Spice support: nigella sativa

Turkish pide

If spices were classified by Alton Brown as 'unitaskers' or multi-taskers', nigella sativa would definitely fall into the latter camp. Also known as black caraway, nigella seed, onion seed, kalonji, and charnuska, nigella sativa hails from the Indian subcontinent. The most common name in the EYB Library is nigella seed, so that is how we will refer to the spice in this article. Sometimes nigella seed is called black cumin, although that is actually a different spice (Bunium bulbocastanum). 

It is easy to see how the spice received the alternate name of 'onion seed', as the small, black, tapered seeds resemble those produced by plants in the allium family, as well as looking like black sesame seeds. Nigella seeds have a long and robust history in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, are mentioned in the Old Testament, and were found in the tombs of pharoahs including Tutankhamun. Like many spices, nigella seeds were used medicinally, and two preliminary studies conducted in 2016 found the seeds to lower both bad cholesterol and blood pressure, 

Nigella seeds have a complex flavor that is slightly bitter, with notes of onion, cumin, and oregano. One food writer described the taste as resembling "the bits of burned onion, poppy and sesame seeds that fall off of a toasted everything bagel." The seeds are often used in flatbreads like naan, and they also provide texture and flavor to many salads. Nigella seeds contribute deep, almost smoky, overtones to roast vegetable dishes and curries as well. Sprinkle toasted nigella seeds on plain white rice to add both a color and texture contrast.

Nigella seeds can be found in Indian or Middle Eastern markets (where they may be labeled as kalonji), and they can also be ordered online. The whole seeds have a long shelf life. To get the most flavor from the tiny seeds, lightly toast them before using. When searching the EYB Library for this spice, use the term kalonji or "nigella seed", making sure to use the quotation marks lest you end up with all of Nigella Lawson's recipes.  

If you are unfamiliar with the flavors of this ancient spice, use one of these Member favorite recipes as a starting point:

Feta & spring onion bouikos from Honey & Co.: Food from the Middle East by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich
Spring onion bhajis with radish raita from  River Cottage Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Tomato curry with coconut rice from Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson
Lamb, apricot & fennel seed lollipops from  Sirocco by Sabrina Ghayour
Spring salad from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi
Turkish pide from Taste.com.au by Australian Good Taste (pictured top)
Feta, walnut and nigella seed salad from Mighty Spice Cookbook by John Gregory-Smith

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