Monday, February 26, 2018

Jimbu – Nepalese Allium (Herb)

Jimbu  जिम्बु  – Nepalese Allium or Himalayan Aromatic Herb

Jimbu, pronounced (jim-bu), is a dried, aromatic, perennial herb that is virtually unknown outside the Himalayan region. It's common name is “Nepal aromatic leaf garlic.” It is also known as jamboo/faran in Uttarakhand, India and jhiku-cha in Newari language. In scientific journals, jimbu is called Allium Hypsistum Stearn and comes from the family Amaryllidaceae. 

While researching jimbu, I found a well-written article by David Borish which describes more on this perennial herb.  He writes, "Jimbu is one product that is native to the North Central mountainous region of Nepal, and is of high value to Upper Mustang Nepalese (Nepal 2006). Jimbu refers to two species of Allium, A.hypsistum and A. prezewalskianum (Nepal 2006).  Both species are perennial and bulbous flowering plants part of the Amaryllidaceous family (IUCN Nepal, 2000)."

Harvesting of Jimbu - The local villagers and their family members travel several hours to the wild areas of the mountain regions in which jimbu has been growing in abundance for centuries.  The villagers carefully hand-pick the green and tender foliage from the jimbu plant.  Although they collect both flowering and non flowering parts of the plant, they believe the best flavors come from buds that are not fully opened. It is harvested between July to September.

After collection, the green jimbu is brought back to villages and spread on dry mats in a well-ventilated covered shady areas.  Jimbu harvesters believe that drying in direct sunlight makes poor quality jimbu without color and flavor. The herb is dried for several days until all the moisture has evaporated. This is the most traditional, simplest, and least expensive way of preserving the herb in the remote areas. 

Picture of two of the most authentic Nepali spices – L. Jimbu herb and R. Szechwan pepper, Sichuan pepper, Chinese pepper, Nepal pepper (Z. armatum)
टिम्मुर, तिम्बुर - (Timur, Timmur, Timbur)
The flavor of the herb is weakened or nearly lost in the drying process.  Jimbu also loses its green color and starts to looks like a brownish-green dried grass.  By the time it hits Nepali markets, jimbu is commonly sold in dried strands. The herb has a distinct flavor which is somewhat similar to garlic and shallots. The distinct aroma of the herb is nearly lost in the drying process, but can be brought back to maximum flavor by browning it in hot oil until fully fragrant before using in a dish.   Generally, a small pinch of jimbu is sufficient to flavor a dish and should be used with discretion. It is mostly not used in its raw form.

Mr. Ram Chandra Nepal in his research paper (use and Management of Jimbu – a case study from Upper Mustang) writes, “Jimbu collection is a very difficult job. People have to walk far away from the village (in an average 4.4 hours from the village) in dry, sloppy and difficult areas where water is scarce. Sometimes people needed over night camping on the sites. Further, people complained about headache when they were engaged in collecting jimbu for several hours.” 
Nepalese have a remarkable fondness for this herb and they use it as a tempering spice (jhanae masalaa) to flavor lentil dishes (daals), stir-fried vegetables, salads, and pickles. The aromatic herb also acts as flavoring agent for preserved pickles (achaars). Traditionally, jimbu is fried in clarified butter (gheu) or mustard oil (tori ko tel) to maximize its flavor and the infused oil is poured into a prepared dish before serving. The fried herb lends texture and visual appearance to any dish. In some recipes, Jimbu is added in the beginning stage of cooking process, whereas in some recipes, they are added at the end to the prepared dish. 
Freshly cooked black lentil (maas ko daal) tempered with jimbu
Tomato chutney tempered with jimbu
Fermented radish pickle tempered with jimbu

If jimbu has been stored for a long period of time, it becomes crisp and crumbly and starts to lose its flavor and get stale quickly. It is recommended to purchase only in small quantities at a time.

People from upper Mustang region use jimbu plants for medicinal purposes. It is used for stomach ailments, cough and cold, flu and high altitude sickness. Many villagers believe that jimbu has some medicinal value.

Jimbu is not often available outside Nepal (Indian grocery stores, Asian or Western markets). As a substitute, some people use the dried roots of the garlic bulb.  But this alternative will not produce the same flavor as jimbu. Recently, there are some imported jimbu available online and in some Nepali food markets outside Nepal.

Here are some useful links about Nepali Jimbu that you may want to check it out:

Ram Chandra Nepal - Use and management of Jimbu (A case study from Upper Mustang) - ( )

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Raayo ko Saag (Mustard Greens)

Mustard Greens (Sit le Khaeko Raayo ko Saag)

Nepal's very own winter specialty

Nepal has a complex topography with hills and flat lands, and the Kathmandu valley is renowned for the seasonal vegetables grown in its fertile soil.  Vegetables (tarkaari) are one of the most important foods in the daily Nepali diet, and a typical Nepali meal consists of rice, lentils, and some kind of side vegetable dish. 

Mustard greens (raayo ko saag) are one of the most common and popular winter vegetables grown in abundance from November throughout April. The cool-season annual vegetable grows quickly and thrives in chilly weather. Mustard leaves have rich dark-green colors and a pungent mustard flavor with a biting taste. The greens are pungent and bitter only when eaten raw, but they become soft and delicious when cooked. The young tender leaves and long stalks taste best during colder weather, that is, fall, winter, spring.  The greens can't tolerate the summer heat and quickly develop  seeds, becoming bitter and less tender.  The leaves from the plants are harvested one-by-one as they mature; this allows the plants to continue producing. As the mustard plants matures, it starts to form flowering shoots which is known as raayo ko duku. The young mustard shoots are also eaten as a vegetable and appreciated by many Nepalease.

What is sit le khaeko saag? In the winter months, when the pungent leaves of mustard plants are exposed to frost, they become very tender and delicate.  Sit le khaeko saag literally translates as "mustard greens tenderized by frost" and are among the most tender and delicious greens.

The botanical name of leaf mustard is Brassica Juncea (L.) Czen. & Cos, Family: cruciferae. Mr. Puskal P. Regmi in his book, “An introduction to Nepalese Food Plants” (1982) writes, “leaf mustard is the most common cultivated green vegetable of Nepal, grown in hilly regions and now cultivated in Tarai area also. The several types of leaf mustard so far believed to be met with in Nepal are as follows:
Broad leaved Mustard (B.Juncea, Var. folicosa Bailey), Curled mustard, Ostrich plume (B. Juncea, var. crispifolia Bailey, B. Juncea, var. multisecta Bailey, B. Juncea, var. auneifolia (Roxb.) Kitam, B. pekinensis, Rupr – chinese cabbage.”

“Leaf mustard represents a perfectly national dietary greens of Nepal available to the majority of the people. Until a recent past, this leaf mustard which was slangly called by the people living in Tarai as a Nepali tobacco, has now gradually come to stay as a popular green vegetable, according to the way it is available in plenty all over the village markets of Tarai.

Traditionally, Mustard greens are cooked as simply as possible with a very little seasoning. They are just cooked by themselves in a little oil, flavored with ajowain seeds, dried red chilies, and ground fresh ginger-garlic until completely tender but still has bright green color. How long you allow the greens to cook is a matter of taste. Some people cook until the liquid has evaporated and dried out. No matter how you cook, it is important not to overcook because you want to preserve the fresh flavor of the greens. Nepalese never add water while cooking greens. It is cooked only with the water that clings to the leaves after washing.

Here is my recipe for making a delicious "Raayo ko Saag" - it has simple ingredients and quick preparation.  Enjoy one of the most liked winter vegetable of Nepal.


2 to 3 bunches fresh mustard greens (about 2 pounds)
3 tablespoons mustard oil (or any oil of your choice)
¼ teaspoon ajowain seeds
2 dried red chilies, halved and seeded
2 medium clove fresh garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoon minced fresh ginger-garlic
Salt to taste

Tear the mustard greens into bite-sized pieces. Rinse the torn mustard greens in cold water. Drain and reserve.

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, until faintly smoking. Add the ajowain seeds and dried chilies and fry until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 seconds. Add the mustard, garlic, ginger and salt. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens become tender and most of the liquid evaporates, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the greens to a serving dish and serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ready to serve mustard greens
If you are looking for a delicious Nepali meal of "Daal-Bhaat-Tarkaari-Achaar" combination - try this Thakali Thaal.  It's just waiting for you!

Potato stuffed bread with mustard greens, cauliflower, daal - vegetarian lunch - a delicious way to warm up on a cold winter afternoon.