Watercress Gobi Paanch Phoron | Watercress and Caulifower in Indian Fives Spices

Watercress and Caulifower in Bengali five spices

It was twenty years back. She must’ve been sixty something at that time. Yet, her body as slender as string beans and skin, shiny as a new leaf. Even at that age, her barely salt and pepper hair, still lustrous and thick as a jungle, came flowing down to her thighs.

Every time I think of what greens can do, weirdest of all, an automatic mental flashback picture of her, greedily devouring a bowl of steamed greens daily, hits me. For whatever reasons I might not have liked my paternal grandmother much growing up, I’ve always liked my greens.

Ever since I’ve lived away from home, with my love for greens, I’ve lived on an overdose of spinach, fenugreek, dill and the occasional Amaranth (when I get lucky). No offence to any of those, I still love them enough to enjoy them in a host of dishes like Palak Pappu, Swiss Dal Paanch Phoron, Nalgari Aloo Palak or Methi Pudina Pachadi. Every once in a while whenever I felt the urge to break free from the “greens rut”, I gladly embraced one new-to-me green after another, swiss chard, red chard, mustard greens, beet greens or even kale, but yet to warm up to a lot many. Like for instance, the watercress.

Though I’ve known for sometime that this unpretentious and most often unnoticeable in the grocery stores “Watercress” is a potent cancer fighting and asthma curing medicinal super food, even my ever-so-presumed-to-be broad palette found its “grassy-ness” overpowering enough to quit after the first couple of buys.

This time, I wasn’t ready to quit. Albeit, I could somehow hold my nose and gulp it down (exaggerating of course), I had to get it through to him and my little obnoxious food critic. Cauliflower and any broccoli look-a-like is my little girl’s favorite and paanch phoron happens to be mine lately. So, there was little to risk, after all.

Her verdict after the first bite, “I love this spinach, Amma

You think I corrected her?

I said to myself, batting my eyelids, “yes my dear, ‘this spinach’ is called watercress

{ Having used up the bunch, so this is all I had to shoot }

I’m told that most typical watercress bunches available in stores are likely to be harvested from around streams, their natural habitat. But, on a lucky day or at a whole foods market, one might find a delicate living version of this green with roots intact in a tiny blob of soil, sitting pretty in a bloated plastic package, carrying a nifty name hydroponic watercress”.

I was indeed super thrilled when I bought this dainty thing one time, but honestly, I’d prefer the hollow stems, thick dark green leaves of the conventionally grown, any day, even if it is bruised by handling.

Watercress apparently is called Jal Kumbhi in Hindi. I’d like to think I have seen quite a few greens other than the routine spinach and methi, but don’t know for what reason, I have no memory of encountering this green ever in India.

If you know what it is called in Kannada, I’m curious to know..

Also, how do you cook Watercress?

Watercress Gobi Paanch Phoron Recipe

Printable Recipe

Things you’ll need:

small head of cauliflower, washed and broken into florets
2 large carrots, peeled (optional) and diced
3-4 fingerling potatoes or one medium potato, unpeeled, diced
1 bunch of watercress
2 green chillies, broken in half, seeds removed
1 tbsp paanch phoron
1/4 tsp ground cumin / jeera powder
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
red chilli powder or cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 tsp amchur / dry mango powder ~ optional
1 tbsp pure peanut oil or any cooking oil
sea salt

How it’s done:

Wash watercress bunch well in a large bowl of water with a tsp of baking soda. Rinse well in few more changes of water. Drain well and pinch off the leaf sprigs (as seen in the picture above) leaving out the thicker stalk. Delicate stem can be used chopped.

Make sure that cauliflower florets are well drained.

Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat. when the oil is hot enough or shimmering, add paanch phoron. When the seeds start crackling, add green chilli halves, cumin powder, quickly followed by turmeric and and sauté until green chillies show white spots. Add diced potatoes, carrots and cauliflower florets and sauté for a bit. Cook covered until carrots and potatoes are semi soft.

Add watercress leaves, salt, red chilli powder, amchur and give it a good stir. Cook covered for a few more minutes until the watercress leaves are wilted and check if veggies are cooked.

Serve hot with chapathi, roti, rice of your choice.


To make paanch phoron yourself, just mix equal portions of white mustard, fenugreek, fennel, nigella and cumin seeds.

If you have plants, just spread the shredded watercress stalks and carrot peels into the pot instead of discarding. I re-purposed them for my curry leaf plant.

Treat yourself to more:


Swiss Chard Dal Paanch Phoron

Swiss Chard and Spinach Lentils with Indian Five Spices

There is always a first time for everything. And this time for me, it is with Swiss Chard! Good news is, what seemed like an exaggerated courageous move of buying something unknown resulted in a pleasant tasty surprise. Better news is, I am sharing it with you, so you can enjoy too..
As important vegetables were to everyday food at home, a variety of leafy greens were also a must (still is), many of whom I hardly know the English names for. So I grew up not only eating my greens but loving them too in different forms – simply sauteed, cooked with lentils, in special spice powders, chutneys, stews and what not!
Even though there are many more leafy greens to Indian cooking than the only ever popular Spinach made famous through restaurant menus blistering with a single most common side dish – Palak Paneer, sparing the Spinach, Fenugreek and Dill, an occasional Amaranth is quite a luxury too, even on the fresh produce days at an Indian or world foods market here in the US.

Notwithstanding the dearth of variety in Indian leafy greens, I had decided to seek some random solace in the locally abundant chlorophyll rich produce. Having been unfamiliar with most American leafy greens such as Kale, Collard greens or Swiss Chard, I had taken the easy route so far – simply avoiding them. Until recently neither did I really show enough interest in the equally beautiful and nutritional Swiss Chard to bring it home and explore, nor did I have the tiniest clue that they are a cousin of the colorful beet root. Their vivacious bright red stalk and broad sheeny leaves must have made the calling for me, on the day I felt compelled to buy.

{Paanch Phoron – Indian Five Spices}

Yes, I know the Chinese have their five spices too!

Paanch Phoron (pronounced as foran), which literally translates to Five Spices is a whole spice mix common in everyday eastern Indian cuisine, consisting of equal parts of Fenugreek seeds, Nigella seeds, Yellow Mustard, Fennel seeds and Cumin.

Paanch Phoron is my latest obsession and I catch myself adding it to anything and everything possible from sides to chutneys. The aroma of the spices as they pop and splutter in hot oil has such an amazing effect on the olfactory system, that craving for more is not an option, but a must!

Paanch Phoron Dal being a speciality in eastern India is the inspiration behind my version, where I include Spinach as well for known comfort. Though Swiss chard is almost invisible in the final appearance, it is much like butter that it makes its presence felt in taste, blended with the aromatic spices. Combine it with hot roti or steaming rice and a spoon of pure ghee for a comforting meal.
I always wonder why I didn’t cook with Paanch Phoron earlier. Everything has its time, I guess. If you have never tried Paanch Phoron before, take this as your calling. I bet, you’ll be mesmerized as I am..
Hats off to whoever discovered the power of seasoning whole spices in hot oil!

Swiss Chard and Spinach Lentils with Indian Five Spices Recipe

Printable Recipe
Things you’ll need:
  • 1/4 cup toor dal / pigeon peas
  • 1/8 cup split yellow lentils/ moong dal (half the quantity of toor dal)
  • 1 stalk swiss chard, chopped
  • small bunch of spinach / about 1 cup chopped ~ optional
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, halved
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp red chilli powder ~ optional
  • cherry sized tamarind / juice of half lemon
  • salt
For the seasoning:
  • 4 tsp peanut oil /ghee
  • 1 tbsp paanch phoron or five spices
  • 1-2 whole green chillies
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
other kitchen equipment:
  • pressure cooker
  • whisk
How it’s done:
Soak tamarind in warm water and keep aside for about 15-30 mins, if using. Once soaked, squish tamarind into pulp.
To properly wash the leafy greens in a food-safe way to get rid of pesticides, bacteria and germs along with mud and farm residue, add some baking soda to a big bowl of water; dunk the leafy greens and give a good scrub/rinse. Rinse again or several times in clean water until visibly clean. Pat dry on a clean kitchen towel. Chop swiss chard separating the stalk from the leaf. If you do not prefer to use the stalk, refrigerate for later use in another dish. Else, finely chop the stalk into thin slices and then the leaf. Roughly chop the spinach bunch.
Cook lentilsWash toor dal and split yellow dal until water runs clear. Pressure cook the lentils with the tomato,turmeric and water enough and more to cover the lentils and tomato halves. When the cooker has cooled, whisk through the lentils and tomato to mash well for a uniform consistency. If not using a pressure cooker, cook the same in a pot stove top. Let the water come to a rolling boil and simmer partially covered until the lentils are soft and cooked or can be mashed easily.
For the seasoning heat oil or ghee in a heavy bottomed saucepan on high heat. When the oil is hot enough or shimmering, add paanch phoron, reduce heat to medium and let the whole spices splutter and crackle. Add whole green chillies, chopped onion followed by turmeric and sauté until onion turns translucent. Add chopped leafy greens and sauté until soft and cooked. Add salt, red chilli powder, tamarind pulp if using and mashed lentil mixture and simmer to a slow boil, about 10 mins. Do not bring to a rolling boil for the risk of losing the flavor of the spices. Once done, cover and set aside. If not using tamarind, squeeze lemon juice after setting aside and stir well.
Garnish with cilantro and serve hot with steamed rice and a spoon of ghee or fresh off the griddle Indian breads.
Note: Some find it very convenient to use ready made concentrated tamarind paste, use smaller quantity in that case.
Paanch Phoron is readily available in most Indian grocery stores or world food markets. If not, you could simply buy the five spices separately and mix them in equal parts. For best potency, be sure to store them in air-tight containers in a cool dark place.

You might also like: