Trying New Spices

I love to browse ethnic grocery stores the way you might browse a thrift store — you will always find interesting stuff!  Indian groceries are particularly fun because I’m not as familiar with them as with Asian stores. A while ago I picked up a couple packages of spices unknown to me. Trying new and different spices, herbs and condiments — especially ones from different cultures — is an easy & cheap way to re-invigorate your cooking repertoire. All foods but perhaps vegetarian dishes in particular need to be pepped up with different treatments. Mixing and matching spice combinations is how one increases variety without drastically changing methods and prep time.

In a week I’m going to make a favorite dish of mine, Cumin-scented Kasha* Pilaf with Spiced Walnuts, for DDoW (Delivered Dish of the Week). Casting about for a complementary dish, I remembered I had bought these spices, Ajwain and Kalonji seeds. So I think I will make a Gingery Lentils & Carrots and try adding ajwain, which tastes like thyme, according to the info I found below from Wikipedia and BTW, both spices have medicinal properties such as aiding digestion.

*Kasha is the European name for Buckwheat Groats, the whole grain. This is mis-named and is not a wheat grain at all, and therefore gluten-free. Kasha has a strongly nutty earthy taste with a texture like soft brown rice. I found it’s great with pungent salty seasoning.


Kalonji Seeds

In EnglishNigella sativa seed is variously called fennel flower, nutmeg flower, Roman coriander, blackseed or black caraway. Other names used, sometimes misleadingly, are onion seed and black sesame, both of which are similar-looking, but unrelated. The seeds are frequently referred to as black cumin.

Nigella sativa has a pungent bitter taste and smell. It is used as part of the spice mixture paanch phoran (meaning a mixture of five spices) and by itself in a great many recipes in Bengali cookery and most recognizably in naan breadPeshawari naan is, as a rule, topped with kalonji seeds.

The Turkish name çörek otu literally means “bun’s herb” from its use in flavouring the çörek buns. Such braided-dough buns are widespread in the cuisines of Turkey and its neighbors. The seed is used in Bosnia, and particularly its capital Sarajevo, to flavour pastries (Bosnian: somun) often baked on Muslim religious holidays. Nigella is also used in Armenian string cheese, a braided string cheese called Majdouleh or Majdouli in the Middle East.

AJWAIN SEEDS  (pronounced as uj-wine)

Trachyspermum ammi, commonly known as ajowan, bishop’s weed, ajwain, ajowan caraway, carom seeds, or thymol seeds, is a plant of India and the Near East whose seeds are used as a spiceAjwain belongs to the Apiaceae family of plants, like coriander, cumin and fennel, and originated in the Middle East.

Ajwain seeds look like cumin seeds and smell like the herb thyme.

Raw ajwain smells almost exactly like thyme because it also contains thymol, but is more aromatic and less subtle in taste, as well as slightly bitter and pungent. Even a small amount of raw ajwain will completely dominate the flavor of a dish. n Indian cuisine, ajwain is almost never used raw, but either dry-roasted or fried in ghee or oil. This method (called Tadka or tempering) develops a much more subtle and complex aroma, somewhat similar to caraway but “brighter”. Ajwain is also used in vegetable dishes (for its distinctive taste) and pickles (for its preservative qualities). Ajwain has properties that help it reduce the flatulence causing effect of beans. It also aids in digestion.

Ajwain is also an ingredient in berbere, a spice mixture favored in Eritrea and Ethiopia.


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