Nigella is the botanical name of love-in-a-mist, the beautiful plant with feathery foliage and pale blue flowers. The species grown for its seed is a close but much less decorative relative, native to southern Europe and western Asia. India is a big consumer and the most important producer of nigella (kalonji). The small, black seeds are sometimes misnamed and sold as black onion seed.
About Taste: Nigella doesn’t have a strong aroma; when rubbed it’s herbaceous, somewhat like a mild oregano. The taste is earthy, dry, peppery, nutty, relatively bitter, and quite penetrating; the texture is crunchy.
Parts Used: Seeds.
Buying & Preparation: Whole seeds preserve better; ground seeds may be adulterated. In an airtight container they’ll keep their flavor for two years. Nigella is stocked by spice merchants and by Indian and Middle Eastern markets.
Harvesting: The seed capsules are gathered as they ripen but before they burst, then dried and lightly crushed so that the seeds can be removed easily. Nigella seeds are small, matte black, and teardrop-shaped. Their surface is rough.
Nigella is sprinkled on rolls, flatbreads, and savory pastries, alone or with cumin or sesame. Cooks in Bengal combine it with mustard cumin, seeds, fennel, and fenugreek in the local spice mixture, panch phoron, which gives a distinctive taste to legume and vegetable dishes. Nigella is used in pilafs, kormas, and in pickles, and curries elsewhere in India. In Iran, it’s a common pickling spice used for vegetables and fruit. It is good with root vegetables. It adds depth to a Middle-Eastern potato or mixed vegetable omelette when ground with coriander and cumin.
Whole seeds: Indian cooks often fry or dry-roast the seeds to develop their flavor before sprinkling them over salads and vegetarian dishes.
Good with breads, green and root vegetables, legumes, rice. Combines well with cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, fennel, savory, thyme, coriander, pepper, cumin, ginger, turmeric. Essential to panch phoron.