Cumin, can be added to many curries as a seed or ground into a powder. In fact, one of the popular spices in most curries IS cumin, believe it or not.
Cumin seeds are slightly crescent shaped with ridges appearing lengthwise around them. Don’t let the seeds fool you, they may look dry and dusty but the magic is all inside. In seed form they taste earthy with pungent undertones.
Cumin seeds are used either at the initial stage of cooking a curry or they are popped in hot oil and sprinkled at the end as a garnish. The hot oil enhances the deep and nutty aroma of the spice. The flavor of the cumin really kicks in when it is cooked.
The most dramatic of techniques, to intensify its flavor, would be to fry it in a little oil or ghee, at a really high temperature until it starts popping. Becareful not to burn them at this stage. If you do, it is best to throw it out and restart with some fresh oil.
Cumin powder is made from cumin seeds. I prefer to buy the cumin seeds in bulk, dry roast them in a pan till they are fragrant but not burnt. I wait for them to cool down before grinding them in a coffee grinder, especially reserved for ‘spices only’.
Freshly ground at home, the cumin powder has a deep vibrant olive color in contrast to the dry khaki color bought from the stores. The ground cumin has a moist oily consistency and clumps together unlike coriander powder. The cumin powder can be used at all stages during cooking.
Cumin seeds can be dry roasted further than the step above, till they are jet black. Cool them before grinding. This black powder is used in tangy dishes to bring out its flavor.
Cumin works marvelously with coriander, complimenting each other harmoniously.
Cumin is often confused with curcumin that is the cancer fighting component in turmeric.
Cool tidbit – As a child, if I had a tummy ache or a ‘runny’ tummy, my mum would mix a 1/2 teaspoon of raw sugar with a teaspoon of cumin seeds and ask me to chew it slowly and then swallow it. This little concoction help my stomach to ‘bind’. My kids now know the drill too and it does work like a charm.
So there you have it, Ladies and Gentlemen! A little of what I know about this wonderful spice…
Here’s an easy recipe ‘chocful’ of cumin you can give a shot.
Yogurt with Cumin and Cilantro
1 cup whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 green chili, chopped finely (optional)
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 dry red chili, left whole
salt to taste
Pour the yogurt into a small bowl.
Add the chopped cilantro and green chili. Stir to combine.
Heat the oil in a small pan till almost smoking.
Toss in the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and red chili.
Cover lightly as the seeds will begin to pop profusely.
Once the popping subsides, carefully pour the fragrant oil, along with the seeds into the yogurt.
Season with salt.
Serve alongside a bowl of fresh rice for a light and refreshing meal.