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Cumin (Recipe: mushroom bhaji/mushrooms in tomato-onion sauce) {vegan, gluten-free}

Mushrooms cooked in a 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 seed

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. 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.

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Saag aloo/potatoes with spiced spinach
Three-mushroom risotto
Salmon tikka
Tex-Mex turkey lasagne
Hominy and cactus soup

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I don't know if there's a pronunciation which negates the others, but I've always pronounced it KEW-min. Perhaps I need to re-think.

But however you pronounce it, I love the flavor. This dish looks terrific, Lydia - Thanks for sharing!

I am Canadian and it KEW-min to me as well. I am sure we all agree that it is the flavour ot a delicious dish like this that counts.I'd top it off with a little yogurt...pronounced YO-gert and not the British way of YAW-gert...smile.

I'm a kew-min too. Probably a really 'thick' question, but can cayenne or paprika be used in lieu of chile?

thanks for sharing this. Hopefully I'll get some mushrooms by tomorrow. this recipe has the mouth watering

That dish looks yummy. I love COO-min. It's one of my favorite spices.

I'm a big fan of Coo-Min. I prefer the whole seeds to the ground, they have a much lighter flavor and don't overpower as much. I just made some taco soup which was so delicious mostly because of the toasted cumin seeds I added. And can you make dal without it? I think not!

That used to be a mystery to me, Lydia - Jamie Oliver says KEW-min, if I'm not mistaken, and I've been doing the same. ;)

That tomato-onion sauce would go wonderfully well with meatballs, too, I bet!

In Morocco, cumin is served on the table alongside the salt and pepper. I use cumin in so much including osso buco and beef borgignon.

To avoid any confusion in pronunciation I just call it comino, LOL. Thanks for sharing the origins of this delicious spice, and your recipe sounds delicious.

I love cumin, but now I've said the different pronunciations to myself so many times I can't decide how I pronounce it! Coo-min, I think! This recipe sounds fantastic! Never cooked mushrooms remotely like this but I can tell I'd love it.

Cumin is my favorite spice. We've joked about having out first kid named Cumin.

Gorgeous recipe! Definitely trying this soon as I'm on a mushroom kick!

I pronounce it comino (ko-me-no) because I'm from the southwest and everybody calls it comino out here.

Everyone: I like "comino" -- let's go with that!

Bellini Valli, yogurt would be delicious on this and would turn it into more of a main dish, perfect for a vegetarian meal.

Milton, cayenne is a chile, just a very hot one, so go easy on the amount you use. Paprika isn't a good substitute in this dish.

Chiot's Run, taco soup? Sounds delicious.

Patricia, the sauce would be great with meatballs, or with chunks of tofu. It did play off the meatiness of the mushrooms very well.

Julia, oh how I hope to get to Morocco some day!

Ben, AZ: we should all take our cue from Spanish speaking friends like you. I am going to try to switch from now on.

Kalyn, I'm a fan of regular old white mushrooms, especially now that I can buy the "stuffing mushrooms" (i.e., large ones) in the market. They are perfect for this dish.

Jessica, if I were going to name a kid after a spice, I might choose Thyme, but my kid would grow up hating me!

Count me among the kew-min ranks too, although I've heard enough television chefs pronounce it coo-min that you'd think I'd have taken the hint.

Coincidence you should share this recipe; our middle child recently requested, "More mushroom dishes, mom" and this looks like it will fill the bill nicely.

I like to mix cumin, paprika and salt to season salmon or boneless chicken breast (pan fry on one side, then flip and finish in 500 oven).

Frying a little cumin seeds until fragrant before adding chopped onion, then garlic make a nice base for lots of vegetable dishes, esp potatoes.

Scrumptious recipe. We use the cumin so regularly in Indian cooking and love that husky musky flavor;-)

I always say kew-min too!

Sandie, it's a rare child who actually loves mushrooms; you are very lucky.

Sondra, the salmon sounds delicious, similar to a recipe I posted here a couple of weeks ago.

Soma, I do need to learn more about Indian cooking. The use of spices fascinates me.

Pam, you have lots of company here!

I'm in the COO-min camp.

Chewing the seeds sounds intriguing. I'll have to try it. It reminds me of the Indian custom of after-dinner fennel seeds.

Thanks for the soup shout-out, Lydia. Your mushroom bhaji looks beautiful.

Your photos are so yummy I can almost smell the food -- I'm assembling ingredients now -- the aroma is making me hungry. Thanks for a great recipe.

Susan, your soups always look so glorious.

Satonahat, this is one of my favorite mushroom dishes, delicious on rice or noodles.

Real children named for an herb:
A friend has 2 kids, Summer and Justin -- and they both have the middle name Thyme.
Lydia, your photography is stunning. Hopefully ours will look like that when we make it tomorrow.
According to Veg. Times Healing Cookbook issue, White Button mushrooms are in the top 4 for healing properties. So no shame there!

I made this dish for dinner last night. Very very tasty. I served it was mashed potato and portherhouse steaks. DEEEEElicious. Thanks for the great recipe

We make this dish almost once in two weeks at home, but with minimal spices, and importantly fresh tomato so that the flavor of the mushrooms dominate.

As far as cumin goes, being an Indian it is an ingredient in almost 95% of the Indian dishes I prepare :-).

It tastes great in powder form or roasted seed form. Another favorite where cumin plays a major role is 'Jal Jeera', or cumin water. Well, not quite, as this powder is a mix of several spices of which cumin and black salt are the real taste enhancers. Other ingredients include dry ginger, black pepper, asafoetida, mint, chili, etc.

You can find it all Indian stores, and it is very easy enough to make it also. It's served to generate appetite before having a meal, etc. This powder has a lot of medicinal qualities. Its a great complement to plain yogurt as well.

Susan, I'm laughing -- really, the things people do to their kids! And I'm glad to know that there is some nutritional value in button mushrooms. I love them anyway, like iceberg lettuce, regardless of what's in them, so this is a real bonus.

Milton, so glad you enjoyed the recipe.

Sri, thanks for your very informative comment. I've not heard of Jal Jeera before, but it sounds fascinating.

Yum cumin......one of my favorite dishes is Zi Ran Yang Rou - Cumin Lamb. I guess I'm in the kew-min ranks...though my wife just calls it "B.O." ;o)

And there's good news about iceberg lettuce too -- a study showing fewer broken hips in elderly women (as I remember) due to presence of Vitamin K. Remember, God don't make junk...

Kew-min is one of my very favorite spices, so versatile! For me it is staple and secret weapon in all things Mexican - salsa, enchilada fillings, etc. I also use it with roasted meats as a major player in a dry rub crust. I rarely cook Indian but I am going to try to start and am excited to have more uses for kew-min!

This looks delicious and easy! I think it would be great over rice, will have to try this soon. Thanks!

This is the way we generally make vegetable in India I learnt cooking from my mother and I would suggest you try breaking down this step into two

Add the mushrooms, salt and tomato paste, and stir to combine.

first put the tomato paste and let it cook first we call this the masala after the paste turns a good golden brown put some water salt and then put the mushrooms .... it ll taste good

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