I have come to love panch phoran which seems so ubiquitous in the north eastern dishes of India. Now I want panch phoran in all my vegetable curries. I am especially in love with nigella (the seed mind you). Its heady, the aroma of nigella. To those who don’t know, panch phoran (five spices) is a combination of five spices (methi seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds and nigella seeds) that are tempered in oil and used in dals and currys and probably lots of other dishes that I don’t know about. There’s panch phoran in this Labra too. Labra is a lovely assamese vegetable curry. Labra is a medley of vegetables cooked in an onion-ginger-garlic-red chilli paste and tempered with panch phoran.
Labra is beautiful eaten with steamed rice and dal. I used the Labra recipe from Sunita’s site. To someone whose only knowledge of Assam food was Assam tea, Sunita’s site was invaluable. Her site has lots of Assamese recipes, many of them with fish and all of them with mustard oil. I picked Labra because it was closer to home and I knew my family’d like it.
The original recipe used potato, pumpkin, radish and eggplant but I settled for just potatoes and eggplants. I’d been planning to do Labra for weeks but I never had pumpkin at home and last week when a nice large home grown pumpkin sat on our dining table I chose to do the Labra without pumpkin. I am officially crazy and by birth lazy. So I just used potatoes and brinjals in the labra. I enjoyed labra with dal poori (Jharkand special coming up soon) although it is pictured here with rice. It was warm, just so rightly spiced and yummy. But the next time I make it I’ll eat it along with rice and dal. It just seems like the right thing to do.
Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 25 mins
Potatoes – 2 medium peeled and cubed
Eggplants/Brinjals – 6 small purple ones cubed
Turmeric powder – ½ tsp
Garam masala – ½ tsp
Oil – 3 tbsp
Mustard seeds/Kadugu – 1/4 tsp
Cumin seeds/Jeera – ½ tsp
Fennel seeds/Sombu – ½ tsp
Nigella seeds – ¼ tsp
Methi seeds – 1/8 tsp
Salt to taste
Water as necessary
Ingredients – spice paste
Whole dry red chillies – 5
Onion – 1 small chopped roughly
Ginger – 1 inch piece peeled and chopped roughly
Garlic – 5 cloves peeled
1. Grind together the ingredients under spice paste adding a little water. Grind smooth. Set aside.
2. To a pan, add 2 tbsp oil and when hot, drop in the panch phoran – 5 spices – mustard seeds, methi seeds, fennel seeds, nigella seeds and cumin seeds. When they splutter, add the cubed potatoes and toss to coat. Cook for 5-10 minutes. Add the cubed eggplants and stir.
3. Add in turmeric powder and salt. Mix well. Add in the spice paste and mix to coat. Add just enough water to slightly immerse the potatoes and eggplants. Cover and simmer until the potatoes and eggplants are soft. Stir in the garam masala and cook for a further 1 minute. Switch off. Serve hot with rice or roti.