Sunday, April 8, 2018

Pep up the Palate with Poppy Seeds

Better known in India as Khas Khas, these tiny off-white seeds are not so commonly used. 

There is a lot of confusion between Khas khas and khas. Khas is probably vetiver and is used as a fragrance, in beverages and to make cooling mats. 

Khas khas is poppy seeds. It was while in Malaysia that I learned that it is banned in certain countries. 

I knew about opium and poppy not only as a pharmaceutical product since my father was a doctor. There was also my mother, originally from the far north-west of India. She had some entertaining tales from her childhood up there. One of them featured a devastating earthquake. People, she said took cover under tables and such. And one person was caught at the Halwai's. This was the local opium addict - very harmless in her narrations. He survived the quake and feasted all through on the shop's goodies until rescued. And, finally, there was opium in literature - Tintin in China is a pretty good idea of all that. 

However, one grew up and soon observed the many diverse truths about all history. And the many faces of laws. 

Back to poppy seeds, there is a moving story about the origins of its use in Bengali cuisine: 

Overnight huge tracts of agricultural land in the Bengal Presidency were transformed into rolling poppy fields and while the native farmer lamented the death of golden harvests, the British raked in a crimson booty. English civil servants fanned out into the western areas of Bengal, into Bihar and Orissa, bleeding a once-thriving agricultural economy dry. Robbed of the produce that fed the family — a miserable state compounded by the ‘aphim’-induced stupor of her husband — the farmer’s wife looked for ways to supplement the meagre meals put together by foraging in forests, ponds and groves. The enormous amounts of dried out poppy seed, left as waste by the colonial masters, suddenly took on an important role. She experimented with it and found much to her delight that the seeds when ground to a paste exuded a nutty flavour, blended well with mustard oil and enhanced the frugal meals of panta bhaat (soaked leftover rice), or boiled potatoes. In the intense dry heat of the area, it also cooled the body. Thus was born the Bengali’s cherished posto. As Banerji observes: “An added bonus is its slightly soporific effect, which deepens the post lunch siesta for an ease loving Bengali”.

I first came across it for use in cooking when I learned the recipe for a delicious chicken curry from a friend.  

For the curry, a paste was required and it's hard to grind the little seeds. I've managed to get an idea of what to do after digging around the Net: they have to be very lightly roasted till they begin popping and then they are pulsed in a mixer. Over grinding will, perhaps, make the paste too oily. A dash of water might help in the grinding. Pulse in very short bursts to avoid disaster.

Here are some recipes that feature Khas Khas:




Potato Dishes
TanBanMi, from Wikimedia Commons

Random Dishes

Meat Dishes

As Base for Gravies
khas khas gravy - Mostly non-vegetarian

This post was basically born out of a need to know what to do with the small packet of poppy seeds lying in the kitchen. Tomorrow, I tackle another packet: fried gram. 

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