Panch phoron is popularly used to temper dals, vegetables (such as panchmishali torkari or shada alu’r torkari), chutneys (those with tomatoes or raw mangoes), or achaars (such as raw-mango pickles).
The cooking of most Bengali dishes starts with the phoron. What this typically involves is heating up the oil (usually mustard oil), and once hot, adding a selection of whole spices to it. This ‘tempers’ the oil, transferring the flavours of the spices to it. This might seem like a tiny, inconsequential step (the process of tempering doesn’t take more than a few seconds), but no Bengali cook has ever skipped it. Is is what prepares the oil for cooking. In many cases, the choice of phoron defines the flavour profile of the recipe (think of a dish like panchmishali torkari, or a fish curry like tel jhol). There are myriad combinations of spices used for phoron in Bengali cooking, and while that is subject for another post, here we look at the most definitive of Bengali tempering spices—the panch phoron.
Panch phoron literally means five spices used for tempering. Apart from the Bengali cuisine, variations of this spice mix are used in Assamese, Oriya, and Nepali cooking as well. The Bengali version comprises mouri (fennel seeds), methi (fenugreek seeds), kaalo jeere (nigella seeds), shorshe (mustard seeds), and a typically Bengali spice, called radhuni. If you can’t find radhuni where you live, cumin seeds make an acceptable substitute.
The panch phoron is used like any other phoron. You heat up the mustard oil thoroughly, till it starts to smoke lightly and turns pale yellow in colour. You then add as much panch phoron as the recipe calls for to the oil. The spices will start cracking immediately (mostly because of the mustard seeds in the mix) and give out a distinctive, bitter-sweet-anisey aroma. However, watch the methi in the mix carefully; it tends to redden, burn quite easily, and turn bitter. So, always have the next ingredient in line prepped and ready, to add to the pan, and bring down the temperature of the oil.
COOKING TIME 5 minutes
YIELDS 50 g of panch phoron
|1 tbsp||mouri (fennel seeds)|
|1 tbsp||methi (fenugreek seeds)|
|1 tbsp||kaalo jeere (nigella seeds)|
|1 tbsp||shorshe (mustard seeds)|
- A small storage container
Mix all the whole spices together in equal proportions and store in an airtight container.