Cumin is the ubiquitous underlying flavour that is the source of all deliciousness in cuisines across the globe, from Morocco to Mexico. A gently warming spiciness that is deep and earthy, you can go easy and make it the star of the show in a simple jeera rice or take advantage of its ability to hold its own in a massaman curry paste.
I have met people before that claim they don’t like cumin. They’ll happily eat curries in the fake knowledge that they’d been cooked especially for them without it, lol. Tell any Punjabi (this one included) that you love curry but hate cumin and they will laugh you to Southall and back.
Cumin is great for aiding digestion by helping the body to produce saliva, and easing trapped wind. It’s high in iron too, and is thought to have antimicrobial properties. In Ayurveda cumin is believed to purify the blood, with benefits such as clearing your skin and improving circulation.
If there’s one thing Indians love, it’s carb-loading at every meal - it’s not uncommon (and is very delicious) to have rice, bread and potatoes all on the table at once. This dish is the legit version of bombay potatoes, and is a great quick side dish that always has people going back for more. It uses both the tempering and roasting methods of using spice seeds that we’ve used before on Spice Rack to really honour cumin’s uniquely pungent taste.
Don’t bother peeling the potatoes - all the flavour, fibre and vitamins are in or just under the skin. It’s quite literally not worth your time.
This recipe serves 4 as part of a meal - I’d suggest serving alongside dhal, a dry veg curry, rice and salad. Plus roti if you’re looking to authentically honour the holy carb trinity.
Jeera Aloo (Cumin Potatoes)
10 medium white potatoes, roughly cut into 2cm cubes
2tsp cumin seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
1tsp red chilli powder (or to taste - potatoes are bland so make them as spicy as you can handle!)
1tsp amchur (dried mango powder). This adds a nice tang, but isn’t as readily available as the other spices so is fine to leave out
Handful fresh coriander, chopped
Boil the potatoes in salted water until just cooked. You don’t want them to be too soft or they won’t withstand cooking later.
While the potatoes are cooking, place a heavy bottomed saucepan on a low heat and once hot add the coriander seeds. After a minute or so add half the cumin seeds. Staggering them in this way means the bigger coriander seeds get more time to cook than the smaller cumin.
Once both seeds are smelling toasty, warm and delicious and have got darker in colour pour into a pestle and mortar. Let them cool slightly and roughly grind them - texture is good here so don’t worry about grinding to a powder.
Everything needs to happen quite quickly from this point, so once the potatoes are cooked and drained have all the spices ready next to you. Place the spice pan back on the heat, and heat the oil.
Once hot add the other half of the cumin seeds. Get all your senses involved - listen for the crackle, look for them browning and smell the flavour being released into the oil.
Then quickly add the rest of the powdered spices and mix. As you’re adding them straight into the oil they don’t need long to cook off. Add about half a teaspoon of salt.
Add the potatoes and turn the heat up. Stir the spices through thoroughly so the potatoes are fully covered, then leave for a few minutes - its ok for them to catch on the bottom slightly to get all those nice crispy bits, but don’t let them burn. Stir and do this again for ultimate crispiness.
Turn off the heat and stir through the crushed cumin and coriander seeds. Season to taste, sprinkle with fresh coriander and devour!
Jeera rice is my favourite way of ploughing through loads of my beloved rice. Simply temper a teaspoon of cumin seeds in oil or butter with a pinch of salt before adding basmati rice and cooking as you would normally.
Cumin is used widely in Middle-Eastern cooking too. A pinch of toasted ground cumin in houmous is a winner.
Ruby (@rubydhalay) is a foodie who is passionate about finding pleasure and nourishment in food, exploring an holistic approach to cooking and eating.
Every month she'll be taking culinary inspiration from her roots and focussing on a different spice - talking about flavour, provenance, health and wellbeing, and most importantly how to get the most out of them in your cooking