From India’s Vegetarian Cooking:Broccoli With Five Spices

I know that I just wrote about a stir-fried recipe from the eastern region of India that featured whole spices.

Well, that recipe came from the eastern region of India, and this one, while it uses the same basic technique–stir frying, and similar ingredients–whole spices, is from the west, in Bengal, and it results in a completely different flavor.

Because it requires five different whole spices, one might consider it to be a bit more “advanced” than the first recipe I posted from Monisha Bharadwaj’s India’s Vegetarian Cooking, but really, the method of the recipe is completely comparable.

The result, however, is completely different.

The five whole spices are all seeds: cumin, fenugreek, kalonji (also known as nigella), fennel and mustard. Toasted in sunflower, canola or peanut oil until they sizzle, darken and pop, they are then joined by powdered turmeric and chile.

The aroma is incredible. Cumin, of course, has the familiar musky-smoky scent, which is always complemented by the nutty sharpness of the mustard seeds which pop and jump from the pan in frisky arcs. Joined by the freshly-mown hay odor of fenugreek and the sharp onion tang of kalonji is the honey-sweet herbal fragrance of fennel.

All toasted together, these seeds perfumed the kitchen with a voluptuous richness that is hard to understand until it is experienced.

Bharadwaj swears that any vegetable can be stir fried in this way and taste amazing; I cannot help but think she must be right.

This spice mixture elevated plain old healthy broccoli into a dish fit for a decadent libertine. I felt sinful while eating it, which seldom happens unless cream, butter, truffles, chocolate or champagne are involved. I have certainly never felt that way about broccoli in my life.

I highly recommend that folks give this easy recipe a go, and see what happens. I cannot wait to try it on eggplant, collard greens or delicata squash.

Now, I just need to test a recipe from the southern region of India. Look for that post soon!

Panch Phodoner Gobi


2 tablespoons canola, sunflower or peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon kalonji (nigella) seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 pound broccoli, cut into small florets
juice of one small lemon
salt to taste


Heat oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan or wok until it is nearly smoking.

Add whole spices, and stirring, toast them in the oil until they begin to sizzle, darken and the mustard seeds pop. When this occurs, add the turmeric and cayenne, and stir to combine.

Add broccoli, and cook, stirring, until it brightens. Some browned spots on the stems and flowers is fine; in fact the browning adds a delicious smoky flavor to the vegetable. Add the lemon juice and allow it to steam the broccoli until it is done.

Sprinkle with salt to taste and serve immediately.


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  1. I’ve never heard of kalonji, but I’m intrigued! I’ll have to head over to Kalustyan’s and buy some!

    Comment by Lisa (Homesick Texan) — March 22, 2007 #

  2. I make up a large quantity of panch poran (the five spice mix) and have it around to use in my bengali cooking. It’s great to throw into all kinds of basic veg deishes – steamed and quickly fried winter squash, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. Plus I have a few dal recipes that use it.

    I just took 1 T. each spice and the them into a jar together. When I want some I just shake up the jar, and measure out what I need. It’s a great time saver.

    Comment by Diane — March 22, 2007 #

  3. Kalonji has a great, subtle onion flavor, Lisa, with lots of crunch. I really like it.

    It is the seed of the very pretty nigella flower, which I used to grow in our cottage garden when we lived in Pataskala. It self-sows, so the second year, we had lacy green foliage and fluffy sky blue flowers everywhere! Beautiful!

    Diane–that makes sense. Now that I am into the crunchy texture of the toasted spices and how well they complement veggies, I am going to have to make up a batch of panch poran myself. It was just too great for words. I loved it. (And even Zak, who doesn’t much like broccoli, liked it!)

    Comment by Barbara — March 22, 2007 #

  4. is the broccoli lightly steamed or boiled first?

    Comment by ben — March 27, 2007 #

  5. No Ben, it is cooked in the hot pan with the oil. This browns part of the broccoli which gives it a great smoky flavor that goes well with the panch phoran. The addition of the lemon juice at the end usually makes enough steam to finish cooking it off.

    Just cut into small enough florets so that they will cook quite quickly.

    Comment by Barbara — March 27, 2007 #

  6. Hi Barbara,

    I stumbled upon your website when I was searching for Indian version of Broccoli. I did this tonight and it was wiped out in a moment. My husband who is from Orissa, nearby state of Bengal, said it was jus like his hometown veg fry. It was truly delicious. Thank for posting such a nice recipe. 🙂

    Comment by Annu — December 27, 2010 #

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