Ajwain is one of those crossover ingredients in my book. Sure, it’s grown in parts of South Asia and is found throughout that cuisine. But its flavor is actually a lot like thyme. I like to sneak it into classic French dishes or soups, and no one is ever the wiser.
You may have seen ajwain seeds labeled as ajowan, bishop’s weed, or even carum seeds, and it’s actually a member of the parsley family. The leaves are not really used in cooking, and the seeds bear a close resemblance to celery seeds. The seeds contain high levels of thymol, thus their thyme-like flavor. But they have a slight bitterness, even a sharp peppery bite to them.
They go incredibly well with vegetables, lentils and starches. I’m partial to dry-roasting them or even frying them first. It brings out the herbaceous quality in them and mellows most of the bitterness. To me, these seeds were meant to be paired with mushrooms. I make a mean mushroom soup speckled with ajwain – warm, creamy, and complex. I actually am going to do a Southern French pizza-like tart, called a pissaladière, with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and ajwain seeds in the next few weeks and will post that recipe. They are also delicious with roast potatoes or in a green lentil side dish with tomatoes.
This definitely has to be one of the more versatile spices out there. My only caution would be to use sparingly and then add as you see fit. A little goes a long way…