Originating in the Nile River Valley then spreading to North Africa, the Mediterranean and east to Asia, cumin is one of the oldest cultivated spices. A popular spice and medicinal herb in ancient Egypt, cumin was used for mummification and found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. It was a favorite of the Romans & Greeks who used it like we use black pepper plus cosmetically to induce a pallid complexion. Classically symbolizing greed, the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, was nicknamed ‘Cuminus.’ Cumin is also mentioned in both the old and new testament in the Bible. Once popular in Europe and Britain where it was thought to keep lovers from fickleness and chickens from leaving their yard plus was carried in the pockets of brides and grooms throughout the wedding ceremony to insure a happy life, today the increasing popularity of Mexican cuisine has given cumin a new venue.
Currently grown in many places including India, Syria, Pakistan and Turkey, cumin is rather easy to grow and adapts well to many climates. An annual growing about a foot tall, cumin has slender branched stems with finely divided blue-green leaves and umbels of tiny white or pink flowers that bloom in June and July. It may be propagated by seed planted indoors in late winter and transplanted to a sunny location with well-drained soil when the weather has warmed. Cumin does well in raised beds or containers and should be planted in blocks so that the plants can support one another. The seed or actually the dried ripe fruit is elliptical and deeply furrowed and is normally ready four months after planting and harvested just before the seeds completely ripen by uprooting the entire plant and hanging in a paper bag to dry.
Cumin is a savory herb that adds a unique warm, earthy flavor to dishes and is a common element is many cuisines – Indian, Middle Eastern, North African, Asian, Latin American and American. Four classic blends that depend upon cumin are chili powder, garam marsala, curry powder and dhania jeeru. This strong flavored spice can be used interchangeably in the seed or powdered form, but a little goes a long way, so use restraint or it will take over and exclude all other flavors in a dish. Burned to smoke meats and cheeses, used as a pickling ingredient for sauerkraut, and in dry rubs for ribs and grilled meat, cumin compliments a wide variety of foods. It is also used to make a refreshing yogurt drink, lassi, in India, a Dutch liqueur Kummel and a calming tea when the crushed seeds are simmered in boiling water for 15 mins. Cumin also stimulates the appetite and digestion and contains three pain-reliving compounds along with seven that are anti-inflammatory and four that combat swelling and can be applied topically to relieve arthritic joints.
Toast cumin seeds in a dry, heavy frying pan
to release essential oils and accentuate flavor
Crack or grind seeds just before use
1Tbs cumin seeds, toasted & cracked
1tsp chili powder
1 tsp freshly cracked peppercorns
2 tsp sea salt
2Tbs brown sugar
For a crunchy spiced crust, rub on pork, chicken or beef at least 6 hours before cooking. Wrap and refrigerate.
2 cans northern beans
8c chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion chopped
1tsp pepper & salt
2tsp ground cumin
1 can green chilis
2c chicken breasts cut in chunks
In crock pot combine beans, 6c broth, garlic, onion, and seasonings. Cook on high 2-3 hours. Stir in chilis, chicken and an additional 2c broth. Cook 1 hour.
Stir 1tsp toasted & cracked cumin seeds into any corn muffin batter
“And God said, See I have given you every herb
that yields seed which is on the face of the earth. . . “