Comino! The very word whispers “south of the border, down Mexico way.” I hear mariachi music when I smell its earthy tang! You may know it by it’s English name, cumin. This herb, common in most Mediterranean countries, like a weed, is the ground up part of a plant in the parsley family. . It is the second most used spice in the world, after black pepper. It is cousin to coriander, Caraway, fennel, and dill, all of which have aromatic properties and are used in spicy foods. Cumin was brought west by explorers in the 16th century, and is a major component of Mexican food, especially chili powder. To me it has an earthy, brown, aroma, almost reminiscent of dirty socks. However unappetizing that description may seem, I can’t imagine cooking without it. I was initiated to its wondrous flavor at about age nine when I was visiting my cousins in Arizona and ate my first hot tamales. The tingling of my tongue and palate was wonderful. The red and brown mixtures of taste and smell was instantly addictive! I chased that flavor for decades. When I learned to make enchilada sauce in the 60s, somehow I didn’t get the Comino part, just the wonder of New Mexico chili powder. Then, in a magic moment in Clovis New Mexico we learned from a mentor the effect of adding Comino in with the deep red chili powder. Now, it’s like breathing or walking—first Chili, and then Garlic, then Comino. Magnifico!
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