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A&E >  Food

The Seasonal Kitchen: Seeds of wisdom

Unlock the power of caraway and you’ll uncover a world of new flavors

It took some time before I came to fully appreciate the intense flavor of caraway. As a child I remember its strange and jarring sharpness in rye bread – and, at the time, couldn’t decipher whether this was a good or bad thing.

But one thing was for sure: It got my attention.

Caraway, no wallflower, stood out and made me stop and identify it.

Although caraway can pair well with other spices, it’s rarely meek about it. This is what I’ve come to love about it. It makes food more interesting.

This underused spice gives dishes an element of surprise and flavor. Earthy and warm, with hints of dill and anise, it adds complexity and depth to both savory and sweet dishes.

“Caraway is a staple for all professional kitchens,” said Wandering Table chef and co-owner Ryan Stoy. “Its versatility is endless and its flavor unique. It can be the go-to ingredient that you are missing – that one ingredient that you know, but can’t quite place – bringing dishes to their next level.” 

Stoy likes caraway for its “nutty, rustic and aromatic character. It complements well with game, root vegetables and spice profiles such as mustard and juniper. I find myself wanting to use more and more of it because the flavor can be presented in a variety of ways – very strong, very subtle, playful, supportive and, in some dishes, it can completely be the focal flavor,” he said. 

In Stoy’s recipe for Aquavit Trout Lox and Kale Salad, trout is cured with salt, caraway seeds and Aquavit. Caraway seeds are pickled and tossed with the chopped kale, forming a flavorful base for the salad. The infused trout grav lox is sliced and placed on top of the kale, and a flavorful and refreshing Lemon Shaved Ice “Vinaigrette” is spooned over the top. Each salad is served with a smear of lemony mascarpone cream.

Legend has it that caraway seeds were mixed into “love” potions by the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, who believed the spice held the power to keep wandering lovers from straying. It was thought that caraway would prevent things from getting lost or stolen and that if you tucked some into your possessions they would be protected from theft. 

Dating back to 3000 BC, caraway is one of the oldest cultivated spices. Ancient Egyptians buried their dead with caraway, believing it would ward off evil spirits. It was also used medicinally in ancient Greece and Rome as way to clean teeth and aid in digestion.

Caraway is native to Northern Africa, Western Asia and Europe. Today, it is commercially grown in Turkey, India, Egypt, Canada and several European countries, including Holland and Finland, which grows almost 30 percent of the world’s supply.

Most of us associate caraway with German-speaking countries, where it’s found in rye bread, kraut, cabbage and meat dishes. But many other regions have it incorporated into their cuisine. In North Africa, caraway is blended with chilies and garlic to make the famous fiery condiment harissa, which is used on everything from couscous to meat and vegetables. This recipe for harissa is smoky, spicy and rich. Serve it over roasted vegetables, eggs or meat, or swirl a little into soup for a little heat and flavor kick. 

Zhug, another spicy condiment – originally from Yemen and now an Israeli staple – is a hot, flavorful, green sauce made with green chilies and herbs and often flavored with caraway seeds. Caraway is used in a Nigerian snack called chin chin, and sometimes included in versions of India’s garam masala spice blends and chutneys. It’s the key ingredient in Aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit flavored with spices and citrus peel, as well as Kummel, a sweet liqueur originally distilled in Holland but now primarily produced in Russia. Caraway can also often be found in smoked cheeses from Scandinavia and Holland. 

When cooking with caraway, try using it in its whole seed form and giving it a quick toast in a dry skillet on the stove to release its flavor. Pair caraway with rich meaty dishes to counterbalance the fattiness of pork, duck and richer cuts of beef. Use it when making sausages or pastrami from scratch – or in braised brisket or pot roast for something different. It loves to be paired with anything pickled, smoked, or rich. 

In this recipe for Smoked Cheddar Rye Scones, whole toasted caraway seeds and caramelized onions add warmth and earthy flavor. These buttery, flaky, smoky scones are easy to make and perfect with soups and stews. 

A simple and healthful way to incorporate caraway seeds into your weeknight repertoire is to add them to roasting vegetables. I especially love them paired with cauliflower, but they’re also great with carrots, parsnips and Brussels sprouts. In this roasted cauliflower recipe, caraway seeds and coriander seeds complement each other deliciously – along with garlic and lemon zest. Vegan and gluten free, this is one of my go-to weeknight side dishes because it comes together easily. 

Aquavit Trout Lox & Kale Salad with Pickled Caraway Seeds, Lemon Shaved Ice “Vinaigrette” and Honey Whipped Mascarpone

From Ryan Stoy of Wandering Table, Spokane

2 quarts of freshly rinsed chopped kale, preferably baby kale, ribs removed

Pickled seeds (recipe below)

1/2 cup Honey Whipped Mascarpone (recipe below) 

1 fillet of thinly sliced caraway Trout Grav Lox (recipe below) 

1/2 cup Lemon Shaved Ice Vinaigrette (recipe below) 

Toss the kale and 3 tablespoons of pickled seeds in a small bowl. Using a large spoon, scoop about 2 tablespoons of the honey whipped mascarpone into a spoon. Plop the whipped mascarpone onto each of four chilled salad plates, just slightly left of and above the center of the plate. Using the back of the spoon, drag the mixture away from the center and in a counter-clockwise motion.

Divide kale mixture and place into the center of each plate. Evenly distribute lox over each bed of kale. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of lemon shaved ice on top of each salad.

Serve with fresh cracked black pepper and enjoy immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

Trout Grav Lox

From Ryan Stoy of Wandering Table,

2 cups kosher salt

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon dill, fresh

1/2 teaspoon juniper berries

1/2 teaspoon toasted caraway seeds  

1 ounce Aquavit liquor (can sub your favorite botanical gin or anise based alcohol)

4 skin-on trout fillets, pin bones removed (ask your local fish monger to do this for you)

Mix everything together but the Aquavit liquor and trout fillets.

Cover fillets in salt mixture and wrap with cheesecloth. Pour Aquavit over the trout once it is wrapped. (If cheesecloth is unavailable, place fillets in a gallon-size baggie with the skin side down, and pour Aquavit over salt-covered fish.)

Place fish on flat surface. Weight the lox by placing a vessel – such as a large, un-opened juice container – and let it sit, refrigerated, for 48 hours. Wipe off cure and lightly rinse. Dry fillets and slice thin to very thin for serving.

Note: Trout lox should be slightly firm to the touch with the flesh having slightly darkened but gotten more vibrant in color. This recipe for lox can be used for salmon, bass, steelhead and other similar fish.

Yield: 4 servings

Lemon Shaved Ice “Vinaigrette”

From Ryan Stoy of Wandering Table

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon chopped shallots or onion

1 garlic clove

1 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper 

1 cup canola oil

6 tablespoons olive oil

Using a blender, combine all ingredients but oil and blend very thoroughly. Slowly add in oil until emulsion forms. If vinaigrette thickens too quickly before all oil is added, thin out with small amounts of water.

Place the emulsified vinaigrette into a plastic container that is just big enough to let the vinaigrette sit a quarter- to a half-inch deep, and place uncovered in a freezer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, whisk and vigorously stir the vinaigrette. Repeat this process in 20-minute increments until the vinaigrette forms a runny “granita”-like consistency. When you are ready to serve the dish, shave some of the “ice” by using the edge of a metal spoon until you get about 2 tablespoons’ worth.

Yield: 1 ½ cups

Pickled Mustard and Caraway Seeds

From Ryan Stoy of Wandering Table

1/4 cup mustard seeds

1/4 cup caraway seeds

2 cups water

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar 

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tablespoon


Place all the ingredients in a small sauce pan and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes or until tender. 

Honey Whipped Mascarpone

From Ryan Stoy of Wandering Table

8 ounces mascarpone or cream cheese

2 tablespoons sour cream

1/2 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or stand mixer, and mix until combined, light and fluffy, scraping down sides as needed. 

Rye Caraway Scones with Smoked Cheddar and Onions

Adapted from the Jan. 4, 2012, New York Times recipe for “Savory Scones with Onion, Currants and Caraway” 

8 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 large red onion, peeled, halved through the root and thinly sliced crosswise

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Pinch, plus 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided

1 cup rye flour

1 cup flour 

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup sour cream, plus more for brushing

1 large egg

1 teaspoon honey

1 cup grated smoked cheddar

Flaky sea salt, like fleur de sel or Maldon, for sprinkling (optional)

Put the butter in the freezer until solid, at least 30 to 45 minutes.

In a large, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the caraway seeds until fragrant, about 1 minute. Set aside.

Sauté onions in skillet on medium-high heat with the oil and stir for 2 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low, and continue cooking until tender and caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add a pinch of the fine sea salt and allow to cool. 

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon fine salt and caraway seeds.

In a separate bowl, whisk together sour cream, egg and honey.

Remove the butter from the freezer. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate a third of the butter. Gently toss it into the flour mixture. Repeat with the remaining butter, adding about a third at a time.

Stir the wet mixture into the flour-butter mixture. Stir in the onions and grated cheddar. Stir dough until it just comes together.

On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick round. Cut into eight wedges. Transfer dough to the prepared baking sheet, allowing 1 inch between each scone. Brush the tops of the scones with a little sour cream and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

Bake scones until the undersides are golden brown but the tops are just golden, 15 to 17 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving. They are best served warm.

Yield: 8 hearty scones

Roasted Cauliflower with Caraway and Coriander

From Sylvia Fountaine of Feasting at Home

1 head cauliflower

6 cloves garlic finely, minced

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Pepper, to taste

Pinch chili flakes

Zest of half of a lemon

2 to 3 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh, chopped Italian parsley , for garnish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Trim leaves off cauliflower, and keeping the stem, slice cauliflower into ½- to ¾-inch thick slices.

Place cauliflower and minced garlic into a bowl and sprinkle coriander seeds, caraway seeds, salt, pepper, chili flakes, lemon zest and olive oil. Toss to coat well. Grease baking sheet, or use parchment, and spread out cauliflower mixture and roast in oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until fork tender and lightly browned. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle with chopped Italian parsley and a little more lemon zest.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Harissa Paste

From Sylvia Fountaine of Feasting at Home

4 ounces assorted dried chilies (mild, medium, hot, smoked)

6 to 8 garlic cloves

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

3 tablespoon olive oil

1  3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)

Bring chilies to a boil in a large pot of water, turn heat off, cover, let sit 1 hour or overnight. Toast spices and grind them. When chilies are rehydrated, remove seeds and stems. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until desired consistency. To store, place in sealable jar and drizzle olive oil over top after each use, to preserve. If covered with ¼ inch of oil, it will last 1-2 months in the fridge. 

Yield: 1 ½ cups

Easy Beet and Cabbage Kraut with Caraway

From Sylvia Fountaine of Feasting at Home

3 cups cabbage, finely sliced

1 cup grated beets

1/8 to 1/4 cup sliced onion (optional)

1 garlic clove grated (optional)

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed

1 cabbage leaf

Water, if needed

Place cabbage, beets and onion and garlic, if using, along with caraway seeds in a bowl and massage with kosher salt. Let sit on the counter, mixing occasionally, for 1 to 2 hours, until cabbage has wilted and released a little water.

Place cabbage-beet mixture and all of its juices in an ultra-clean Mason jar, pack mixture down with a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon. Cover with a cabbage leaf. Pack it down once more. Cover it with a cloth, or the lid with a little opening. You want it to able to breathe a bit.

Let it sit on the counter for 24 hours, occasionally pressing down on the cabbage, compressing. After 24 hours, if there is not enough liquid to cover the cabbage, mix 1 teaspoon salt with 1 cup water, and ONLY add enough to bring the water level to top of the cabbage. (You will not need to use the whole cup of water.)

Then leave on the counter for 3 to 4 days, occasionally pressing down on the cabbage. Then place it in the fridge. After it’s chilled, give it a taste.

Note: If desired, an additional 1 cup of cabbage or grated carrot can be used in place of the grated beets.

The Seasonal Kitchen is a monthly feature. Local chef Sylvia Fountaine writes about seasonal foods she’s making in her kitchen, sharing recipes and a passion for local foods. Fountaine is a caterer and former co-owner of Mizuna restaurant. She writes about home cooking on her blog, Feasting at Home,

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