One of the best parts about revisiting recipes from previous years is seeing how little changes can make a big difference. Take, for example, this Spicy Hunan Beef with Cumin dish. The version from June 2010 involved fresh red chilis with crushed red pepper flakes. Over the weekend, I tweaked the recipe with dried red chilis with chili oil and a bit of chili sauce. The result was an even better dish, with a hint of smokiness from the dried red chilis and chili oil that the first version didn't have. It'll be my go-to version from now on.
When I moved into my new apartment a few months ago, the first thing I did was take inventory of the cupboards. (The previous tenants had left a decent supply of spices, oils, and condiments.) The second thing I did, even though it was almost 10pm by the time I was done unpacking, was march over the Trader Joe's and buy ground cumin. I had not planned on cooking that night. It just made me sleep better, knowing my kitchen was no longer egregiously understocked.
Other than sea salt, cumin is the spice that I cannot with without. If I were only allowed two spices on a deserted island (with an otherwise fully-stocked kitchen), and had to choose between cumin and a pepper grinder, the former might win out. Just a whiff of toasted cumin seeds brings back a flood of memories of the best foods I have ever eaten: melty lamb shoulder from a Yemeni restaurant in Brooklyn, late night beef kebabs from a street vendor in Beijing, or pilau from an Afghani restaurant near Boston. Read More