The Spice Odyssey: Cumin

Cumin adds quite the punch to  food, both exotic and everyday. Come along with this edition of the Spice Odyssey which includes some details about cumin as well as a couple of flavorful Pakistani recipes.
Description and Use
Cumin is often confused with it’s more popular cousin the caraway seed, because like caraway, cumin has an oblong shape, is dark in color and striped. However, cumin shares little aromatic or taste profile similarities with caraway. In fact, cumin is peppery in flavor and often used in place of pepper. Cumin is prominently placed in both the Old and New Testament and has been sourced at ancient Greek and Egyptian archaeological sites (around 4,000 years ago). Cumin is the seed of the flowering plant Apiaceae and is widely used in many different cultural cuisines including Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Pakistani/Indian, and Latin American.
The spice is used in both ground and whole form. Moroccan and Greek households and restaurants often have shaker jars of cumin, rather than pepper, next to the salt shakers. For whole cumin, it is advised to first toast it on the stove prior to using. Lightly dry roast (do not use oil) cumin seeds in a frying pan just until a waft of the distinct cumin flavor is emitted within the steam; this method elicits the oil of the cumin and greatly enhances the spice’s overall results.
An ancient spice comes with it a number of tales.

-Story has it that farmers kept cumin in feed to prevent chickens from wandering.

-The warming qualities for which cumin is characteristic, had cumin revered as an aphrodisiac.

-It was also believed that a happy life awaited the bride and groom who carried cumin seed during the wedding ceremony and soldiers carried loaves of cumin bread in their satchel as a measure for good luck.
Culinary Ideas
Cumin is very popular in Pakistani/Indian curries; I will share a simple and delicious vegetarian yogurt-based curry dish called karhi. Karhi is a dumpling dish which carries a nice mix of smooth yogurty texture with layers of subtle heat from cumin and chili powder blended within. Want a new way to add flavor to this season’s vegetables? A simple basic salan or curry which includes cumin, chili powder, garlic, onions, and tomatoes is a delicious addition to any vegetables you have on hand (see below). Other recipes which include cumin: chili, enchiladas, black bean or lentil soups, bread, cheese, garam masala based curries, and dry rub on grilled meats.
Karhi (Yogurt Curry with Dumplings)
Curry Ingredients  
1 Medium onion (1/2 slivered and ½ pureed in food processor or blender)
1 ½ tsp. Coriander (ground)
1 ½ tsp. Cumin (ground- if using whole cumin seeds, dry roast prior to grinding)
1 ½ tsp. spicy Chili powder (use less if you want less heat)
½ tsp. Turmeric
1 Tb. Salt
1 Tb. Garlic paste (@ 2-3 cloves)
1 28oz container of yogurt (sour yogurt is traditionally used, so if you happen to have yogurt that is going bad- then even better!)
5 Cups of water
6 Tb. Besan (flour made from dried chickpeas found in an Indian or South Asian store such as these)
6 Curry leaves

 Curry Method
Heat pot and add oil
Brown slivered onions
Add coriander, cumin, chili powder, turmeric, salt, and garlic
Puree yogurt, remaining onion and then add to pot
Add water and bring to a boil
Mix in besan and add the curry leaves










Dumpling Ingredients
6 Tb. Besan
½ tsp. Salt
¼ tsp Chili powder (optional)
2-3 Green (small) chili peppers (chopped)
1 tsp. Cumin (ground)
1 Small onion (chopped)











Dumpling Method
In a large bowl, mix by hand all ingredients, adding in few tablespoons of water to create a thick paste
Create small balls and fry in oil
When dumplings have lightly browned, add to pot with curry
Cook for 30 minutes and serve with chapati bread or over rice
Vegetables with cumin-based curry

1 Tb. Roasted cumin
½ to 1 tsp. Chili powder (depending on your spice heat preference)
1 Medium onion (chopped)
1 tsp. Garlic
2-3 Tomatoes (diced)
2-3 Cups of vegetable of choice (I used kohlrabi from my CSA share and it was delicious!)
½ Cup of water
1 tsp. Salt
Dry roast cumin seeds and leave in whole form
Add oil
Add chili powder, chopped onion, and garlic
Once onion is lightly browned, add diced tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes
Add vegetable of choice and boiling water (may need more water depending on largeness of vegetables)
Bring to a boil and cover allowing vegetables to be steamed (cooking time depends on type of vegetable you are using)
Add salt and serve with main dish

Leigh Ann Ahmad was dragged kicking and screaming to the Cities by her husband; having been born and bred in Cleveland, Ohio, she just could not fathom how colder could be better. Now, five years and two kids later, she cannot imagine a better place to play and thrive. She’s a reformed carb-aholic, wannabe writer, social justice advocate, book-club geek, veggie grower and local foods connoisseur. Her last article in the Spice Odyssey series was: Cloves.