The culinary use of black seed throughout history
The beauty of black seed or Nigella Sativa is that it has been used as a culinary additive to enhance the flavor of a plethora of dishes, throughout history. The black seed is widely known as a delicious culinary ingredient.
Countries that have used black seed for cooking are mainly in the Mediterranean regions including India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan since that is where the spice originates.
In old Latin black seed was called, ‘panacea’ meaning ‘cure-all’ while in Arabic it is termed as ‘habbat el baraka’ translated as ‘seeds of blessing’. In India and Pakistan, it is called ‘kalonji’ while in China it is referred to as hak jung chou.
Nigella seeds have a pungent aroma and its taste has notes of onion, oregano, and black pepper. In India and Pakistan, it is used in a variety of curries including achar gosht and naan. Black seed is also drunk with milk to make it taste better in these regions.
In Turkey, people have used black seed for cooking for centuries. It is added to various types of bread as well as other pastries.
In ancient Egypt, the physicians of the time were well known to carry bags of the seed to administer to people with stomach problems which were prevalent amongst the upper classes who indulged in festivities where overeating was the norm.
In addition, Egyptians have used black seed in culinary to preserve lemons in pickles. This seed was also found entombed in Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen’s remains, which date back to 1323 bc. Egyptians also used the black seed to make dukkah, a traditional condiment consisting of mixed herbs and spices.
Famous British chef Nigella Lawson has endorsed her namesake spice, Nigella Sativa in her famous lamb ribs recipe. The British also use it as a topping on scrambled eggs and in soups.
The Persians used black seed for cooking on a flatbread known as naan-e-berberi, which is also centuries old.
Perhaps cooks in these regions noticed the properties of the black seed, which is why they used it so commonly in their dishes. And what can be a better ingredient to add than one, which has some notable properties and adds a superb flavor to the dishes it’s added to.
It is no wonder that black seed has been mentioned in the old testament and was also quoted by the holy prophet Mohammed (saw).
The followings are some recipes in which you can include black seed into your diet.
1. Panch Phoron
It is a very famous mixture, used in Bangladesh and Northern India. That consists of five seeds or spices as “Panch” means “five” in Bengali, and “phoran” means “spice.” The blend, made of equal parts (one tablespoon) of the following seeds: cumin, fennel, nigella, fenugreek, and mustard seeds. We gather these seeds and mix them all together. Then, we can store the mixture in an airtight container or use it in any recipe. In Asia, it is commonly used as a delicious blend with chicken meats, roasted vegetables, bread before baking.
2. Qizha (Black Seed) Paste
It is a traditional Palestinian black seed paste. It is made from crushed nigella seeds. The paste has a sharp, bitter taste with slight tones of sweetness.
Ingredients of Qezha:
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour/ half cup of sugar
- Half cup of olive oil / 1 cup of semolina
- Half cup black seeds (qizha) paste (made of ground black nigella seeds and ground black sesame seeds in a 50/50 ratio).
- 1 quarter cup warm water/ quarter cup rosewater (TFD endorses only Cortas brand)
- Half teaspoon baking powder/ quarter teaspoon baking soda
- Skinless Marcona Almonds, cut into halves/ sugar syrup at room temperature
After preparing the ingredients, you can start making qizha by these instructions:
- In a large pan, roast flour over medium heat and stir frequently until it turns lightly gold (this usually takes about 10 minutes). Leave aside to cool slightly.
- In a bowl, mix the sifted-roasted flour with the dry ingredients (Semolina, baking powder and baking soda) except the sugar.
- Add olive oil and Qizha paste and rub with hands until the semolina absorbs all the liquids. Dissolve sugar and in warm water, add rose water and add it gradually to Qizha mixture and Rub the dough until it is smooth.
- Now lay the dough into an ovenproof pan. Using a knife, cut the dough into small square-shaped treats, garnish with almonds (add one almond to each piece).
- Place the pan in the lower level of the oven at (180-degree C) for about 10-15 minutes until it gets crispy from the bottom then roast the top for 5 to 10 minutes. Take out of the oven, add sugar syrup over the cooked pie and let cool before serving.
It is an Egyptian spice mixture that consists of toasted hazelnuts, cumin, nigella seeds, coriander, and sesame seeds. This blend can be ground into a powder or left chunky and crunchy. Here are the steps to make dukkah:
- Toast the hazelnuts, cumin, nigella seeds until they’re starting to smell nice.
- Add the sesame seeds, so they get a chance to toast as well.
- Remove the nuts and seeds from the heat and transfer them to a food processor.
- Add the spices and process the mixture until everything is broken down.
That is all, it is very simple and quick that would only take about 10 minutes to make.
4. Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Nigella Seeds
It is a traditional Moroccan dish, a tagine dressed up with Nigella seeds (or sanouj in Moroccan Arabic), impart a light oregano-like essence to this classic Moroccan chicken tagine. Here are the ingredients:
- 1 whole chicken (with or without skin, cut in half or into pieces)
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion (sliced into rings)
- 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
- 1 tablespoon nigella seeds, (toasted lightly and ground)
- 1 tablespoon nigella seeds (toasted lightly and left whole)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 3/4 teaspoon ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
- 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
- 1/2 preserved lemon (cut into 2 quarters, optional)
- A handful of red or violet olives (optional)
- 1/3 cup water
- A handful of cilantro sprigs (tied into a bouquet)
Here are the steps to make Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Nigella Seeds:
- Pour the olive oil into the base of a tagine or the bottom of a wide pot or Dutch oven. Distribute the sliced onion over the bottom.
- In a bowl, toss the chicken with the chopped onion, garlic, ground nigella, whole nigella, and spices. Arrange the chicken bone side down in the center of the tagine or pot and distribute the chopped onions all around.
- Swirl 1/3 cup of water in the bowl to clean it of the spices, then add the water to the tagine or pot.
- Garnish the tagine with the cilantro bouquet, lemon, and olives.
5. Nigella (black seed) Tea
- A Cup of water
- 2 tablespoons Organic Black Seeds
- dash vanilla extract(optional)
- Black Seed Oil
- Pour A Cup of water.
- grind the black sesame seeds and place them in a large mug.
- put the cup of the boiled water over the sesame seeds and let steep for 10-15 minutes.
- Flavor with honey or vanilla as desired.
- Enjoy this tasty drink.
**Alternatively, you can mix together 1tablespoon Black Seed Oil with tablespoons 1-2 honey and add to your preferred tea or beverage to obtain the benefits of Nigella Sativa.