A friend recently gave me a bottle of an East Indian spice blend called Panch Phoron. I was aware of it but had never cooked with it so I did some research. It is a blend of 5 different spices (the name actually means five spices): cumin, mustard, nigella, fennel, and fenugreek, that are mixed together and used in seed form rather than being ground. Occasionally other spices, like anise, are added or substituted to vary the flavor of the spice mix. The spice mix may be used as it is, gently roasted or lightly fried in a bit of oil just before it is used to bring out the flavor.
In India panch phoron is used to season meats, breads and vegetables. The flavors these spices bring to food are amazing. Together they provide a warm, earthy flavor with a fruity, bitter, grassy essence. It is a very mild spice mix that is not overpowering or hot at all. I’m surprised that is it not as popular as some of the more common Indian spices mixes like garam masala but it should be.
The basic recipe for Panch Phoron is equal measures of each spice. I have adjusted the ratio to suit my tastes. I think the fenugreek is too bitter so I reduced it a bit. Just mix all of the seeds together and you are done! This spice mix can be made ahead and stored in an airtight jar to save time in the future.
Panch Phoron recipe
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon nigella seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
All of the ingredients are supposed to be used as whole seeds. The commercial spice mix that was given to me contains fenugreek seeds that are very small while the seeds I buy in the U.S. are large and extremely hard to chew (more like impossible to chew). When I make Panch Phoron at home I use crushed fenugreek seeds, not ground, to make the spice mix easier on the teeth.
One of the ingredients, nigella, is somewhat unusual to most people outside of India. They are hard and crunchy with the flavor of toasted onion. They are also known as kalonji and charnushka.
Some recipes call for crushed or ground Panch Phoron. Gently dry roast the spices before grinding them to bring out the flavor. Do not grind them in advance so the flavors do not have a chance to interact with each other and change the flavor.
Try adding Panch Phoron to any recipe. Just sprinkle it on meat, roasted vegetables, lentils (dal) or some curries. I guarantee you will love the flavor.
Check out how to use Panch Phoron in my Steak Chettichurri recipe.