There is no such thing as a small bottle of cumin powder or even a tin of it in the masala dabba (aka masala box) in my mom’s kitchen drawer. Surprised? She is Indian after all. She’s a Gujarati Indian and many of the Gujarati Indians that I knew growing up use dhaana-jiru, a blend of varying ratios of ground coriander and ground cumin. A larger jar of this staple spice, whose fragrance escapes quickly upon opening, sits in the pantry next to all the other jars of spices. Smaller tins are kept near the stove in the masala dabba for easy access. Whole cumin seeds also accompany the other tins of spices, used for cooking in the first step of many vegetable curries known as tarka, or as we called it, vaghaar. I’m chuckling as I type the latter term; Gujarati has not been known to be a beautiful language!
In my second generation (interesting discussion on the meaning of that here) Indian kitchen, I have my variations of cumin in distinctive jars and tins and plastic baggies: plain cumin seeds, the dhaanaa-jiru combo, roasted ground cumin and black cumin (shah-zeera) for meat dishes. Reflecting my confused state of cooking, as I cook not only many kinds of Indian cooking but also non-Indian cooking, my pantry also houses regular ground cumin and cumin blends that contain other spices in them like ancho chili powder.
Uses of these varieties of cumin?
- I use plain cumin seeds in the tarka step of many Indian recipes–lentil curries like this one, vegetable curries, you name it.
- I use dhaana-jeeru at times during the cooking process of some vegetable curries.
- I use ground coriander, heavily, in of course garam masala, as well as South Indian style vegetable dishes where cumin is less prominent. I use it also in some Mediterranean and North African dishes as well, like this healthy delicious Moroccan harira recipe
- Lastly, I use the roasted cumin in cooling yogurt-based dishes, such as chaash otherwise known as lassi, a summertime beverage for our family here in the U.S. but a year-round after meal thirst-quencher in India, especially Gujarat. Or as a sprinkle over chhaat dishes, like dahi-puri.
You can toast a few teaspoons of cumin seeds in a skillet over medium-low heat. It will only take a few minutes. Keep stirring those seeds about the pan, CONTINUOUSLY. Try to avoid the temptation to increase the heat. They burn easily. The key to doneness is not the color, but the release of the aroma. Don’t stick your nose in the pan, the scent will find you. Earthy, toast-like, savory spice.
After about 30 seconds after the aroma releases, remove the pan from heat and immediately transfer the seeds to a different cold plate. Stir them a bit in the cold plate for a few minutes to release the heat. Let the whole cumin seeds cool completely, then grind in a spice grinder. Keeps at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
By the way, I read about toasting vs. roasting spices. There’s not really a difference, so I use the term here interchangeably. But it does depend on the spice. For cumin or other small amounts of spices or even nuts (anyone ever burn pine nuts, like I have?), pan-roasting or toasting is favorable over oven-roasting because of the amount one would generally roast-toast and the quick speed to which you achieve the ideal roasted-ness. 🙂 But if I were referring to say a dried red chile, then I would prefer to call it “roasting” rather than “toasting”.
Readers, what do you use ground cumin for? Is it a heavily used spice in your kitchen? I’d love to hear other ways I could potentially use it, especially since I have so much!