard is best used the day it is made. Commercial mustards, of course, remain shelf-stable for months.

MEDICINAL USES: A mustard poultice is a traditional folk remedy, rubbed on the chest to help relieve colds and congestion. Mustard is believed to be a diuretic and a stimulant. It is important in Ayurvedic medicine, said to improve digestion, increase circulation, and ease painful muscles and joints, among many other benefits.

From The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs: An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World, by Padma Lakshmi with Judith Sutton and Kalustyan's. Copyright 2016 by Lakshmi Media Inc. Excerpted with permission from Ecco. 

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