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Cumin (Recipe: spicy pinto bean ravioli) {vegetarian}


If cumin really could make your food sing, what tune would it choose?

A bit of Mexican mariachi?

Native American pow-wow?

Spanish flamenco?

Or would your cumin groove to a Bollywood beat?

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 (or a music collection) without it.

On its own or in spice blends like panch phoron or garam masala from India, Persian baharat or Ethiopian berbere, cumin adds a familiar husky-musky quality, the taste your taste buds identify as the dominant flavor in many ethnic cuisines.

Cumin (comino in Spanish; kuming in Chinese; jinten in Indonesian; and cumin du Maroc or faux anis in French) is the seed of an herbaceous annual in the parsley family, native to only one place — the Nile River Valley in Egypt — and cultivated in India, China, North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean (especially Iran), and the Americas. It resembles the elongated and striated caraway seed, which is in the same plant family.

I keep both whole cumin seeds and ground cumin in my pantry; I buy in bulk from Penzeys, or from an Indian market when I'm lucky enough to get to one, and store most in the freezer, with a just a small amount on my spice rack. (Freezing extends the shelf life of many spices.) Whole seeds are often used in Indian cooking, or sprinkled on breadsticks and flatbreads; ground cumin features in the cooking of Mexico and the Mediterranean.

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!

More important to cooks, cumin is said to stimulate the appetite, with its naturally spicy-sweet pungency. Test the theory for yourself -- create your own world tour with cumin-spiced foods. Start in North Africa, head east to Persia, then on to India, Malaysia, South America, Mexico, and back to the Southwest United States.

And don't forget to load up your iPod, because food seasoned with cumin really does sing.

Spicy pinto bean ravioli

The filling, adapted from Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations, by Lois Ellen Frank, can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days. It would be great in burritos or tacos, too. If you don't have a slow cooker, remember to soak the beans the night before you're ready to cook. Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.


2 cups dried pinto beans
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp red chile powder
1 tsp kosher salt
24 wonton skins


Cook the beans: Pick through the beans to remove any stones or broken bits, and place in a slow cooker with water to cover; set on LOW and cook for 18 hours. Or, soak the beans overnight in cool water to cover. The next day, drain, rinse with cold water, and place in a pot with fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to simmer and cook for two hours or until the beans are soft and the skins begin to split, adding water if necessary to keep the beans from burning and sticking to the pot. Remove from heat; drain, but reserve the bean cooking liquid.

Toast the oregano and cumin in a dry sauté pan over medium heat until lightly browned and aromatic. Remove from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, add the unpeeled garlic, and roast over medium heat until it is soft and blackened in spots. Let cool, then peel and mash with a knife.

In a saucepan, sauté the onion in 1 Tbsp of the oil over moderate heat until it is lightly browned. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds. Add the oregano, cumin, red chile powder, salt, beans, and just enough of the bean water to cover, about 2-3 cups. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Pureé the beans with an immersion blender, or in batches in a food processor, until smooth.

In a cast-iron skillet, heat the remaining oil over high heat to its smoking point (make sure you have a fan or ventilator running!). Add the bean pureé and stir for 1 minute. Lower the heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the bean pureé turns into a medium paste. It will thicken as it cools.

To make the ravioli: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, place 12 wonton skins on your countertop. Place a teaspoon of bean filling in the center of each wonton. With a small brush or the tip of your finger, paint the edges of the wonton skins with water. Top each with another wonton skin, and press tightly to form a seal. (At this point, you can freeze for future use.) When the water has boiled, reduce the heat to low, add the ravioli, and cook until they float on top of the water. Serve with your favorite salsa.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Also in The Perfect Pantry:

Hominy and cactus soup
Cocoa-cumin-allspice rub
Floribean chicken chili
Saag paneer
Lemon-onion hummus
Egg curry
Pueblo vegetable stew

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


What a great post! I love the historical facts, and I will be chomping cumin the next time I'm pregnant!

Love your informative post - now I feel like I know a little more about this spice. I bought ground cumin some time back to make roasted potatoes, and since then I didn't know what else to do with it! Seems like there are many benefits of cooking with it! :)

A great post, I have a bit of a love / hate thing with cumin - but like it atm :)

You have me all excited about expanding my culinary repertoire and trying cumin in recipes from all different cuisines :) I think it is the spice that I use the most of, but mostly in Indian dishes.

Cumin is an essential spice to have around...although, I think I just used the last of mine...Love the ravioli recipe! yummy!

Cumin is very popular in the Northeast of Brazil, Lydia, too. I don't use it much, though.
The idea of adding beans to a ravioli filling sounds interesting!

Mmm, this sounds delicious -- and simple enough that I can make it!

What a strange and yet delicious sounding recipe! It's a combination I would never think to put together, and yet I just love the idea of it. I'm so ready for lunch now :-)

Rebecca, I wish I could tell you why it works for morning sickness, but it does. Maybe another reader will be able to tell us why.

Noobcook, cumin is one of the most versatile spices. Now that you have it in your pantry, you'll have fun exploring the different cuisines. Start with Mexican, maybe. Or Indian...

Kelly-Jane, maybe this recipe will tip the scales toward the love side!

Nupur, Most of the time I use ground cumin, except for Indian food -- for that I always start with whole seed.

Ginny, the ravioli is a great vegetarian dish, and the filling is useful to have in the fridge.

Patricia, I'll have to look into some Brazilian recipes -- I love learning new ways to use the things in my pantry.

Daisy, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. This is simple -- wonton skins make it really easy.

Ann, it's a great way to sneak more beans into our meal plans, and yes, a bit strange, but it really works.

love your write up on Cumin . Cumin really is all that ! and also my favourite :D

I love cumin!


I love cumin. I usually think Mexican when I think of cumin. Great and informative post.

Im thinking that those early Roman teachers would have been able to sniff out those cumin using students trying it on! I love the stuff, but it can be hard to use, one pinch too much and it overtakes everything else.

Never would have thought to use pinto beans in ravioli, that is cool.

Lydia - I can't resist your "husky-musky" description! One of the things I love about the "Perfect Pantry," is that, like a wine expert, your language and phrases give us a way to think about and experience different flavors we encounter every day.

Pinto Beans . . . in ravioli . . . now how original and instantly wonderful idea that is!
I'm on my last teaspoon of cumin, Penzey's here I come!

I don't use a lot of cumin. I really should since it really adds great flavor to food. Thanks for moving this spice back to the front of my pantry :).

My cumin sings every kind of music... :-) And you're right... it's definitely got that husky-musky thang goin' on!

Love, love, love cumin and finding new and exciting ways to incorporate it into many cuisines and dishes.

I second T.W. Barritt's comment, "Your language and phrases [really do] give us a way to think about and experience different flavors we encounter every day!"

This may require more work on your part, but can I make a suggestion? Can you supply photos of your recipes too? They always sound so good! I'm sure everyone would enjoy the eye candy.

With both parents born in Morocco, cumin was everywhere and I seem to carry on the tradition!! Love it! The ravioli do sound unusual but very intriguing!

Kate, Paz: thank you!

Simply Gluten Free, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Cumin makes me think first of Mexican food, too.

Neil, you're right about too much of a good thing. I find that when I overdo it on cumin, I just add more of something hot, like chili powder or chile pepper, to balance it out. And, for me, there's never too much heat!

Peabody, MyKitchen: yes, beans in ravioli, weird but oh-so-good.

TW, Sandie: thank you for your kind words. Makes me feel husky-musky all over.

Veron, the only foods I make often that do not use cumin are Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. Oh, and I've never heard of a cumin-flavored macaron, though there probably is one!

Ann, my cumin is a "world music" kind of spice, too. These days it's getting more into a Spanish flamenco kind of beat.

Hillary, I tend to leave the food photography to the many bloggers who are so much better at it, and I keep the focus here on the ingredients rather than the finished dish. But, every now and then, you'll find some food photography here.

Tartelette, I've been making a wonderful cumin-spiced lentil tagine lately. Moroccan cuisine uses the most interesting combinations of spices.

I love cumin and couldn't make do with out it.Right now I am hooked on berbere..and rice pilaf with garam masala.

These sound good! Like a cross between italian and mexican. I love cumin. LOVE it! So many Peruvian foods have cumin powder in them. Yum!

Aimee, garam masala (the premixed kind) is one of my go-to spices, too. I can't imagine my pantry without cumin.

Gretchen Noelle, I don't know much about Peruvian cooking (except what I learn on your blog), but I'll look forward to finding some new recipes, as there's always cumin in my pantry.

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