Toasting cumin seeds before use brings out a rich and complex flavour – sort of earthy and nutty with an almost coffee-like aroma. It’s utterly intoxicating! Put the seeds in a small dry frying pan and set over a medium heat. Toast seeds for 3-4 minutes, stirring once or twice, until they smell wonderfully fragrant and are visibly darker; be careful not to let them burn or they will taste bitter. Grind in a spice grinder or crush with a mortar and pestle and store airtight out of the light – ground cumin will stay fresh for several weeks. Use as a sprinkle on yoghurt or cooked vegetables or meat, as well as in curries or North African, Spanish, Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes. I love cumin with fried eggs, peppers and onions; added to a marinade for roast lamb; with carrots tossed in garlic and cinnamon and in a zillion other dishes. It brings a depth of earthy toasty flavour which other ingredients can build on. One of the fastest sauces on the planet is crushed garlic and ground toasted cumin seeds swirled into yoghurt. Serve it on anything, just about. Cumin is also well known as a digestive aid. I have it on great authority that it is pronounced ‘come in’ (not q-min), though I usually forget that!
Photography by Julie Biuso