Mustard Challenge

White and black mustard seeds

White and black mustard seeds

I will not rest until the diminutive mustard seed is at least given a chance.

I’m not just talking about adding them to pickle brine, either. Or squeezing a bright yellow condiment on ball park franks. Mustard seeds create a pungent and lively taste in other savory dishes that is a shame to miss. I grew up with mustard seed in vegetable dishes, but didn’t blink when they appeared in chutneys, meat or fish dishes, too.

Originally, this family recipe was a spinach dish with a few sprinkles of potatoes. I made it more about the potatoes once, after discovering a woeful lack of the green stuff in my refrigerator, and the recipe stuck in my Missouri kitchen. It’s Indian but goes well with other foods, it’s tasty and easy. So the only question left regarding the challenge: can you cut the mustard?

Spinach and Potatoes with Mustard Seed
Serves 4
2-3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
3 medium potatoes, peeled, cut into ½” cubes and partially boiled
1-1/2 cup spinach, washed and roughly cut, or 1 package frozen spinach, defrosted
1-1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric (optional)

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. When hot, put in the mustard seeds and let pop for 3-5 seconds. Add the cubed, partially cooked potatoes and stir and fry for 5 minutes. Add spinach. Add salt, cayenne and turmeric. Add a little water and cover if needed to complete the cooking process. The dish is done once the potatoes are cooked through.

Nina Furstenau teaches food writing in the Science and Agricultural Journalism program at the University of Missouri. She is the author of “Savor Missouri, River Hill Country Food and Wine” and “Biting Through the Skin,” She writes “A Spiced Life,” column for the Columbia Daily Tribune ( and blogs at


About ninafurstenau

Nina Mukerjee Furstenau teaches a Food and Wine Writing for the University of Missouri Science and Agriculture Journalism program and the MU School of Journalism School. Her book, Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America's Heartland was the winner of the MFK Fisher Book Award and Grand Prize Award for culinary/culture writing and designated as a Kansas Notable Book. She has also written Savor Missouri: River Hill Country Food and Wine, celebrating Missouri foodways. Her essay, "And Then There Was Rum Cake," appears in the 2017 anthology, Pie & Whiskey: Writer's Under the Influence of Butter and Booze. Ms. Furstenau was in the Peace Corps in Tunisia from 1984 to 1986 and then began working life as a journalist and publisher/editor of three construction magazines beginning in 1987. Ms. Furstenau and her husband launched and published these magazines and two others until 2001. She was a month-long resident at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, in 2008.
This entry was posted in Columbia Tribune, Indian cooking, spice and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Mustard Challenge

  1. In Andhra Pradesh, apart from using mustard seeds in tempering, we use them to add flavour using a technique called “Ava Pettadam.” (Ava = Mustard in Telugu)

    Soak about 1 tsp of mustard seeds with 2 teaspoons of raw rice for at least an hour. Grind to a smooth paste along with one red chilly. This is the “Ava” paste. Add this paste to boiled and tempered cabbage, raw banana, or yam. We also add it to a variety of stews. 🙂

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