The Spice Route: Nithya Das on Mustard Seeds

On this Spice Route, I’m happy to introduce my friend Nithya who writes one of my favorite food blogs, Hungry Desi. She also just launched Half Pint Gourmet, a site of recipes for kids written by parents. Nithya is going to introduce you to mustard seeds, a spice that is used frequently in Indian dishes and pops when you cook them!

Name: Nithya Das

Where do you live? Brooklyn, NYWhat do you love to do? Cooking and eating with my husband and daughter, writing Hungry Desi, a cooking blog featuring traditional Indian cuisine in my modern kitchen, and photography. By day, I’m a lawyer working with start-up technology companies.

What’s your spice? Mustard Seeds

What do you know about it? I use the small, black mustard seeds which are more mustard-y than the lighter, brown variety. Mustard seeds form the base of a common tarka, or tempering, for South Indian cooking. For the tempering, heat about a tablespoon of oil in a skillet and add the mustard seeds. The seeds will sputter, and when they pop open release a slightly spicy, slightly bitter, slightly nutty flavor. Curry leaves and green chilies are often added to this tarka as well.What do you like about it? Mustard seeds are tiny but pack a big, unassuming flavor punch.

What else? We grew up eating South Indian food four nights a week, so the smell and sound of popping mustard seeds in the kitchen takes me back to my parent’s kitchen. Standing before a skillet of them in my own kitchen still gives me the shivers. It makes me feel like I’m playing grown-up. Even though I’m married and have a 20-month old daughter!

What’s your favorite recipe using it? Any variety of rasam, a South Indian tomato, lentil soup.


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  • mario sweitzer

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