KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Indian Spiced Peanuts (with Cumin)
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Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Indian Spiced Peanuts (with Cumin)

Recently, Jason and I have been discussing our "tribal influences." I had heard a theory that, when we are tired or ill or distressed, we all go back to the way that we were raised by our family or "tribe." I have had a bad cold in the past week, and was using that example to tell him that when I was a kid, "in my tribe everything was dropped and mom took care of us by making our favorite foods and making sure we had everything we needed," in an attempt to guilt him into waiting on me hand and foot (it worked).

Our tribe had one huge rule with food: we never ate cumin.

My mother's side of the family is the side that influenced me the most in the kitchen, and mom is 100% Mexican. Cumin is ubiquitous in most Mexican food, but our family never used it and grandma, a very strong influence on the rest of us, couldn't stand the stuff. We would be at a restaurant and she would take one taste of a dish and sniff and say "comino" with disgust, implying that she had been foiled once again by the evil ingredient. I learned early that cumin was not something that tasted good, and it seemed to ruin all food that it went into.

I didn't realize until I was well into my twenties what cumin even tasted like. I remember being at a restaurant on Haight street with my friend Molly -- she ordered a salad and asked me if I wanted a bite.

"No thanks, I saw that it has cumin in it."

"I know your family trained you to not to eat it, but I think if you give it a chance, you probably are going to like it, Jen," she said delicately. I tasted it and it wasn't nearly as offensive as I was led to believe. My head didn't spin around, and I lived to tell the story.

My family's dislike of cumin reaches all members of the family, and it's not uncommon to open a cookbook my mother has given me to find the cumin section jokingly crossed out. The picture above shows my copy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything book, where mom has crossed out the cumin section and written "aaa little girl!" because my grandmother used to call my sister and me "little girls."

Last week I called Grandma to quiz her about why she didn't like cumin:

"Did anyone use cumin in our family, Grandma? Was it just you who didn't use it?"

"No - no one from Sonora used it that I can think of, and even when we went to visit people in Guanajuato, they didn't use it either. I don't know why people use it -- you even find it places like Taco Bell."

"What don't you like about it?"

"I don't know ... I just don't like the taste, and I don't like how it keeps coming back on me. Why are you asking all these questions - are YOU using it?"

"Not in my Mexican food, I promise. But I do have some and I use it for Indian foods."

Grandma acquiesced that using it in food other than Mexican food was probably okay, and went on to ask me how I used it and in what form I bought it. One recipe that I have been making recently is Indian Spiced Peanuts, adapted from Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook. I really appreciate this book for it's specific directions and for inspiration with it's beautiful photography and inventive recipes. I adapted this recipe by cutting it in half and then increasing the spice. Martha's recipe calls for about 1/2 tablespoon of regular sugar, but I used Muscovado sugar because it adds another dimension of taste to the nuts and because it's not as sweet. Next time I make this, I would like to try out pepper other than cayenne - perhaps a smoked pimiento pepper from Happy Quail Farms.

Indian Spiced Peanuts (with cumin)
Makes 2.5 cups
Active Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Complete Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Shelled unsalted peanuts, 2.5 cups (12 oz)
Ground cumin , 1.5 tsp
Ground coriander, 1.5 tsp
Kosher salt , 1.5 tsp
Muscovado sugar, 1 tsp
Black pepper, 1/4 tsp
Cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp
Toasted black sesame seeds, 1.5 tsp
1 large egg white
    1. Preheat the oven to 300° F.
    2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
    3. Combine cumin, coriander, salt, sugar, pepper, and cayenne in a small bowl.
    4. Using a medium bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy.
    5. Add spices from step 3 to the egg white and whisk to mix.
    6. Add peanuts and sesame seeds to the mixture and stir to mix.
    7. Spread peanut mixture on to the baking sheet into a single layer.
    8. Bake in oven for approximately 30 minutes or until nuts appear dry and toasted. Stir the mixture once or twice during the toasting, making sure to keep the nuts in a single layer as much as possible.
    9. Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving. You can store the nuts in an airtight container for up to a week.


    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    ok i've never seen a recipe for spiced peanuts before! but it was good! theres a bunch of crazy stuff on this site too: http://www.indian-recipe.net

    9/28/2006 6:42 AM

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I take exception to your assertion that cumin is ubiquitous in mexican food, maybe in mexican-american food but not mexican food, while it is used some dishes in mexico it is used sparingly and it is definitely not ubiquitous; if you can taste it you are using too much. Your grandmother was correct when she voiced her distaste for the spice in mexican food. I have no problem using it in other food like curries, which are complemented by cumin.

    10/23/2006 10:49 PM


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