NOTUmeg is not something that we had historically in India, it came with the spice trade. It is a winter spice that warms. Winter is the season for family weddings in India. It’s no longer hot and you can cook without things freezing and igniting. As kheer [a rice pudding] per 2,000 people or carrot halwa; milk is reduced for hours and hours, then we put carrots in it and grate nutmeg with sugar.
I always associate nutmeg with the excitement of marriage: meeting cousins, getting dressed, getting your hands in henna and slightly obnoxious aunts making horrible comments about you. The memories of this spice are very strong for me, emotionally.
In my dum biryani, the last step is to grate the nutmeg over the potatoes and then pour it over hot milk infused with saffron. My mom would say the only way to check the biryani is made by a sophisticated cook if you break the potato and there is the nutmeg aroma. The flavor has an earthy side to it, but there’s that floral hue too.
Saffron is considered the most expensive spice, but in my family nutmeg is the special spice to finish things off. Not everyone knows how to use it this way, so it was a proud sense for us.
When I go to buy nutmeg, I want slightly oval ones, like a rugby ball. My mother always said they were better; I don’t know why, but you never question your mother.