This spice mix, panch phoran, is the taste of Bengal. The spices are kept whole and are either dry roasted or fried in oil or ghee to release their flavours.
The name literally translates as “five spices.”
There is little controversy in its makeup. Everyone almost agrees on the spices and it is usually a mixture of equal amounts of each spice. I have occasionally seen it made with less fenugreek because of its bitter taste. The only controversial ingredient is the celery seeds. Traditionally it is made with them, but as these are sometimes very difficult to get, mustards seeds are used. If you cannot get celery seeds, just replace them with mustard seeds.
The mix is used most commonly to temper oil, which is used to start the dish, or applied at the end of cooking. It is very rare for the spices to be ground, although some recipes call for them to be bruised or broken up to release their flavours faster.
The spices are used in fish dishes, meat dishes, vegetable dishes and lentil dishes. They are also used in just about every dish in a curry house.
Tempering some mustard oil with these spices and then adding it to a simple red dal is the classic Bengali way of eating dal. You can see that recipe here. Cooking potatoes in similarly tempered oil, with some onions is another Bengali specialty.
- Combine the seeds in a small airtight container.
- This mix will last for several months if stored in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place.
- Traditionally panch phoran is made with celery seeds. Replace the celery seeds with mustard seeds if you cannot get them.