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Cumin power

The most fragrant smell that could make your mouth water is of jeera roasted on hot tawa, says Sanjeev Kapoor.
Hindustan Times | By Sanjeev Kapoor, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUL 07, 2008 08:47 AM IST

Take a hot cup of tea and dunk a jeera biscuit in it. That's my morning routine.

The most fragrant smell that could probably make your mouth water is of jeera being roasted on the hot tawa.

Or what about the sizzle of a hot tadka for a dal with the crackle of jeera, rai and hing? Jeera is at its best when roasted (or over roasted!) and this bhuna jeera once powdered can alter the destiny of many recipes… sprinkled on dahi wade, on chaas, on chaats etc.

Jeera is what gives bite to Indian pulaos, sabzis and dals. In fact, if I served any raita without the customary sprinkling of bhuna jeera powder I get upset.

What about pani puri ka pani? Imagine that without jeera? Instead of ajwain, try a jeera parantha. Even if you use excess it does not matter. Jeera rice is a must on the menu of most Indian restaurants. History sheet Jeera or cumin is the life of the masala box in some parts of India. It is such an important spice that it sets the trend for the prices of spices in the market. It is very likely to be confused with shahi jeera which is more black and sweeter than jeera.

Jeera is Indian as it is Cuban, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Turkish and Afghani. It's a critical ingredient found in various spice blends like garam masala and curry powder, adobos, sofrito and bahaarat.

You can find it in spicy Mexican chile con carne or enchiladas with chili sauce. In Europe, cumin flavours certain Portuguese sausages and is used to spice cheese, especially Dutch Leyden and German Munster and burned with woods to smoke cheeses and meats.

It is a pickling ingredient for cabbage and Sauerkraut and is used in chutneys. In the Middle East, it is a familiar spice for fish dishes, grills and stews and flavours couscous (semolina is grown from seed sown in spring and needs around three to four hot summer months to grow into two feet tall plants that are harvested with hand.

Memory lanes
There is one fond childhood memory related to jeera. Mom used to melt some gur and add a handsome amount of jeera in it. Set this molten desi toffee in a plate and of jeera.

So what if jeera is spice number two in popularity losing out to black pepper? I cannot imagine cooking without it and when mixed with coriander forms dhania-jeera powder that gives so many of our dishes that lovely Indian touch.

Cumin together with caraway flavours Kummel, the famous German liqueur. Historically Iran has , been the principal supplier of cumin, but currently the major sources are India, Sri Lanka, Syria, Pakistan and Turkey .

A place called Unjha in Gujarat is famous for its huge cumin market. Jeera grows best in hot climate and can tolerate drought. It then cut into small squares. I mention it as toffee since we treated it like one. Mom's smart way of adding a good digestive aid in our daily diets as also a good source of iron.

I also remember jeere ki chai which was an antidote for tummy aches caused by flatulence. Another favourite that comes onto our dining table quite often is the sabzi - jeera aloo. In fact, the potatoes should be hidden under a coating.

Sanjeev Kapoor - Master Chef, author and television host. steamed over meat and vegetables, the national dish of Morocco).

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