Cumin (Recipe: mushroom bhaji/mushrooms in tomato-onion sauce)
Never let it be said that The Perfect Pantry avoids the big issues.
After all, we've taken a stand on Miracle Whip versus mayonnaise, chocolate versus vanilla, chili with beans versus chili without beans, and Fresca versus... well, versus everything.
Today we're tackling another of life's big questions: how to pronounce cumin.
COO-min? COO-men? KEW-min?
Is there one correct way that makes all of the others incorrect?
Not really, but COO-min is the preferred pronounciation. More than most seasonings except salt and pepper, cumin plays a key role in the cuisine of so many regions that it's impossible to imagine a pantry without it. On its own or in spice blends like garam masala or Syrian spice (baharat), cumin adds a familiar husky-musky quality, the taste your taste buds identify as the dominant flavor in many ethnic cuisines.
Cumin is the seed of an herbaceous annual in the parsley family, native to the Nile River Valley in Egypt. It resembles the elongated caraway seed, which is in the same plant family.
I keep both whole cumin seeds and ground cumin in my pantry. Whole seeds give crunch and pop to dishes like pumpkin and toasted cumin seed croquettes, red split lentils with cabbage or spinach curry. Ground cumin flavors pinto bean and ground beef stew, Tunisian chickpea soup, or potato, quinoa and cumin hash browns.
Chewing on cumin seeds can be an effective treatment for indigestion and morning sickness. In ancient Egypt, cumin was used to mummify pharoahs; in Roman times, students used cumin to give their complexions a more pallid look, the better to convince teachers they had been up all night studying... or reading their favorite food blogs.
Mushroom bhaji (mushrooms in tomato onion sauce)
Adapted from Indian: A Culinary Journey of Discovery, by Mridula Baljekar, this recipe serves 4; can be doubled.
14 oz white button mushrooms
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (remove seeds for a milder dish)
2 tsp minced garlic or garlic puree
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chile powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1 Tbsp tomato paste
3 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp minced fresh chives, for garnish
Wipe the mushrooms with a damp paper towel, trim the bottom of the stems, and slice into thick slices.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeño, stirring for 5-6 minutes, until the onion is softened but not brown. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, and chile powder, and cook for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms, salt and tomato paste, and stir to combine.
Sprinkle the water evenly over the mushrooms and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. The sauce should have thickened, but if it appears runny, cook uncovered for 3-4 more minutes to achieve a nice consistency.
Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle the chives on top, and serve hot.