Takeaway

Going to seed in Uttarakhand

Chitra Balasubramaniam | Updated on January 16, 2018
A dash of flavour: Jhambu or jamboo is a perennial herb whose leaves and flowers are dried and used for seasoning. Photo: Chitra Balasubramaniam

A dash of flavour: Jhambu or jamboo is a perennial herb whose leaves and flowers are dried and used for seasoning. Photo: Chitra Balasubramaniam

Spice up: The yellow chilli or lakhori, which is often used by namkeen manufacturers. Photo: Kamal Narang

Spice up: The yellow chilli or lakhori, which is often used by namkeen manufacturers. Photo: Kamal Narang   -  BusinessLine

Jakiya, jamboo and lai are little-known spices from the state that saw a spice farming boom

The year 2016, they say, is the year of exotic food and undiscovered ingredients. It is to this list that one can add this spread of spices and condiments from Uttarakhand, where they are everyday food. I have experimented with almost all of them. What stands out is that unlike traditional spices which are powdered or blended, most of these are used whole. Getting information about them is, however, another story. Many grow wild or are considered unwanted plants.

Jakia or jhakiya ( Cleome viscosa ) is an interesting seed. Actually a weed, it is grown between crops or in multi-cropping patterns. HC Joshi, managing director, Divine Agro Products, says, “ Jakia is actually a weed, so abundant that if one were to curse a neighbour, it is said ‘may jakia grow in your fields’.” That, of course, does not in any way take away from the magic of these tiny black seeds which are smaller than mustard or sesame. They pack a punch in taste. The seeds have a crunch to them.

Jakia is allowed to crackle in a spoon or two of oil before being tossed into curries and dals. The flavour it emits when fried in oil is warm and sweet. Jakia works best when teamed with potatoes in curries. It can be used with raw bananas or arbi ( colocasia) too.

Then there’s the jhambu or jamboo ( Allium stracheyi). It is a perennial herb with rosy flowers whose leaves and inflorescence are dried and used for seasoning. It grows at high altitudes and is used in Tibetan dishes as well. It’s a member of the onion family. Dal using jhambu tastes delicious, faintly smelling of onions. The best thing about this spice is that the dal then does not need any seasoning besides the salt, chilly and turmeric routine.

Lai is the seed of red mustard leaves typical of the hills. It is tinier than sarson and larger than rai. It has a very pungent smell and is used extensively to season raita. So pungent that when it is ground raw it brings out tears! The taste is sharp and it adds a certain sting to the dish.

Bhanga (cannabis/hemp) seeds are used as a flavouring agent. The seed has a coarse hull, which, if not ground well, can trouble the uninitiated. The seeds are roasted and ground to a paste with jaggery, green chillies and garlic. This paste is used to season a host of vegetables, especially arbi, cauliflower and spinach. The flavour of the seeds comes out when roasted. An alternative is to extract the liquid for flavour, discarding the coarse hull.

Bhangjeera ( Perilla frutescens) are tiny, greyish seeds. They too are roasted and ground to a paste, combined with garlic and green chillies to make chutney. The seeds can also be mixed with rice and eaten raw. Roasted seeds are ground with local rock salt collected from river banks to form flavoured salt. This is used to flavour chutneys and salad.

Gandrayani ( Angelica glauca Edgew) is an aromatic root. A medicinal herb, it increases appetite and is used to cure stomach ailments. This is possibly why it is used extensively to flavour dals. In the hills it is the norm to consume whole dals, not split. A few pieces of gandrayani are added to the dal and boiled with it. An alternative form of use is to coarsely powder it, fry it in oil and add it to the lentils.

A little known condiment is daddim or seeds of the indigenous pomegranate seeds. This is a souring agent and an alternative to the anardana which is commonly used. Yellow chilli or lakhori as it is called, is another variety of chilli from the hills. Divine Agro’s Joshi says, “Farmers come to us saying we have produced this, can it bpe marketed? It is spicy but red chillies sell more. Namkeen manufacturers buy it from us.”

Kala (black)jeera has medicinal properties and is given to bring fever down. This is used in the tempering (tadka) in place of cumin (jeera ) also. Most of these spices are combined with garlic and green chillies as a paste to season vegetables, radish raita and, of course, sendha namak (rock salt) to create innumerable combinations of flavoured salt.

Chitra Balasubramaniam is a Delhi-based food, textiles and travel writer

Published on October 07, 2016

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