Cumin seeds

Cumin seeds [COURTESY PHOTO]

Cumin always seems to be at the top of my shopping list because I run out of it so often.

I am not alone in my love for cumin — McCormick Spice Company lists cumin as one of the top 10 selling spices in the United States. It is commonly used in Latin American, Middle Eastern, North African, and Indian cuisines, among many others.

I have found that its warm, musky flavor elevates ordinary soups, stews, sauces and vegetables to a whole new level.

Although it is a requirement for the best chili, tacos, mojo sauce and Indian curry, cumin is also wonderful when sprinkled over roasted carrots or cauliflower before baking or when added to a marinade for grilled chicken wings, baby back ribs or leg of lamb.

The spice dates back to Egypt 4,000 years ago and spread to the Eastern Mediterranean across North Africa before it was carried east on trade routes to Asia. Centuries later, Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought cumin to the Americas, where it became an important Mexican ingredient.

It is available both as whole seeds and ground. Ground cumin should be stored in a cool, dark place and needs to be replaced after six months. The seeds can be stored in the pantry for up to one year.

I prefer to grind whole cumin seeds just before use in a spice grinder or coffee mill dedicated to spice grinding — just as I do peppercorns.

For the best possible flavor, lightly toast the whole seeds in a dry pan over medium heat before grinding. Either ground or whole, the spice is very aromatic, so use it with discretion.

Cumin Lamb and Prune Skewers

Adapted from My Spiced Kitchen by Yaniv Cohen, Page street Publishing Co. ($21.99).

Lamb kebabs are delicious paired with bright, earthy reds such as a Bonterra Pinot Noir 2016 ($18), a wine rich with soft tannins and flavors of berries, vanilla and spice.

Cohen, who is also known as The Spice Detective and operates Jaffa restaurant in the Design District, writes “North African cuisine utilizes dried fruits in both savory and sweet dishes. I love to pair the gamy, earthy flavor of lamb with sweet dried fruit. In this recipe, the aromatic cumin and the sweetness of the prunes enhance and complement the lamb. Serve over rice and alongside a salad and you’ll have a quick, delicious meal.”

8-10 bamboo skewers

1 tablespoon (6 g) ground cumin

1 tablespoon (6 g) sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 pound (450 g) boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) cubes

4 tablespoons (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup (90 g) pitted prunes

Prepare the bamboo skewers by soaking them in water for 30 minutes. Preheat an outdoor grill to medium or heat a large, oiled skillet over medium heat.

In a small bowl, mix the cumin, paprika, cinnamon, salt and pepper.

Brush the lamb cubes with olive oil and dust the spice mix on them. Thread the spiced lamb and prunes onto the bamboo skewers, alternating between the two as you go.

Grill the skewers for 2 to 3 minutes on each side for medium, or 3 to 4 minutes for medium-well.

Yield: Makes 8 to 10 skewers

Chef’s Tip: You can substitute smoked or spicy paprika for the sweet paprika if you’re looking for a slightly different taste.

Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-host of Food & Wine Talk on southfloridagourmet.com.

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