Nigella seeds (aka black seeds) are beautiful and intriguing. At first glance they are easily confused with sesame seeds because of their similar size and color; a closer look reveals that Nigella seeds have a pretty, three dimensional, teardrop-like shape instead of being relatively flat like sesame seeds. Related to buttercups, they take their name from the lovely-named Nigella sativa plant that they come from, but they have a multitude of aliases/misnomers, including Schwarz kummel, fitch, fennel flower, nutmeg flower, Roman coriander, black caraway, onion seed, black cumin, kaljeera, kalonji, and my personal favorite, ḥabbat al barakah, meaning “the blessed seed” in Arabic.
As for food being medicine, it doesn’t get much better than black seeds. They are revered in Islam medicinally, and it is said that the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) once stated that black seeds are “a remedy for all diseases except death”. There has been much research on Nigella seeds that has demonstrated their many medicinal uses, including their immune-supporting, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-asthmatic, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antibiotic, and anti-histamine effects, to name a few.
Although these seeds are more commonly used medicinally, they also have culinary uses. They make a tasty addition to salads and stir-fries, and they look beautiful on top of baked bread. Nigella seeds have an interesting flavor – peppery, nutty, smoky, slightly bitter, and strangely, a little bit like oregano. Because of their unique flavor I thought they would be a nice addition to crackers…but I didn’t want to make just any old crackers.
For a while now I’ve wanted to make cheese crisps, which are basically small rounds of baked crispy cheese. And oh yes, they are as delicious as they sound. :)
Cheese Crisps with Chives & Nigella Seeds (Adapted from Joyful Abode)
(Yield: About 3 servings)
3 oz cheese (I used a mix of Italian Fontina and Parmigiano-Reggiano), grated (about 1 cup grated)
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 teaspoon Nigella seeds
Pinch fresh ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat liners.
Toss together all ingredients in a medium bowl. Use a 1 tablespoon scoop to measure the cheese mixture and drop it into piles on the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 to 3 inches between each pile. Slightly flatten each pile of cheese. Bake 5-8 minutes, until cheese is light golden brown and bubbling. Let the crisps cool for 3 minutes on the baking sheets before using a thin metal spatula to transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil; they will harden as they cool.
(If you want to shape the crisps into little bowls or “chip” shapes, you can drape them over a small glass or the side of a bowl while they’re still warm – just be sure to let them sit for 3 minutes on the tray before draping.)