Guest Post: Roasting Peppercorns to Make a Wow Pilau

Posted on October 16, 2014 by Scott Eirinberg

I recently met someone equally as passionate about spices. Her name is Kelly Elizabeth Moe-Rossetto. She's the force behind The Cardamom Collective on Tumblr. She calls her blog a "Space for Dreamers and Doers." Let's just say I can relate. Since I've been busy growing Reluctant and she's been busy writing about spices, it seemed like a good opportunity to collaborate. This is the second post from Kelly.

Peppery Pilau: A royally roasted dish and a soothing sip to go with it!

By Kelly Elizabath Moe-Rossetto for The Reluctant Trading Experiment

I’m going to India in February, and I’m just a little excited. I can often be spotted carrying my Love Travel guide or poring over any India documentary I can get my hands on. The Indian family I work for even has my husband and I on a spice training regimen (true story!) to prep our Midwestern palates for the glory of spice and heat that awaits us in the streets of Delhi!

I often eat at a small pop-up restaurant run by a local woman (originally from Sri Lanka) called “The Curry Diva." She is everything that name might suggest, in only the best ways. She serves truly amazing and unique meals, and each week my spicy coconut sambol spoonful grows just a tad bigger. She knows how much I love to learn about spices and she indulges my curiosity and palate each time I see her; handing me branches of fresh curry leaves over the counter, slipping vials of saffron into my palm over the roti plate. And don’t get me started on the pound of Sri Lankan cinnamon she gifted me, fresh from her trip!

I was overwhelmed by her generosity and couldn’t think of a token to offer her, until one day she unscrewed the top of a mystery jar and challenged me to identify it. It was aromatic and familiar, but with distinct notes I couldn’t quite put my finger, er... nose on. I finally guessed some varietal of black pepper and she confirmed that it was pepper, but with a twist – it was roasted.

Roasted black peppercorns? I had been blogging about spices for almost a year and the idea of roasting pepper had never occurred to me. I knew immediately what my offering to her would be, as well as my next recipe challenge. I gifted her with the very best pepper I could find, The Reluctant Trading Experiment's Divakar’s No. 4 Tellicherry, and set off to roast some for myself.

Surprisingly, for as long as black pepper (often called the “King of Spice”) has been around, I found relatively little on the benefits or uses for roasting. In a stroke of luck, the Katarias (my favorite Indian family) had relatives visiting from Mumbai who agreed to spend a day cooking with me. They suggested making Pilau, the one dish they immediately thought of when I inquired about roasting black pepper.

We had a wonderful day and made a beautiful North Indian Pilau featuring a variety of fragrant whole spices including bay leaves, black cardamom, cumin, cloves, cinnamon bark, and of course black pepper. The roasting was done in oil, and integrated into the dish.

The peppercorns swelled to plump little nibbles whose bite was toned down during the cooking process, enabling them to be enjoyed whole. We also added green “chana” (delicious green chickpeas that tasted fresh and faintly like jasmine to me). While it turned out fantastic I wanted to try something which highlighted the complex and rich taste of the roasted peppercorns. I chose a simple cumin and black peppercorn pilau, and will share the recipe with you.

You’ll need:

  • Cooking oil (I used olive oil, something called "ghee" is often used in India and Ayurvedic cooking)
  • About 1/2 Tbsp of whole cumin seeds (to taste)
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped to bite size pieces
  • 2 cups of Basmati Rice
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Peppercorns!  (Now that I have discovered The Reluctant Trading Experiment's Tellicherry Peppercorns I’ll never go back!)

First step, time to toast!

I threw a couple tablespoons of dry peppercorns into a dry enameled cast iron pot. Mine is an old one called a Dru, made in Holland but I have also used a Le Creuset. I think any dry pot will do. I turned the heat to medium and used a wooden knife to stir the peppercorns, in an effort to fast evenly. After a few minutes the warm scent of pepper drifted up from the pan. It’s relatively subtle, but the process alone is a mediation. When toasting spices, their oils burn rather quickly and they become bitter, so an attentive cook is required. Personally I enjoy the little ritual, and find it a chance to close my eyes and be grateful for the effort that has gone into harvest these tiny wondrous spices. I may have left mine on the burner just a little too long because several jumped ship and begin popping right out of their pot like tiny poppercorns! (Sorry couldn’t resist).

When they do this, they are done and ready to be taken from heat. Pop a few in your mouth when they are still warm and notice the malty, nutty quality. I let mine cool in a small bowl before transferring them to my ceramic mortar and pestle. You will notice they have swollen and darkened. While watching your spices roast and crackle, heat your oil into a large heavy cooking pot. When oil shimmers, throw in the cumin.

Cook the cumin for just about a minute, until the sunny, nutty flavors are released. If the seeds begin to smoke you have cooked them too long.

Now, throw in your onions until just browned. Doing this caramelizes them and will add a richness to your dish, which will be balanced by the heat of the peppercorns.

Toss the rice in the cooking oil for about a minute, without water. This gives it nice firmness and makes for a beautiful pot of clump-less grains.

Finally, add twice as much water as rice, in this case 4 cups. Bring to a boil again and then turn down to simmer and cover.

Let cook about 20 minutes or until rice has doubled in size.

Add your freshly roasted and crushed pepper to taste, don’t be afraid to sprinkle liberally! The delicious pepper flavor is the star of the show in this dish.

I toasted my spices as my pilau rice was cooking and ground them just before I sprinkled a healthy spoonful over the top. I ended up wishing I would have added more. I won’t be shy with my spicing next time.

Along with the changes in flavor, I wanted to understand the benefits to roasting. After researching, I found that the health benefits are largely the same as when not roasted. Black pepper is beneficial for a wide variety of things including digestion, respiratory health and circulation. It is also used as a preservative and has anti-inflammatory properties.

What does change when you roast it is the flavor. The peppercorns I roasted were very high quality, and had a strong, floral taste with a considerable amount of heat. I consider them to be very aromatic and well balanced but they do have a slightly sharp taste, as most un-toasted or “raw” black pepper will. The toasted pepper had a nutty, chocolate flavor and could be used on its own, or mixed with several other spices, such as garam masala.

I found the toasted pepper to lend itself to sweet treats. I added a healthy dab of strawberry jam, to a bit of vanilla ice cream and sprinkled some roasted and crushed pepper over the top. It was a slightly exotic twist, and the black pepper actually helps with digestion.

Finally, after all my hard work I mad myself a cup of black pepper honey tea. A little pinch of these fragrant berries goes a long way.

Have you ever roasted your peppercorns? Maybe it's time to give it a shot.

One final note, storing spices once they are roasted in an airtight container will help keep the flavor, some of the oils will have been cooked or released while roasting and it is usually by crushing them that we open them up. If you do choose to roast them whole, I think it works best to store them that way until ready to use them and crush them. Personally, I think they are most pungent when just roasted, and suggest only roasting as much as you’ll need for the meal you are planning. Many cookbooks and blogs tout quick recipes and how to have dinner on the table in ten minutes or less. That is important sometimes, but so are these little rituals. The five to ten minutes it takes to toast and crush the beautiful whole spices you’ve taken care to purchase can be seen as a small offering to those that are about to enjoy it with you, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s a simple meal for yourself.

Guest Post: A Recipe for Indian Lemonade Known as “Shikanji”

Posted on August 11, 2014 by Scott Eirinberg

I recently met someone equally as passionate about spices. Her name is Kelly Elizabeth Moe-Rossetto. She's the force behind The Cardamom Collective on Tumblr. She calls her blog a "Space for Dreamers and Doers." Let's just say I can relate. Since I've been busy growing Reluctant and she's been busy writing about spices, it seemed like a good opportunity to collaborate. This is the second post from Kelly.

By Kelly Elizabath Moe-Rossetto for The Reluctant Trading Experiment

Sunday’s are for shikanji!

At least, this Sunday was. We haven’t had much in the way of heat to complain about here in Minnesota, but today sort of snuck up on me. My boss Anju tells me tales of the cooling drinks of her youth in India, and between the pot of mint outside our doorstep and the new Saveur issue of India arriving this weekend, I decided tonight was the night to try my hand.

Shikanji, like many drinks in India, is a complex profile of flavors and one that varies quite a bit from the typical drinks of my Midwestern upbringing. This is not the yellow sugar shooter of your neighbor kids lemonade stand.

There are a whole range of drinks across the Indian subcontinent that I plan to explore; mint juice, kokum juice and jaljeera among them. Some with pepper, one with ajwain, and plenty of lhassis, but today we will keep it simple. There seems to be a similar drink across desert areas of a frothy sweet lime quality. The sweet lime drinks of the desert will have to be their own post as well, but Egypt was my first encounter with them, and shikanji, though different, leads to some nostalgic sipping.

When you look up shikanji you’ll find many different versions. I have chosen a rather basic version from what I can tell but would love to experiment with the addition of saffron, rose or ginger. Shikanji, often called nimbu pani, frequently includes black pepper, the very best of which you can find here.

Anju told me many times how to make this but for general proportions I used this recipe. Shikanji calls for rock salt, or Indian black salt, called kala namak. It is known for its highly sulfuric taste and a key component in chaat masala. But, I have a jarful of my favorite Icelandic flake sea salt from The Reluctant Trading Experiment and decided to use that instead. I love the sweet taste of the mineral rich hand harvested Icelandic, and although kala namak is traditionally cultivated in a way that gives its sulphuric taste naturally, I have read that it is often lab processed now, and it’s special flavor synthesized. An important attribute of kala namak is that in Ayurveda it is considered cooling, as is cumin, which is why they are used in refreshments throughout the hot summer. India is experiencing it’s most extreme heat in the last fifty years, I can only imagine the millions of shikanji glasses that are begin sold and consumed each day! Making it was simple and I can say a day later it has only gotten better, letting the mint leaves and a few slices of lemons cure is a nice way to extract flavor.

I have been craving the color and sensory experience of India (or what I imagine it to be) so one of my very favorite movies Darjeeling Limited seems an obvious accompaniment to my shikanji this hot August evening. If you have never seen it do yourself a favor, mix yourself up a quick pitcher of this tasty drink, and settle in to a few hours of the visual feast that unfolds before you. Close your eyes and imagine yourself careening through Himalayan mountains over the great expanse of India, sipping chai and shikanji, munching on hot papadums and other street savories. Another film that I enjoyed although not as critically acclaimed was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

So there you have it, dinner and a movie. Well, not quite a full dinner, but the benefit of these drinks is the inclusion of their elemental ingredients, salt and sugar. Often overlooked at our dinner tables and diners, they have the chance to really sing here. Recipe below, adjustments to personal taste encouraged.

Try it and report back!

Shikanji Recipe – Indian Lemonade
Cooling indian drink made during summers

Prep time: 5 mins – Total time: 5 mins

Author: dassana Recipe type: beverages Cuisine: North Indian Serves: 2 full glasses

Ingredients (american measuring cup used, 1 cup = 250 ml)
- 1 medium size lemon
- 2 glasses of water
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- usually uses rock salt or black salt as needed, but I substituted The Reluctant Trading Icelandic Sea Salt
- sugar as required
- 4-5 mint leaves for garnishing – optional
- a few ice cubes

– cut the lemon in to two
– take 2 glasses of a water in a bowl
– with a lemon juice squeezer, squeeze the juice directly into the water
– add black salt, sugar, jeera powder
– stir till the sugar dissolves
– pour the shikanji in glasses. add ice cubes. garnish with mint and serve shikanji immediately
– you can also make the shikanji and chill in the fridge and then serve

If you are making shikanji for fasting, then add rock salt/sendha namak.I have mentioned shikanji (Indian lemonade) recipe details for making two glasses, but you can double and triple the drink.

Jeera powder is actually roasted cumin. The little tiny cumin seeds should be roasted on a pan for just a few minutes on low. I always think they smell a bit like sunscreen when they are fresh, (the best kind of beachy sunscreen, almost like fresh coconut) and when it is roasted it gives up a beautiful, warm nutty smell. Grind it with mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Jaggery is also worth noting. It’s basically cane sugar, not centrifuged and with a few additions such as date syrup. I made my shikanji with Sucanat but in many Indian recipes i have come across jaggery is called for.

Cooking with Chef Todd Stein • Part 5 • Cacio e Pepe • The Recipe

Posted on March 22, 2013 by Scott Eirinberg

This is the fifth and final part of a five part series with award winning Chef Todd Stein. This post contains the recipe and directions for making Cacio e Pepe. See the previous posts for helpful tips and techniques.

Here is Chef Stein’s take on the classic Cacio e Pepe recipe. It’s actually hard to find two chefs that agree on how to make it, so this is Todd’s particular take on the dish. It's obviously a wonderful showcase for The Reluctant Pepper. As Chef Stein said, it just wouldn't be nearly as good with another pepper. But this dish is more than the pepper, too. Something magical happens when the oil, butter and cheese emulsifies in the pan. You’ll definitely taste the heat from the Tellicherry, but it shouldn’t be overpowering. The ingredients are basic, but the combination is way more than the sum of its parts. It exemplifies why Chef Stein fell in love with Italian cooking.

Cacio e Pepe
The Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes Serves: 4-6 Chef Todd Stein’s take on the classic

Kosher salt 16 oz. dried pasta (such as spaghetti, tagliolini or bucatini)
1 1/4 tsp. coarsely ground Reluctant Trading Experiment Organic Tellicherry Peppercorns (duh!)
1/3 lb. unsalted butter, cubed, divided
1 1/2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano (use slightly less than 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
4 tbsp. pasta water to thin sauce


Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a 5-qt. pot. Season the water only after boiling until it tastes like the ocean; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender.

Cacio e Pepe

Salt the water until it tastes like the ocean

Meanwhile, toast the coarsely ground Reluctant Trading Pepper in a large sauté pan over low to medium heat for several minutes until aromatic.

Fresh ground Reluctant Trading Organic Tellicherry Peppercorns

Stop the toasting activity with a couple tablespoons of pasta water.

Butter, Reluctant Trading Pepper, for Cacio e Pepe

Melt the butter with the pepper, taking pan on and off low to medium heat.

Cacio e Pepe emulsification with Reluctant Trading Pepper and butter

Add the olive oil. Careful not to break the sauce. Add pasta water to the sauté pan to thin. Take sauté pan on and off low to medium heat.

With two minutes left to go before the pasta is al dente, remove the pasta from the pot, drain and directly add it to the sauté pan with the sauce. Alternate pan on and off the burner while mixing the pasta with the sauce. Add pasta water as needed to thin.

Add the Pecorino cheese first, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted, alternating on and off the burner. Remove pan from heat; add Parmesan, stirring and tossing until cheese melts, sauce coats the pasta, and pasta is al dente. (Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry.)

Confused? Don't worry! We made a video to help you understand how to finish the sauce.

Cacio e Pepe featuring Reluctant Trading Organic Tellicherry Peppercorns

Just remember that the pasta should be al dente, meaning firm, but not hard. It shouldn't be mushy or you've gone too far.

Chef Todd Stein enjoying Cacio e Pepe

This was some seriously good Cacio e Pepe that Chef Stein whipped up. Simple ingredients, but not simple to make. Takes a little practice, but you'll get it. Wow, is it good!

Scott Eirinberg, Founder of Reluctant Trading with Chef Todd Stein

No, we didn't plan out our outfits. Coincidence. I swear.

A huge thank you to Chef Stein again for an incredible recipe and for taking the time to share so much knowledge with us. Please let us know how your Cacio e Pepe turns out. (And just in case you were wondering, I swear we didn't plan out our outfits ahead of time.)

Buon Appetito!

Executive Chef Todd Stein and his intern for the day, Scott

Previous Posts in This Series

Cooking with Chef Stein • Part 1 • I'm Not Worthy
Cooking with Chef Stein • Part 2 • Lost in the Supermarket
Cooking with Chef Stein • Part 3 • Home on the (Wolf) Range
Cooking with Chef Stein • Part 4 • Now We're Cooking

Like this post? Sign up for The Reluctant Trading Newsletter to keep up with the latest.

Scroll to top