When young, the green leaves of the mustard
plant can be cooked and eaten like turnip greens. When the plant blooms,
its luminous flowers produce flavor-rich mustard seeds, which are used
whole as a spice, ground to a powder to make dry mustard, and made into
prepared mustard, the base for countless sauces and an essential condiment
for hamburgers and hot dogs. Another form of mustard, mustard oil, is also
used in Indian cooking. There are three species of mustard, which produce
seeds in four different colors - Brassica nigra (black), Brassica juncea
(brown), and Brassica alba or hirta (white and yellow).
Brown mustard seeds are highly aromatic.
They make a good all-purpose choice. White mustard seeds are actually pale
yellow, and they are slightly larger than brown. Though they have little
aroma, white mustard seeds are spicy-hot. Black mustard seeds are the most
potent of all. Because they are difficult to harvest, black mustard seeds
are not grown commercially. Mustard seeds are not always labeled "brown"
or "white", but you'll know the difference if you taste them. Brown
mustard seeds go straight to your sinuses, while white seeds are tasted
more on the tip of the tongue.
When using mustard seeds, crush them with
the side of a knife or in a mortar and pestle. The seeds are flavorless
until they're broken or toasted to release their
essential oils. Add
mustard seeds to marinades and use them to flavor curries and chutneys.
Keep mustard seeds in a tightly closed container, where they will keep for
up to 1 year. Milled from both brown and yellow mustard seeds, dry mustard
is sometimes labeled "mustard flour" or "mustard powder". Keep dry mustard
in a tightly closed container and store it away from heat and light. Its
flavor will begin to fade within a few months of purchase, so buy dry
mustard in small quantities.
To prepare mustard from dry mustard, stir
the powder into a cold liquid such as water, wine or vinegar. Add herbs
and other seasonings if you like. Avoid mixing dry mustard with hot
liquids as the volatile oils in mustard are heat-sensitive. The mustard
will take on a bitter flavor until over time, the taste fades completely.
If you need to improve the flavor of homemade prepared mustard, let it
cure in the refrigerator for a week or two before using. Also, vary the
flavor by stirring any of the following into 1/4 cup homemade prepared
mustard - 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey; 2 teaspoons coarsely chopped
capers; or 1/2 teaspoon grated orange, lemon or grapefruit zest.