Cumin has been grown in Israel since the Mishnaic Age (273 BCE to 190 C.E.), and it even had a reputation as being better than the cumin grown in Cyprus. It was exported and often served with bread.
Cumin has a double life, and can be taken for digestion, as a diuretic and as an aphrodisiac. Lore has it that it was also used to stem bleeding after circumcision, but none of my medical contacts will confirm that.
A flowering plant, cumin is native from the eastern Mediterranean to Pakistan and India. It grows wild in Israel, where many of my favorite foods, notably hummus and falafel, are often flavored with yellow-brown cumin seeds, which are dried and used either whole or ground.
Cumin also grows wild in my pantry, as I have four big baggies of it currently on hand. Oh, the things one discovers when unpacking after a big move.
Cumin Hamburgers with Pickled Onions
Makes 6 servings
1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs. ground chuck
pickled onions (recipe below)
6 hamburger buns
Marinate garlic in olive oil for at least 10 minutes. Combine the marinated garlic, onion, parsley, cumin, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix well. Add the ground chuck and mix gently but thoroughly. Shape into six ½-inch-thick patties. Brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the oiled rack. Grill 4 to 5 minutes per side, turning once, or until desired doneness. Toast buns on grill during last few moments of cooking. Serve burgers with pickled onions and pickles.
Makes 1 cup
1 tsp. whole coriander seeds
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 small red onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
Place coriander seeds on a paper towel or dish towel. Fold towel over the seeds. Smash seeds a few times with a meat pounder to crack open. In a small bowl, combine smashed coriander seeds, sugar and salt. Pour boiling water over coriander, sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve. Add water and vinegar. Stir. Place onion slices in a jar. Pour spice-liquid over onions. Tighten lid and refrigerate 30 minutes or up to overnight. Drain before serving.
Tomato Mint Farfalle Salad
Makes 6 servings
8 oz. mini farfalle or shells, cooked al dente
1 cup quinoa cooked according to package directions
1 pint sweet cherry tomatoes
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. salt
plenty of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
1/2 cup mint leaves, cut in chiffonade
6 oz. crumbled feta
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Cook farfalle and drain, rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Cook quinoa and drain. Combine pasta and quinoa in a large bowl. Meanwhile, in a food processor blend together tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Pour dressing over pasta and quinoa and toss. Add red onion, parsley and mint to salad. Serve with feta and pine nuts cold or at room temperature.
Josie A.G. Shapiro, winner of the 2013 Man-O-Manischewitz Cookoff, is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet.” Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Her website is www.thechickencontests.com.