Next to salt, pepper and chili flakes, cumin seed may be the most common seasoning we use. Its husky, smoky and sweet flavor has the capacity to improve most anything it’s paired with. It can shine on its own or fade into the background, balancing a curry or spice rub and cutting through rich flavors.
We use cumin seed whole for textural contrast, coarsely crushed and finely ground. When using ground, we do recommend grinding it fresh as needed; the flavor is fleeting and preground cumin lacks the depth and aroma of fresh. (Try our favorite manual grinder, the Skeppshult Cast Iron Spice Mill, which is both gorgeous and highly functional).
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Here are a few of our favorite ways to use cumin for fast, bold flavor, including three quick and easy recipes you’ll want to put on repeat.
Throughout Morocco, you’ll get a bowl of cumin salt with your roasted meats. We love to use it as a simple spice rub on beef and lamb before searing and as a simple way to finish roasted vegetables; it’s particularly good when coupled with a squeeze of lemon or lime. Or, consider keeping a bowl on the table instead of salt and pepper shakers. Combine equal parts kosher salt and coarse ground cumin. If you like, stir in a little crushed red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper.
Spicy Stir-Fried Cumin Beef
Cumin isn’t used too much in Chinese cooking, but when it is, as in this simple stir-fry, it plays a starring role. The dish is also made with lamb.
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Elevate the flavor and texture of your next batch of basmati or other long-grain rice by adding 1 to 2 teaspoons whole cumin seed, 3 bay leaves and 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter (or ghee) to the cooking water; discard the bay leaves before serving.
Indian cooks add rich flavor to countless dishes by heating spices until sizzling in butter or oil to drizzle on everything. The spice’s flavor is intensified by the heat and infuses the fat. Try this cumin-coriander tarka enhanced with garlic, which can be drizzled over roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens, grains and legumes. Frankly, there’s little the bold flavor and crunchy texture can’t improve: In a small saucepan over medium-high, combine 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil or ghee with 4 teaspoons each lightly crushed cumin and coriander seeds. Cook, frequently swirling the pan, until sizzling, 45 to 90 seconds. Add 4 minced garlic cloves and cook, stirring, until it just begins to turn golden, about 30 seconds.
Cauliflower Soup with Browned Butter Pine Nuts
This simple soup takes moments to prepare, yet has a very complex flavor in part due to the cumin.
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This simple rub is terrific on beef, lamb and pork. Combine 1 tablespoon each of cumin and fennel seeds with 2 tablespoons whole black pepper. Crush to a coarse rub in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, then blend with salt to taste.
Roasted Carrots with Cumin and Honey
The piercing flavor of crunchy cumin seeds cuts through the carrot’s sweetness. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat to 475℉. Peel and slice 4 large carrots crosswise on the diagonal into ¼-inch thick slices. Toss with 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1½ teaspoons cumin seed, kosher salt, black pepper and a pinch of cayenne. Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until well browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Flip and cook until second side is browned, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with lemon and a touch of honey, adding chopped cilantro, parsley or mint if you like.
Smoked Paprika and Cumin Ketchup
In Miami’s “Little Havana,” the burgers are spiced and spread with a cumin-laced ketchup. This is an easy way to elevate your burger game—or serve alongside oven fries and sausages.
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A simple Indian-style flavored yogurt can be used as a dipping sauce for crudité, sandwich spread or simple sauce for roasted chicken or salmon. Mix 1 teaspoon each toasted and crushed cumin and coriander seeds into 1 cup full-fat yogurt with ⅓ cup chopped mint or cilantro. Add minced jalapeño or cayenne pepper if you want a kick to your dip.
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