by Kate Heyhoe
March marks the final month of the annual Napa Valley Mustard Festival, which begins in February. The festival celebrates food, wine, and the arts, at a time when flowering wild mustard plants gild the already picturesque Napa Valley with golden and chartreuse hues.
According to the Napa Valley Mustard Festival's website, the sunny carpets of mustard flowers, now blanketing what was at one time pure wilderness, arrived courtesy of the Spanish.
"Father Serra had come from Spain to Mexico to spread the religion of Jesus Christ, and hearing about this beautiful, vast country to the north, decided to explore it. With a few faithful followers and Indian guides, he traveled north through what is now our glorious and loved California. As he traveled he scattered to the right, and to the left, the mustard seeds which he had brought with him from Spain. The following year, as they returned south they followed 'a ribbon of gold;' and following that path again Father Serra established his 'Rosary of Missions,' beginning in San Diego and ending in Sonoma. So wherever you see the Spanish mustard in California you know the Spanish fathers visited there. This is the early California legend as told to me by my Grandfather, whose father told it to him." —(Provided by the Napa County Historical Society, as told to Ivy May Loeber by her grandfather, Calvin Chesterfield Griffith, Napa County pioneer.)
Even if you're not able to view Napa Valley's mustard plants in bloom, the spring season is as good a reason as any for celebrating this seductive condiment, which graces everything from hot dogs to roast pheasant.
Formulas vary, but in general, prepared mustard contains only 16 calories per tablespoon, and between 0 and 1 gram of fat, and the same for carbohydrates, so it's great for low-fat and low-carb dieters.
Mustard in a vinaigrette helps the mixture emulsify. Calorie counters can make a tasty salad dressing with mustard, a low acid vinegar (such as rice vinegar or balsamic), and very little or even no oil. If the flavor is too strong, dilute with a bit of water or juice.
India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are the largest producers of mustard seed, followed by Canada and Nepal. North Dakota is the mustard seed leader in the United States.
Mustard seeds are commonly used in Indian cooking. They're usually toasted in a small amount of oil. Be sure to cover the pan, as the seeds will pop vigorously at first. Uncover the pan when the popping stops and add the mixture to other seasonings in curries or dals.
Mustard oil is a potent bright yellow oil used in Indian cooking. Be sure to heat it thoroughly to cook away the harshness and mellow the flavor.
Essentially, prepared mustard is made by grinding the seeds to a powder, then mixing them with liquid (vinegar, water, wine, for instance), and often adding seasonings, like salt, spices, herbs, and garlic. Brown seeds add more fire to the mix, while milder light colored seeds add a roundness of flavor.
So, have I a tickled your mustard fancy? If so, try some of the recipes below and create your own spring mustard festival, wherever you live.
Illustration is the 2004 Mustard Festival Poster by Ira Yeager. Reprinted by permission.
Chilled Artichokes with Spicy Mustard Sauce
Coarse-Grain Mustard with Beer
Cozy Toasted Yellow Dal
Crumb-Crusted Honey-Mustard Ham
Herb-Roasted Flattened Chicken
Honey-Mustard Salmon with Crispy Nut Crust
Leeks with Olive Oil, Vinegar, and Mustard Seed
Veggie-Matchsticks with Hint of Mustard Vinaigrette
Copyright © 2004, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created March 2004
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