A few weeks ago I was browsing the bbc website looking for a recipe from the previous night's edition of Nigella Express. I simply put the word 'Nigella' into the search engine and up popped the recipes I wanted and also a few from the so called Indian Nigella - Anjum Anand. I assumed the bbc web editors were simply ahead of the zeitgeist or showing some lateral thinking in their linking. One particularly caught my eye for hot spicy cabbage - great use of seasonal veg.
So this week I had a cabbage and found the recipe again and was just a tiny bit disappointed to find that one of the ingredients was nigella. The spice not the goddess. Nigella in the kitchen refers to the deep black, sharp-cornered seed grains from the species Nigella Sativa which have no obvious scent to entice you when you open a pot in the way that say, cumin, does but when ground or chewed they have an aromatic slightly bitter flavour. Subtle and possibly a little bit peppery it develops its flavour best in contact with a hot pan, dry or oiled.
Ornamental breeds – of which I have some in my garden - are called Love in the Mist or Devil in the Bush - a really pretty plant with pale blue flowers. Nigella has been used since antiquity by Asian herbalists and pharmacists and was used for culinary purposes by the Romans. The seeds are known to repel certain insects and can be used like moth balls. The name nigella derives from the Latin nigellus, or niger, meaning black. Look here for an interesting list of the name for nigella and the name for black in countries around the world.
This turned out to be a really quick, easy and fabulous dish with bright clean colours and flavours and a really interesting mix of textures. Sadly the rice and lentils I made with another recipe from Anjum Anand was the opposite - utter failure due to wildly incorrect quantities which was depressing. It really infuriates me when I make something that doesn't work though I tell myself it's inevitable and in this case wasn't even my fault but still I'd rather it never happened.
Hot Cabbage Salad
1 tbsp mustard oil or vegetable oil
A small pinch asafoetida (available in Asian stores and some supermarkets)
¾ tsp brown mustard seeds
¾ nigella seeds (available in Asian stores and some supermarkets)
2 small dried red chillies, whole
1 tbsp chopped peanuts - rub the skins off raw nuts before crushing
10 curry leaves (available fresh or dried from Asian grocers)
1 Savoy cabbage head, finely shredded
salt, to taste
In a large wok or non-stick saucepan, heat the oil until it is smoking. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the oil to cool for ten seconds. Return the pan to the hob, turn the heat down and fry the asafoetida and mustard and nigella seeds for 30 seconds. Add the chillies and peanuts and fry for a further minute or until the peanuts have started to colour.
Once cooked, stir in the curry leaves, cabbage and salt, to taste. Stir-fry for ten minutes making sure that the cabbage retains some firmness.
Serve with rice and another dish, spicy corn fritters had been my original plan - should have stuck to it!