Cumin can work well in va­ri­ety of recipes

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FOOD - Mar­garet Prouse Mar­garet Prouse, a home econ­o­mist, can be reached by writ­ing her at RR#2, North Wilt­shire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at mar­garet@is­land­

The first bot­tle of cumin that I pur­chased lasted well over 20 years. Liv­ing in the An­napo­lis Val­ley in the mid-1970s, I read sev­eral books on world cuisines, in­clud­ing one on cook­ing Middle East­ern foods, and rapidly learned that I needed spices that were not avail­able lo­cally.

I com­piled a shop­ping list for a friend who was trav­el­ling to Toronto, and while she couldn’t ac­cess ev­ery­thing on the list, one of the items she came back with was cumin seed, enough to fill a jam jar. I used a few of them and then for­got about them for a while . . . quite a while. The jar of seeds lan­guished in my spice drawer since I can’t bear to throw out things I might use some­day, and sure enough, I even­tu­ally used them up. No doubt they had lost much of their po­tency, as they are said to keep for up to three years when stored prop­erly. But, they still had a pro­nounced cumin flavour decades later.

I am now buy­ing both cumin seeds and ground cumin quite of­ten, as Cana­dian cui­sine and my own cook­ing style evolve. It makes sense that cumin has made its way into Cana­dian cook­ing in a big way. It has been flavour­ing foods for cen­turies and has a strong pres­ence in nu­mer­ous cuisines that in­flu­ence the way we cook to­day.

Cumin orig­i­nated in the Middle East and is men­tioned sev­eral times in the Bi­ble. Cumin seeds were found in the pyra­mids of the Egyp­tian pharaohs, and the Egyp­tians used cumin in the mum­mi­fy­ing process be­fore they set­tled on cin­na­mon and cloves.

In Ro­man times, it was pop­u­lar as both a flavour­ing agent and a medicine. The Ro­mans used it the way we use black pep­per, and Pliny called it the best ap­pe­tizer of all condi­ments. It sym­bol­ized avarice and greed to the Ro­mans, and to say that some­one had eaten cumin was to im­ply they were miserly.

Al­though it fell out of favour in 20th cen­tury Eng­land, it had been used there since the 13th cen­tury. Not only did peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate the flavour, they also at­trib­uted to cumin the power to main­tain strong re­la­tion­ships. Dur­ing the Middle Ages in Eng­land, it was be­lieved that cumin would pre­vent lovers from be­com­ing fickle.

Sim­i­larly, in me­dieval Ger­many the bride and groom car­ried cumin, dill and salt in their pock­ets on their wed­ding day to en­sure mar­i­tal fi­delity.

Cumin came to North Amer­ica, specif­i­cally to the Rio Grande area, by way of Span­ish ex­plor­ers. That likely ex­plains how it came to be an im­por­tant com­po­nent of Latin Amer­i­can cook­ery. Whether we were aware of it or not, the first taste of cumin for many, in­clud­ing me, was in chili con carne, for cumin is a key in­gre­di­ent in chili pow­der.

This home­made chili power can be used in chili, tacos and other Tex-Mex recipes. Ad­just the salti­ness to your pref­er­ence and con­trol the heat by us­ing dif­fer­ent types of dried chiles. I have not found a big va­ri­ety of types in Char­lot­te­town, but you can find some dried chiles in the bulk food store.

Mex­i­can Chili Pow­der

From Hem­phill, Ian and Kate Hem­phill: “The Spice & Herb Bi­ble, Third Edi­tion”. Robert Rose Inc., Toronto, 2014. 25 mL (5 tsp) mild, medium or hot ground red chile 15 mL (3 tsp) ground cumin 10 mL (2 tsp) sweet pa­prika 5 mL (1 tsp) dried rubbed oregano, op­tional 5 mL (1 tsp) fine sea salt (or to taste) Com­bine in­gre­di­ents in a bowl and stir well to en­sure even dis­tri­bu­tion. Trans­fer to an air­tight con­tainer and store, away from ex­tremes of heat, light and hu­mid­ity, for up to 1 year.

Cumin is also part of other spice blends, in­clud­ing curry pow­ders, harissa paste blends and ras el hanout,.

The flavour of cumin, ei­ther as part of a blend or on its own, is sweet and earthy. I was sur­prised to read that it is some­times used in sweet short­bread cook­ies - an in­ter­est­ing pos­si­bil­ity to try next time I bake some.

In the mean­time, I will con­tinue to use cumin in chili, cur­ries and soups, and I ex­pect it to ap­pear in many of the recipes that are de­vel­oped in sup­port of In­ter­na­tional Year of Pulses.

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