Starting with these cookies from Nik Sharma
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I recently made a batch of cookies from Nik Sharma’s Season. Flip though his collection of elegantly photographed, thoughtful recipes and it becomes obvious that Season is special. As was already apparent from his excellent blog, A Brown Table, Sharma thinks about flavor differently that many American cooks. While I made plans to make many (OK, all) of the dishes in the book, the one that called out to me the loudest was a recipe for Spicy Chocolate Chip-Hazelnut Cookies. Apparently, these cookies spoke to a lot of other folks too—they were named a Genius Recipe on Food52.

Credit: Photo by Rebecca Firkser

What I found the most exciting about these cookies was that they’re sweetened with jaggery, a pretty rare ingredient in cookbooks published in the US compared to granulated, powdered, or brown sugar. Jaggery, a popular sweetener used in South Asian recipes, is an unrefined cane sugar, the product of concentrated cane juice, palm sugar juice, or date sap. Also known as panela in South America, the golden-brown sweetener is often sold as a block but can also be found in powdered or granular form. Sharma describes the flavor of jaggery as a “sweetener with a pleasant mineral aftertaste with a hint of molasses.” If you can’t find jaggery at your local supermarket or Asian grocery store, it can be found on Jet, Amazon, and Organic Grocery USA.

While ground jaggery can be used straight from the container like muscovado or brown sugar, a block of rock-hard jaggery requires a bit more elbow grease. The simplest way to break up jaggery is to place the block on a microwave-safe plate and zap it for a few seconds on your microwave’s medium power level. Since all microwaves have different power, it’s best to start at 5 seconds to avoid melting the jaggery. Five to ten seconds of heat should soften the jaggery enough that it will crumble like a hunk of brown sugar.

If you don’t own a microwave, you’ll have to work a bit harder. You can use a sharp microplane or box grater to shave the jaggery into a powder, or toss it in a strong food processor. If you don’t have the ability or patience to grate or grind, you can get really creative. “I just use a hammer,” says Extra Crispy senior food and drinks editor Kat Kinsman.