Cumin, known in India as 'jeera' is one of my favourite spices so the fact that it appears in so many Indian recipes is a huge bonus for me. It lends a smoky, peppery depth to dishes even when it just features as a sideline, and when it's in full focus the flavour is incredible.
The cumin plant is native to India and the Middle East so it has been used in Indian cooking for thousands of years. In fact, linking back to the last post about chillies - the Indians almost did a swap with the South Americans with cumin for chillies, as the Portuguese after bringing chilli to India, returned with cumin to Brazil. From there and with the Spanish taking some over too, cumin has become a key ingredient in South American cuisine - most notably featuring in Mexican food lending its earthy, smoky depth to taco seasoning and chilli mixes.
In India it is believed that the cumin seed holds properties that are really helpful to the digestive system which is why it frequently features in carb heavy recipes such as jeera rice, jeera aloo, and bean and lentil dishes like daals and kidney beans. Even salted lassi is often spiked with flavourful powdered cumin to ease the digestion of the milk.
Cumin is most commonly used in two forms - the whole seed which is added directly into 'tadka' or fried seasoning, or powdered which is made from dry roasted cumin seeds. Dry roasting the seeds takes away some of their natural bitterness and increases the smoky pungency so you only need to use a small amount.
One of the most classic Indian recipes which features cumin is jeera rice, check out our next blog post for our favourite version of this signature Indian dish.