Read the next sentence then close your eyes for a moment. Imagine you’re seated in a cool, airy space, where soft music is mixed in with distant chatter, laughter and of course, candlelight. Your meal is served, it might be chicken, lamb or perhaps it’s fish or beef. There might be tomatoes, or eggplant, maybe spinach mixed in with onions, oil and spices, the flavours are likely balanced, familiar but perhaps, this time, there’s something’s missing. The distinct earthy flavour you’re use to isn’t there and you’re confused… you wonder, what’s missing? It’s cumin!
It’s perhaps silly to romanticize cumin but, honestly, when it comes to a good Indian curry, the earthiness cumin lends to a dish is part of what distinguishes a great curry from many other meat + veggie + spice mixes. Even hummus, which part of several different Middle Eastern cuisines, is a huge fan of cumin’s earthy tone.
As for cumin’s backstory, it’s native to India and the east Mediterranean. Like turmeric, cumin is also a flowering plant. The part that contains the spice itself is contained within the plant’s fruit and is dried after being harvested by hand. In a way, cumin looks like rice with a shell, if rice had a shell. It’s oblong, yellow/brownish in color and produces a bit of heat to taste. Cumin, it’s earthy, it’s smoky. As always, in the spirit of sharing, here’s a recipe for riata—another favorite that depends on cumin’s goodness.
RIATA is the condiment of condiments. Raita works particularly well with Biryani, and everything spicy. Also, it’s absolutely fabulous with dishes that are not so spicy but need a cool compliment.
- 1 1/2 cups yogurt
- 1 purple onion (diced)
- red pepper (roasted, peeled and diced)
- 1 tsp. black salt
- Salt to taste
- 1 tsp. red chili powder
- 1 tsp. roasted cumin powder
- 1 tbsp. fresh mint leaves
Place yogurt in a bowl and whisk till smooth
Add onion, red pepper pieces, black salt, salt, red chili powder, cumin powder, mint leaves
Mix, chill then serve… Enjoy!