It’s an exciting and wonderful thing to cook with a new ingredient for the first time. There’s that lovely thrill of discovery and invention. And sometimes, there’s a sharp ‘ping’ of recognition, when a new ingredient or spice turns out to be something unknown you’ve loved (unknowingly) for a long time. My exhilarating new culinary discovery (and long-lost unknown love) is nigella seeds. A packet of nigella seeds, which I bought on impulse at a Turkish grocer after reading up on Middle Eastern flatbreads, has been sitting, untouched, in my cupboard since November. I was a little intimidated by them, and I didn’t realize that they had a use outside of baking. But last week the lovely Nisha Katona, Indian chef extraordinaire, tweeted a short You Tube video on using nigella seeds with winter vegetables. (She added them to leeks.) She told me later on, “Nigella is a very kind vegetable spice. She just gets on with bringing the best out of veg – kindly.”
Since then, I’ve been itching for an excuse to try adding nigella seeds to vegetables. When I saw beautiful Brussels sprouts on Upper Tachbrook Street yesterday, it was as if someone had laid down a gauntlet. I’m really pleased with the combination of flavours I put together, and it’s a dish I know I will repeat. It’s the kind of dish you cook with the happy certainty that someone will say, “I LOVE these Brussels sprouts.” (Today that someone was me.)
So, for the uninitiated, nigella seeds! What are they like? They’re a confident, nutty low note that adds depth and a bit of resonance to vegetable dishes. (And yes, I recognized them immediately.) They’re sort of like the bass clarinet in an orchestra – unobtrusive, but clear and assertive. Visually they’re beautiful, like very black sesame seeds. This dish combines sautéed finely shredded Brussels sprouts (one of my favourite ways of cooking them) with nigella seeds, sesame oil, hot mustard, chilis, and sweet citrus. It’s a nice winter dish that tastes like spring. Enjoy!
1 pound (about half a kilo) of Brussels sprouts, tough outer leaves and stem discarded, and finely shredded. (You can use a food processor to do this, or you can slice them youself.)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
½ teaspoon nigella seeds
½ teaspoon hot dry mustard (preferably English)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 small green spicy chili, seeded and finely sliced into rings
3-4 small sweet seedless oranges, such as clementines or tangerines, peeled, sectioned, and chopped or sliced into chunks
Heat one tablespoon of sesame oil over medium-high heat in a wok or heavy-bottomed frying pan. Fry the nigella seeds until they sputter (being careful not to burn them), and then add your Brussels sprouts all at once.
Cook, tossing frequently, until the sprouts start to become glossy but are still crisp. Add the salt, mustard powder, rice wine vinegar, and sugar, and continue to cook until the Brussels sprouts are crisp-tender, the flavours are incorporated (about three to five minutes), and any liquid has evaporated.
Transfer immediately to a bowl. In the same wok or frying pan (or use a different one!) heat the remaining tablespoon of sesame oil and fry the sliced chili until crisp and bright green (no more than 15-30 seconds). Toss with the Brussels sprouts, and then top with the oranges.
You can toss to combine, or if you wish you can serve the oranges as a garnish on top of individual plates. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 4-6 servings as a side dish.
I am a huge fan of Brussels sprouts and, every time I make them, I recall with great fondness the best I’d ever had — they were shredded and had been sauteed in sesame oil, and had been served by you. I devoured them. All of my subsequent attempts to recreate them have been lack luster, at best. (I never thought to use dry mustard!) This recipe gives me hope.
As for nigella seeds, I’ve had them, but never knew what they are called. Your description was spot on, and, if I might add, a wonderful example of why your food writing stands out from (and above) that of most food bloggers. Bass clarinet, indeed.
Kelli, I want to give you a giant hug right now. It’s so wonderful to get such lovely feedback. The dry mustard makes such a difference. It speaks to brussels sprouts. It’s also my secret ingredient in mashed sweet potatoes.
Never heard of nigella seeds. Are they difficult to find?
I’ve never heard of Nigella seeds either, but I have been on a brussels sprout kick, and am excited for this recipe! Don’t know why I never thought of shredding them… Great post!
I wholeheartedly agree with Kelli. Your writing is excellent and stands out.
I have never heard of nigella seeds, but I will be on the look out for them. Thanks for another unique and beautiful post.
This is lovely. Simple but really tasty and I too love the way you have described those little nigella seeds
Thank you Tania! I’m totally taken with them now.
i haven’t tried nigella seeds yet! after reading your long post on them, i feel I really must go and get some. Very very curious about them now.
Thanks so much for the lovely comments! I do encourage you to try cooking with them if you’re able to get them. Nigella seeds apparently are also sometimes called black caraway (not sure why) or black cumin (the similarities are fairly limited however). The wikipedia entry is fascinating: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigella_sativa. Apparently they have proven efficacy in relieving bronchial spasms. I’m looking forward to experimenting with other ingredients (e.g., pumpkin, rice dishes, pulses.)
Here in London nigella seeds are available in most Middle Eastern groceries. I’m not sure how easy they are to find in the USA, but if you can’t find them I’m happy to bring some and mail them out when I come back to visit in a couple of weeks. (If you’d like me to mail you some email me at skimwilk (at) yahoo (dot) com.)
I thought you may appreciate this description:
Also called black onion seeds , these tiny, angular, deep black seeds have a nutty, peppery flavor. They’re used in India and the Middle East as a seasoning for vegetables, LEGUMES and breads. Nigella seeds are sometimes erroneously referred to as black CUMIN, an entirely different species. They can be found in Middle Eastern and Indian markets.
Read More http://www.epicurious.com/tools/fooddictionary/entry/?id=3649#ixzz1jqLuK4yC
Thanks Herb! Not sure if I agree with peppery, although I understand what they’re getting at.
These sound really nice – brussels are something I never think of having unless I’m having Xmas dinner at my parents – although they usually stick to an unusual recipe involving boiling them for several hours to remove most of the taste and flavour. If you’re doing a curry, nigella seeds are really nice with any potato and spinach side dishes.
Your photographs are also amazing.
Thanks so much! I love your description of the Xmas sprouts. And I’m looking forward to trying them with other veg — spinach sounds amazing. Thank you for visiting.
Wowzer. Gotta try these. Keep them coming.
Sounds terrific! I’ve never cooked nigella seeds either …. Perhaps I need to open my pantry to them!