When American Chef John Broening visited India, he travelled extensively across Punjab and Rajasthan collecting traditional recipes from Indian homes and from Indian chefs. However, when he returned to the US and started preparing the dishes, they just didn’t taste the same. Something was missing. After quite a bit of trial and error, he discovered what the secret ingredient was: Mustard Oil.
Food writer and blogger Sudeshna Sengupta had a similar experience. She discovered a stack of her grandmother’s cookbooks hidden away in the family’s ancestral home in West Bengal. She’d always had wonderful childhood memories of her Granny’s awesome cooking; on discovering the notebooks, she eagerly looked forward to recreating those memories… and those flavours.
However, the first round of cooking was extremely disappointing. That magical flavour which Granny was known for was sadly missing. Sudeshna discussed the fiasco with her mother who remembered that Granny was extremely fussy about the cooking oil – it had to be Mustard Oil. That’s the mistake Sudeshna made; the recipes in the notebooks just said “Oil” so Sudeshna had used refined vegetable oil. Wrong choice! Once again, the secret ingredient was Mustard Oil.
From the fascinating curries of Bengal and the traditional dishes of Punjab to the wonders of traditional Kashmiri Waazwaan cuisine, the “secret ingredient” has always been Mustard Oil. With its characteristic taste, texture and pungency, Mustard Oil has always been a lot more than just a cooking oil in India – it is an integral part of the final flavour of the dish. It is a taste agent. It is a part of the experience of eating. And very often, in traditional Indian recipes, it is the Jewel in the Crown.