Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Spiced Up Monday: Cumin

Cinnamon, cardamom....I decided to keep the 'c' thing going, so this week's Spiced Up is all about cumin!

I was very surprised to learn that cumin seed is actually a member of the parsley family - with its smoky, spicy flavor, I guess it just goes to show how different families can be (and that is meant in all senses ;).

Cumin orginates in ancient Egypt where it was used not only in cooking, but in mummification. You know, in case the dead pharaoh got a sudden afterlife craving for chili con carne. Obviously.
It was also mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible as a seasoning and form of currency. It was pretty popular in the kitchens of ancient Greece & Rome, especially since its spiciness made it a much cheaper substitute for the pricier black pepper.
Cumin, when applied to the skin, causes the skin to pale. Students were all over this one of course and used it to convince their professors that they had pulled an all-nighter studying. Once a college kid, always a college kid. Love it.
It was a staple in medieval-age cuisine and also at that time became a symbol of love and fidelity. It was put in pockets when going to a wedding, and soldiers were sent off to war with a loaf of cumin bread baked by their wives. Of course, anything thrown on top of some fresh-baked carbs says love to me!

In terms of nutritional qualities, it's pretty high in iron and manganese, and it is also a digestive aid. The mere scent of cumin comes from cuminaldehyde (say that 10 times fast...no really - GO!), a compound that makes up most of cumin's essential oil, and that scent activates the salivary gland, and the saliva created helps the digestion of food. Mouth-watering - literally! You can even mix it with hot water to help a stomach ache...although I don't know about you, but sipping on peppermint tea sounds a tad more appealing than a hot cup of cumin-infused water. Should the pantry be bare of peppermint tea however, that sounds like an easy enough sub.

When you think of cumin, you probably either conjure up images of a big ole plate of tamales a la Mexico or a lovely bowl of lentil dahl fresh from India. Its unmistakable flavor is often found in both of those regional cuisines. I would like to say I go against the grain and enjoy my cumin wrapped around a lamb chop or in oats (...ew?), but that would be a lie. And that is simply not the Gillianasana way. 

No, one of my absolute favorite recipes involving cumin has to be aloo gobhi, a traditional Indian dish of cooked cauliflower and potatoes. I discovered it during my visit to India a couple years ago and now I find it difficult to order anything else at Indian restaurants anywhere else. It is just.so.GOOD. Trust me - seek out the nearest Indian restaurant and it will probably be on the menu. Order it. Or be daring and attempt it yourself: http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/gobi-aloo-indian-style-cauliflower-with-potatoes/Detail.aspx

[photo source]
Mmmm. Could go for some of that right about now...

Don't believe me? See for yourself! My sources:

There you have it - cumin in a nut shell. Or, at least, a blog post. Close enough, right?


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