No single spice evokes the scents of Morocco as powerfully as cumin, a small seed that packs a strong, spicy-sweet punch with hints of licorice. Gently toasted to bring out its nutty character, it is indispensable in North African, Indian, Middle Eastern and South American dishes, from tagines and curries to chutneys and kebabs. Cumin is an essential ingredient in many spice blends including curry powder, baharat and garam masala.
The small yellow-brown “seeds” are actually fruits from a small plant of the parsley family Umbelliferae, which is native to the eastern Mediterranean. They share a long, pointed shape and some flavour notes with another parsley relative, caraway seeds, but are much stronger in taste.
In the Middle East and Morocco, cumin is commonly included in fish, lamb or chicken dishes, grills, tagines and couscous dishes. It also spices up vegetables, beans and plain rice. In Turkey, it flavours everything from pizzas to sweet pastries, while in India, “jeera” is a kitchen staple and essential to an array of dishes including korma and masala sauces. It is also essential in spicy Mexican foods such as enchiladas.
Use cumin in ...
curries, tagines, satays, chilli con carne, marinades, rubs, samosas, chutneys and pickles, on pizza and in breads. Use with restraint as it can overpower other flavours. Try to buy whole seeds instead of powder; after toasting in a dry pan, they can be easily ground with a mortar and pestle. Ground cumin will keep for about six months in a sealed jar in a cool, dark place, while whole seeds will keep for about a year.
Cumin goes with ...
beef, lamb, chicken, pork, fish, prawns, lentils, beans, yoghurt, rice, couscous, potato, tomato, carrot, peas, eggplant, cabbage, chilli, pepper, rice, bread.