By Nina Furstenau
I get smug when I hear that old wives tales are proven right. Strange this haughty pleasure, since I have not contributed one iota to the old wisdom. This time, my joy is about cumin, a spice measured out in frying pans around the globe and scientifically proven to be good for you.
Granted, we don’t always take note of the properties of foods and spices these days, but in the era before cupcakes with forty 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 old wives’ tales 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 No. 1: Line your loved ones’ pockets with cumin seeds when they travel; No. 2: Bake it into their bread; No. 3: Put cumin seeds in their socks!
In a less prickly way, cumin flavor is satisfying in curries and chili alike. Sprinkle powdered cumin on eggs and decide for yourself. I like to roast the seeds in an iron skillet on the stovetop. It takes just a few minutes, and the aroma released into the air and your recipe is unique.
Historically, cumin was grown in Egypt, Persia, India, and the Mediterranean region 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 Ziploc 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 until they are almost covered completely. Place covered dish into oven, and cook for 1-1/2 hours. Take out of oven, and place ribs on a cookie sheet. Put the Dutch oven with the sauce back in the oven under a low broiler to further reduce the sauce. The reduction will be intensely flavored and delicious; serve 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." She blogs at www.missourilife.com/blogs/savor-missouri.