Many people are saying, “Huh. Cumin. I do not think I have any particularly strong good or bad feelings about that spice.” They can go to hell! Cumin is not a spice for mild opinions. It is a fuckin’ great spice.
Cumin originated in south Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. However, as befits its status as I Am Not Going To Think About This Too Hard But Probably The Best Spice Of All, it has found its way into dang near all of the world’s actually good cuisines, imparting them with—bequeathing to them!—a warm, nutty, earthy flavor and an ever-so-slightly tangy aroma: the curry powders and spice mixtures of India and Pakistan; the chile powders and adobo sauces of Mexico and the American southwest; China’s insanely delicious Xinjiang cumin lamb, one of the highest pinnacles of human achievement; those good Greek meatballs you dip in yogurt and fire down by the hundreds because you literally cannot stop; the chicken thighs I roasted in my damn oven the day before yesterday because I didn’t have time to plan anything particularly clever for dinner, so I just tossed them with some cumin and smoked paprika and garlic powder and salt and they came out crispy and delicious and I served them with a little rice and they were super duper satisfying (hell yeah); and so forth. In Morocco cumin is sometimes used as a table seasoning, like salt. I like it.
“Why are you haranguing me about this?” many people are now saying. “I like cumin just fine. What is your deal?” My deal is, put some cumin in your food! Are you making a pot of chili? It should have some cumin in it—say, a teaspoon of cumin per pound of meat. That sounds fine. Without cumin, it will just be okay chili; with cumin, it will be good chili, or it will be better chili than it would be without some cumin in it. Likewise if you are making some quick half-assed curry: If it does not have some cumin in it, you are puke. But I am using pre-made curry powder, you are saying. It has an ingredients list! If that ingredients list does not contain cumin, add some damn cumin.
Maybe you are a busy person and don’t always have the wherewithal to make meals that have their own names. Maybe you are just throwing together the proteins and vegetables and aromatics you happen to have on-hand, improvising the most dinner-like thing you can come up with. That’s fine! Even in this circumstance—in fact, especially in this circumstance—put some cumin in there. It can’t hurt. It can only help, because it makes things taste better.
Powdered cumin is fine. Cumin in seed form: Also fine! You can use the seeds whole in some recipes, but the even better thing to do is to make toasted cumin powder. Scatter the seeds in a hot pan and toss them around for a while until they’re a toasted-looking brown color and juuuuuuuuuust beginning to smoke a little, then grind them with a coffee grinder or a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle, and you’ve got toasted cumin powder, which has a deep, rich flavor and aroma, inflected ever so wonderfully with bitterness. “This food has aroused me, sexually,” your unwitting guests will say, flushed and sweaty, pupils dilated, gyrating in their seats, as they eat the food you have made with your toasted cumin powder. “Why has it done this?” And you will know the answer, but instead you will say “Don’t question the feeling.”
Many people are now saying, “This blog has gone to kind of a weird, discomfiting place. Are you sure you’re okay?” That is only because they are small-minded assbrains, the types of people who insufficiently appreciate cumin. Ignore them, I say.
Should you put cumin atop your spice rankings? Who gives a damn! Certainly not cumin. Who the hell are you to cumin? No one. Your piddly spice hierarchies are as nothing to it. Where you should put cumin is: in your food.