Perfect for summer: Bengal’s five spices

Paanch phoron is a Bengali five-spice mix that I can’t get enough of. In Punjab, we have a mix of spices called garam masala: It is smoky, thanks to the hearty notes of cumin and cinnamon, and to me it invokes cold, winter nights. It literally means “hot spice mix.”

Not paanch phoron. (Paanch means five. Phoron, our Bengali friends can explain in the comments.) This equal-parts blend of mustard seeds, fennel, fenugreek, nigella seeds and cumin is bright and perfect for summer dishes. I have been using it endlessly in the bounty of summer squashes from our CSA. Today, it started a dish of squash and thinly sliced red potatoes that came together within 30 minutes during my work day.

The technique is simple: Add the paanch phoron to a tablespoon or so of grapeseed or other light vegetable oil, wait for the mustard seeds to pop and add in a small, cubed tomato; 2 chopped garlic cloves; and 1 tbsp. of crushed ginger. The ingredients are fungible depending on what you have on hand. You could do the tomatoes, or not. Skip the ginger — No worries. This spice blend holds up quite well on its own!

A few minutes later, in go the chopped 2 yellow squashes and 2 medium-sized red potatoes. Slice the potatoes thinly so they cook quickly. Also add 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. turmeric and a pinch of cayenne pepper. (We’re cutting back on heat these days so the toddler can eat. Feel free to amp it up!) Cover with a lid and let it steam through until the potatoes are soft, about 20-25 minutes.

Lift the lid and give it a stir on occasion. It’s okay if some of the squash gets smashed in the process.

Check the salt and add more if needed. Garnish with cilantro and the juice of half a lemon or lime, serve with Basmati rice and get back to work. Cheers!

3 thoughts on “Perfect for summer: Bengal’s five spices

  1. Ambreen, this recipe would be perfect for the produce we have at home this week. Where can I buy paanch phoron in DC?

  2. I think you could try a coop with bulk spices, like the one in Takoma Park. Otherwise, the spices are readily available at most Indian stores, and they are generally cheap (a few bucks for each)!

  3. I had four of the five spices, just not the nigella seeds, so I subbed sesame seeds this time. It was really good! I’ll try it again when my Amazon order is here. Thanks! 🙂

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