Panch Puran Kabocha Sausage
I was recently reading an old forum discussion about these ubiquitous steamed seitan sausages (the origin of which is unclear to me), and various posters were chiming-in about their fennel seed preferences. I’m firmly in the pro-fennel-seed-in-sausage camp and indeed the flavor of fennel seed is most strongly associated in my memories with italtian sausage, but the discussion got me to thinking about other fennel seed flavor combinations. My mind immediately went to the Indian subcontinent (as it usually does), and perhaps the second thing I associate with fennel seed is panch puran, a spice mixture which is the foundation of many Bangaladeshi curries and pickles.
Panch puran is made out of cumin, fenugreek, nigella, mustard, and fennel seeds in equal amounts (I do equal amounts by volume). It’s likely available at your nearest Indian or Pakistani (possibly even well-stocked Asian or Middle Eastern) market and always comes in whole form. Because it always comes as whole seeds and is composed of equal ammounts of each one, it’s also dead simple to make yourself (pro-tip: if you make it yourself you can guarantee you’re using fresh spices).
But while we’re wandering down taste-memory lane, why not go a little deeper? My first experience with panch puran was in a dish of butternut squash braised in a simple panch puran-flavored gravy, and, well, I just happen to have this delicious kabocha pumpkin (because It’s winter, and I’ve been quite obsessed with them lately).
“The Kabocha is everything you expect an orange pumpkin to be, but rarely is.” – Me (to anyone who will listen)
These two things immediately clicked and I realized that the addition of bright orange squash could actually solve one of my fundamental complaints about the seitan sausage, which is that it’s a bit ugly on the plate, frankly.
So this is my new version of the venerable seitan sausage: I used a bunch of panch puran for that authentic bangaladeshi flavor*, a little roasted kabocha for sweetness and a more pleasing color, and just for the hell of it I replaced the usual vegetable broth with carrot juice (I was quite rightly worried it wouldn’t be orange enough).
After the initial steaming I browned them in some grape seed oil and served them with a salad of greens lightly dressed in a kabocha vinaigrette that I threw together on a whim; however, the dressing turned out so good that I used it as a sauce for the sausages too. If you want to serve them as I did or in any very simple way I would highly recommend sautéing them first, as they’re a bit lacking in textural contrast otherwise. If you’re juicing your own carrots you’ll need roughly 1/3 pound for 1/2 cup of juice but it really depends on your machine and the freshness of your roots. I just juiced a whole pound and drank the excess while the sausages were cooking!
You could certainly do this with butternut if you can’t find, or are scared away by the appearance of, the kabocha, but because of the higher sugar content of the kabocha I would add a touch more more sugar if you go that route. To roast a kabocha: preheat your oven to 350 degrees, cut the beast in half (one of those chinese cleavers works well for this, just watch your fingers!), wrap the halves in aluminum foil and place them on a sheet pan (or cookie sheet, glass baking dish, &c.) in the oven. Roast for about one hour, or until the flesh is falling off the bone.
Are they as orange as I wanted them to be? No. Are they pretty damn orange? Yes.
This recipe is heavily adapted from this Post Punk Kitchen recipe.
Panch Puran Kabocha Sausage
Makes 4 sausages.
1/2 cup kabocha pumpkin, roasted, skin removed
1/2 cup carrot juice
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 tablespoon grape seed oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic finely minced
1 1/4 cups vital wheat gluten
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
2 teaspoons panch puran
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
1 pinch turmeric
Roast the panch puran in a dry pan until it becomes fragrant and begins to color slightly. Grind the roasted seeds into a powder using a spice mill (this might work okay in a mortar and pestle, too, though the fenugreek may give you some trouble). Prepare your steaming apparatus and put it on to boil. Prepare four aluminum foil sheets. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, carrot juice, agave, oil, soy sauce, garlic, ground panch puran, fennel, and turmeric. When these things are fully combined, fold in the remaining ingredients. You might need to add a little extra carrot juice, or water to bring the dough together, maybe a tablespoon. To quote the PPK: “Divide dough into 4 even parts (an easy way to do this: split the dough in half and then into quarters). Place one part of dough into tin foil and mold into about a 5 inch log. Wrap dough in tin foil, like a tootsie roll. Don’t worry too much about shaping it, it will snap into shape while it’s steaming because this recipe is awesome.” Steam the aluminum-wrapped awesomeness for 40 minutes.
1 part vinegar (I used brown rice vinegar, but any lightly flavored one will do)
1 part Kabocha pumpkin, roasted, skin removed
3 parts extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Whisk it all together. I also crushed and added a little bit of minced garlic left over from the sausages.
Another ingredient common to Bangladeshi cuisine is mustard oil, it has a strong pungent flavor but I think it would be great to replace some or all of the oil in the sausages with mustard oil. Also, and this is purely aesthetic, the soy sauce seems to take away some of the vibrant orange color that I went to so much trouble to achieve, so I might replace it with some light miso next time. One warning: I don’t want to scare anyone away from using it, but I should mention that panch puran conceals a flavor time bomb in the form of fenugreek seeds. These little oddly shaped seeds have a kind of flavor arc: when raw they’re quite bitter, when cooked for a short time they taste like maple syrup, but when they’re cooked for too long they go right back to being bitter, and I mean dish-destroyingly bitter, maybe even appetite-destroyingly so. I have learned this lesson the hard way.
*As far as I know these are about as “authentically Bangladeshi” as, say, pizza.