When you are cooking certain dishes, there are some key ingredients that are absolutely indispensible. Some obvious examples would be trying to make Dam Aloo without the potatoes or a Fish Curry without the fish; impossible – because these ingredients are integral to the dish.
Then there’s the aspect of authenticity. The magic of certain cuisines cannot be recreated without using the precise ingredients that the recipe requires.
One such indispensible ingredient is Mustard Oil. Usually, any oil used purely as a cooking medium would not be such a deciding factor – but Mustard Oil is different. First up, it’s a whole lot more than just a cooking medium. Depending on the dish you are preparing, Mustard Oil could be a taste agent, a gravy (Tadka) maker, a marinade, a basting substance, a spice, a flavour enhancer, a cooking medium – or all of the above.
In certain regional cuisines, Mustard Oil becomes an indispensible component of the dish, especially when the intent is to create an authentic version of that dish. For example, authentic versions of dishes like Punjab’s Sarson Da Saag and Bengal’s Kosha Mangsho cannot be made without cold-pressed Mustard Oil.
During the shoot of a television show on traditional Kashmiri Wazwan cuisine (the programme was called Mezbaan-e-Wazwan), well-known Wazwan specialist, Chef Abbas Bhatt pointed out that it was impossible to make this cuisine without the use of Mustard Oil. The recipes simply don’t work with refined oil or any other cooking medium – and any semblance of authenticity is completely lost.
This is something worth keeping in mind – if the recipe says “Mustard Oil” then no other oil will do. One can do artful substitution of other ingredients based on seasonality and availability, but Mustard Oil is indispensible.