• My family's cumin spag bol (Sarina Kamini)Source: Sarina Kamini

Who doesn’t have a family recipe for this global staple? The cumin seed in our version harks back to family and the reality of what it is to live and eat in a cross-cultural world.






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The familiarity of cumin seed makes it one of those spices that you can pretty much use across any cuisine without corrupting the end result. Familiarity matters, because if a flavour is familiar and generally regarded as delicious, then its inclusion won’t startle.

I love cumin seed in spaghetti bolognese.

It adds texture and rounds out the trio of garlic, tomato and basil that serves as the basis for a lot of Italian dishes that have made it into the Aussie culinary lexicon. 

Cumin seed is woody and fragrant - it warms the mouth before eucalyptus characteristics draw forward to leaving a cooling freshness. In Ayurvedic tradition, cumin seed is a powerful digestive agent. Another reason to add it to cooking when making rich and meaty dishes.  

Similar to green cardamom, I use cumin seed most often in its whole form. Grinding the seed changes its aromatic profile, making cumin a grittier and less pretty proposition. Cumin seed whole is one of those spices that is really forgiving if the cook errs on the side of too much. 

And I think a forgiving spice is one to prize in the kitchen. Don’t you?

Cumin top tips

• I don’t dry roast my cumin seed before adding it to the pan. Keeping them fresh when they hit the heat and fat means their flavour expression is less confined and a little rounder.

• Anywhere cumin seed goes, ground coriander can comfortable follow. These two spices are a match made in aromatic heaven.

• Old or poor quality cumin seed will present as more pungent than pretty. Make the effort to refresh your cumin seed every six months.


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 dried bay leaf
  • 1 tsp fine white salt
  • ½ tsp cracked black pepper
  • ⅓ tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp cumin seed
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • 500 g sugo
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 500 g combined beef and pork mince
  • Fresh basil
  • Spaghetti

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


  1. In a medium frying pan, heat olive oil, garlic, onion and bay leaf. Cook until softened, around 4-5 minutes.
  2. Season with salt, black pepper, ground turmeric, cumin seed and oregano and stir through for a couple of minutes until aromatic.
  3. Add beef and pork mince and cook with the spice on medium heat until the meat is browned - around 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Once the meat is browned, add the sugo and tomato paste and cook through for 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat. If too thick and sticky, add half a cup of water and then simmer on low heat for around 25 minutes or until very fragrant and a little reduced.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in some fresh chopped basil to taste.
  6. Serve with spaghetti, polenta, mash or as is with parmesan.


'Not just curry' is a fortnightly recipe column on SBS Food lead by spice lover, Sarina Kamini. It shares the flavourful insights and potential behind a different spice that may be tucked away in your pantries and is celebrated with a brand-new recipe. Find out more here.

Photography, styling and food preparation by Sarina Kamini.