Naidoo recalls his favourite culinary learnings about the might and power of cumin. Picture:
Naidoo recalls his favourite culinary learnings about the might and power of cumin. Picture:

Opinion: Are you 'cumin' to dinner?

By Kiru Naidoo Time of article published Sep 20, 2019

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YOU could say that I would make a dream husband. Very low maintenance. I iron and stitch, and eat pretty much anything.

Take something as sim​​ple as basmati rice. I can have that miraculously lifted to restaurant quality in minutes. My options are many. Chopped onions rendered golden in ghee or even charred a bit. Sometimes roasted curry leaves. Around pay day, a handful of cashews makes it miraculous.

My all-time favourite addition is jeera. If you went to a Model C school, you might be calling that cumin. Say cumin to the army of aunties busy with the porridge prayers cooking and you are likely to get puzzled looks. Be certain too that they will gossip about your high-society ways once your back is turned.

I must confess that I have used the words, jeera and cumin, interchangeably for most of my life. It was a key ingredient in the king soup or rasam that was a cure for both the flu and a babalaas.

As a young student in faraway England, I had to cook for myself or risk eating soaked cardboard in the canteen. Our hostel kitchen was the veritable United Nations.

One or two far eastern nations with suspect meats that looked like they crawled between the fridge shelves when no one was looking.

Mediterranean folks who had never fallen in love with Piglet in Winnie the Pooh.

North Americans who ate pizza irrespective of the hour of the day.

South Americans who scraped roots like it was a botany lab.

Africans from all corners of the continent who travelled kilometres to bring the adventurous tastes of home into our tiny communal kitchen.

Caribbean people who for some odd reason loved every variety of beans.

While I have always straddled diverse cultures with ease, my favourite culinary learnings were from the South Asians, especially the Indians. It was from among them that the tiny jeera seed was elevated to the pinnacle of sensory delight.

Most Indians I encountered were vegetarians. They could take the simplest ingredients and present it as if one were dining at Veeraswamy on 99 Regent Street in Mayfair, London (the breyani from there cooked and served in a clay pot sealed with dough is the closest I’ve been to heaven in good company).

My good friend, who I shall call Linga here for reasons that he now sits close to the seat of power in his home country, threw frozen vegetables and rice into a pressure cooker while he took a shower.

Shamilla (also renamed on account of her husband) was far more charming with her slow cooking. From her, I learnt that one could add curd to jeera rice and have need for nothing else.

Since these periodic missives are for me to do a two-hander with the lovely Ayurvedic doctor next door, let me do a quick tour through the health benefits of this wonder spice.

It goes without saying that at the slightest hint of indigestion, Indians will bring jeera, either by the handful or soaked as jeera water.

It is also a rich source of iron - but check with my doctor friend before you throw away those ugly tablets. Check also with her about how it might help ease diabetes and improve blood cholesterol levels.

The one miracle effect that I have been struggling with is the vaunted value of jeera in weight loss and fat reduction.

Since I never do anything in moderation, whatever health benefit I may be getting from copious doses of jeera is knocked out by my great love for food. If ever I went back to the university, jeera and weight loss is one subject I would love to research.

You’re no doubt going to the cupboard to fish for the jeera as soon as you put the paper down. If you’re cooking dinner, I’m available any night of the week except Sunday when I do the ironing.

Naidoo is a local historian with an active imagination and a healthy appetite. You can reach him on [email protected] or 0829408163.


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