Simple pleasures

Gunpowder plot

Gunpowder Seasoning.

A grey dawn was spreading over the sky like cold soup across formica as Maya poked me in the face to wake me up. She has to walk past Bee’s side of the bed to get to me, and I always wonder why she doesn’t just ask her whatever inanity she’s bound to come out with before seven o’clock.

With her question dealt with, I lay there, thinking about the important issue of the day: what to cook for our guests that evening. A side of salmon in the freezer would be a good start for the six of us. Lightly salted and rubbed with freshly ground coriander seed and lime zest. 

This week’s veg. box had leeks and a squash in. So a side dish of leek, sliced and softened in plenty of butter. The squash would be roasted.

There was a beetroot the size of a doorstop, gnarly and grumpy looking. The carrots, firm and full of tension, the soil still clinging to them.
Both of these shredded and mixed with raisins, finely sliced chives fresh from the garden, cider vinegar, and olive oil mixed in would make a bright and sharply sweet salad.

The bag of runner beans, a few starting to slightly sag went through the krisk slicer and into cold water for an hour to firm even more Once briefly cooked, I tossed them through with garlic olive oil, toasted almonds and plenty of salt.

Then to the regal glory of a crown prince squash the size of my head. The colours of autumn squash are so intense and vivid, a real seasonal display of oranges, blues, reds and yellows.

I carved it into wedges, no easy task. It cried with every slice of the knife, beads of clear juice forming at the edge of each cut. Into the baking dish with a lot of olive oil, a good few cloves of fat purple garlic, skins still on for a good hour long roast. Everyone was going to be well fed that night. (The seeds went in a pan on top of the wood stove to toast and keep for later).

But wait. Before the squash went in I sprinkled it all over with gunpowder seasoning. It’s Southern Indian, an often used seasoning that as well as looking like gunpowder is explosively flavoured. This one is black, but there are many variations. It’s smoky and toasty; made up of mainly cumin, black sesame and nigella seeds. It went so well with the pumpkin and even better on the salmon.

I’d make a batch and store it in a jar to liberally sprinkle on everything. It’s going to top the soup I’m making tonight with the leftover squash (there was enough for a meal twice over) and the trimmings from the leeks and carrots.

Fireworks aren’t just for the autumn night sky. While it may be a crown prince rather than a king, it’s nice to see it working so well with gunpowder.

A handful of black sesame seeds
3tbsp or so of urad dal (black, squat lentils, easy to find online)
8 black peppercorns. (That’s how many fell in, it’s not that precise)
1tbsp brown mustard seeds
1tbsp cumin seeds
1tbsp nigella seeds
2tbsp poppy seeds
A good pinch of Himalayan salt (pink or black, the black being more sulphuric, or Maldon)
Chilli powder to taste, if you want some heat. I didn’t

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry cast iron pan for a couple of minutes. Don’t wander off like I did. 
Remove them from the pan and put in a bowl.
Add the dal to the pan and toast for a few minutes until fragrant and starting to brown a little. Throw in the peppercorns, mustard seeds, cumin, nigella and poppy seeds and continue to toast for another minute, until the cumin starts to smell really toasty and cumin-y. 
Remove from the heat and tip into a food processor or large spice mill with the salt.
Grind to a coarse powder that resembles, well, gunpowder, then stir in the sesame and leave to cool. Store in an airtight jar for up to a month. 

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