|Ajwain (flowering plant)|
The strong aroma is enhanced by toasting or frying and goes well with potatoes or fish. Legumes (lentils, beans) are, however, the most important field of application; in India, where these vegetables are popular since they provide a source of protein to the many vegetarians, they are commonly flavoured with a perfumed butter or vegetable oil (tarka also rendered tadka [तड़का]. This seemingly simple preparation is much more sophisticated than sheer heat treatment, since most aroma compounds in spices are lipophilic and dissolve much better in fat than in water. Thus, frying in butter not only enhances the fragrance because of the high temperature, but also extracts the flavour to the fat, whence it can be dispersed throughout the food efficiently. That techique is often generally known as baghar [बघार], and it forms almost the heart of North Indian cooking (for more, see onion).
A typical recipe for lentils would run as follows: First, the dried and
washed lentils are cooked until tender with
turmeric being the only spice added. This
lentil puree is then flavoured using salt and the tadka:
Cumin, chiles and/or ajwain seeds are fried until they turn brown
and evolve a strong aroma; if desired, garlic or asafetida and possibly grated ginger are added and after some more frying the tadka is poured over the cooked lentils. Variants may also employ
dill fruits, nigella seeds or
celery fruits, although the latter are not very Indian. See chives for a Nepali variant.
|Ajwain plant with flowers|
In Southern Indian cuisine (which has a large treasure of vegetarian recipes), tadka-like preparations are not only applied to dried legumes, but also to green vegetables and boiled rice. Most popular for this purpose are black mustard seeds which are fried until they stop popping and curry leaves, which are fried for but a few seconds. Besides clarified butter, coconut fat is common.
In some parts of India, ajwain is is used for specific types of salty pastry, e. g., the Rajasthani biscuits called mathari [मठरी]. I have seen similar ajwain-flavoured pastry in Ladakh and Nepal (nimki [निम्की]).
Outside of the Indian subcontinent, ajwain is not much used. It enjoys, however, some popularity in the Arabic world and is found in berbere, a spice mixture of Ethiopia which both shows Indian and Arabic heritage (see long pepper).
Ajwain is much used as a medical plant in Ayurvedic medicine (India). Mainly,
it helps against diseases of the digestive tract and fever. In India, where any
amount of tap water can result in arbitrary complications, ajwain often comes
to the traveller’s rescue: Just chew one spoonful of the fruits for a few minutes
and wash down with hot water. In the West, thymol
is used in medicines against cough and throat irritation.