I get smug when I hear that old wives tales are proven right. Strange this pleasure, since I have not contributed one iota to the old wisdom. This time my joy is about cumin, discovered by science to be good for you, after centuries of being measured out into fry pans around the globe.
Granted, we don’t always take note of the properties of foods and spices these days, but in the time before cupcakes with 40 ingredients, I know it was easier to see cause and effect.
Food has always been medicine. Take cumin. Really, take a close look. The seeds, actually the dried fruit of Cuminum cyminum in the same family as parsley and dill, are oblong like caraway but more potent. Their oils pack a punch in aiding your immune system, and the old wives say they help with indigestion, morning sickness, stomach ache, and anemia. In fact, with the aid of science, we know now that one teaspoon of cumin can give you 15.5 percent of your daily iron needs.
An Indian folk remedy maintains that a cup of water boiled with cumin seeds, ginger, basil leaves and honey can relieve a cold. If you visit an Indian restaurant, you’ll notice a bowl of a mixture of spices, including cumin, by the door. Grab a pinch and chew. Your stomach will be soothed. More curious, in the Middle Ages in Europe, cumin was said to improve love and fidelity. Bright Cumin Idea #1—line your loved ones pockets with cumin seeds when they travel; #2—bake it into their bread; #3—put cumin seeds in their socks!
In a less prickly way, cumin flavor is satisfying in curries and chili alike. Sprinkle some powdered cumin on eggs and decide. I like to roast the seeds in an iron skillet on the stovetop. It just takes a few minutes and the aroma released into the air and your recipe is unique.
Historically, cumin was grown in Egypt, the Mediterranean region, Persia and India and was coveted in the Middle Ages by Europeans as an inexpensive and accessible spice, replacing the costlier black pepper for many of the day. Cumin seed is featured in many cuisines: Mexican, Mediterranean, Indian, Middle Eastern and some cuisines of China. Let’s add Missouri to the list? Try this tasty short rib recipe from Mark Sisson (http://www.marksdailyapple.com) and see if your sweetheart can resist:
Braised Short Ribs
2-1/2 pounds short ribs
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin powder
½ cup lime juice
½ cup tamari soy sauce
Beef stock to cover
Season ribs with salt, pepper and cumin. Place ribs in a ziplock bag and add lime juice and soy sauce. Marinade for 2 hours. Drain marinade. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place ribs into a small Dutch oven. Add beef stock to just below covering them. Place covered dish into oven and cook for 1-1/2 hours. Take out of oven, place ribs on a cookie sheet. Put Dutch oven with the sauce back in the oven under a low broiler to continue to reduce the sauce. The reduction will be intensely flavored and delicious served with the short ribs.
Nina Furstenau teaches food writing in the Science and Agricultural Journalism program at the University of Missouri. She is the author of “Savor Missouri, River Hill Country Food and Wine” and “Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland,” She blogs at http://www.missourilife.com/blogs/savor-missouri and writes “A Spiced Life,” a bi-weekly food column for the Columbia Daily Tribune in print and at http://www.columbiatribune.com/arts_life/food/