A traditional remedy for various ailments, cumin also adds a distinct touch to salad dressing
Cumin is native to the Levant and Upper Egypt. It now grows in most hot countries, especially India, North Africa and China. The spice is associated with Morocco, where it is used liberally in cuisine. Cumin was known to the Egyptians five millennia ago. The Romans and the Greeks used it medicinally and cosmetically to induce a pallid complexion. In Indian recipes, cumin is frequently confused with caraway, which it resembles in appearance though not in taste; cumin is more powerful. Classically, cumin symbolised greed; thus the avaricious Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, came to be known as `cuminus.'
Cumin is a diuretic, carminative, an astringent and an antispasmodic. It can be used to treat dyspepsia, diarrhoea, stomach ache and colic. In the West, it is used mainly in veterinary medicine, as a carminative, but in the East, it remains a folk remedy. It is supposed to increase lactation and reduces nausea in pregnancy. It has been shown to be effective in treating carpal tunnel syndrome. Cumin stimulates appetite.
Cumin is mainly used in highly spiced foods. It features in Indian, Eastern, Mexican, Portuguese and Spanish cookery. It is an ingredient in most curry powders and many savoury spice mixtures. It is used in stews and grills, especially lamb and chicken dishes. It enhances the taste of plain rice, beans and cakes. Cumin is essential in spicy Mexican foods such as chilli con carne, casseroled pork and enchiladas with chilli sauce. In Europe, cumin flavours Portuguese sausages, and is used to spice up cheeses, especially Dutch Leyden and German Munster, and burned with woods to smoke cheeses and meats. It is a pickling ingredient for cabbage and sauerkraut, and is used in chutneys. In the Middle East, it is a familiar spice in fish dishes, grills and stews and flavours cous cous. Jeera pani is a refreshing and appetising Indian drink made from cumin and tamarind water. Now for a recipe.
Grilled corn, papaya and bean salad with toasted cumin dressing
Apricot juice: half cup
Olive oil: quarter cup
Juice of one lime
Cumin, toasted and crushed: 2 tbsp
Sugar: 2 tsp
Ripe papaya, diced: 2 (medium sized)
Grilled corn: 3
Squash, diced: 1
Black beans, washed and drained: 15 ounces
Cilantro, chopped: quarter cup
Red onion, chopped: quarter cupSalt to tasteMethod: In a large bowl, combine dressing ingredients. Set aside. Stir in papaya, coat well with dressing. Add corn and the remaining ingredients. Serve it chilled.To toast cumin seeds, heat a small skillet over medium heat for two minutes. Add cumin seeds and toast, shaking the pan constantly until the seeds turn slightly dark and are fragrant. Remove skillet and allow the contents to cool.To grill corn, gently pull the husk down. Soak in water for 15 minutes, strain and grill turning occasionally.VINOD KUMAR
Executive sous chef