There are some days that are just made for puddling contentedly round the kitchen; today is one of those days. Earlier this week, before the rain started falling incessantly, I took a walk down to the allotments to see how my plot was getting on. I hadn’t expected to find much so it was a pleasant surprise to see little clumps of bright yellow miniature daffodils trumpeting their joy at this glorious day. They were not at all bothered by the tangled mess of dried up flower husks that threatened to engulf them.
I’d forgotten all about the Nigella flowers I grew in my cut flower border last year, neglecting to pick the decorative seed-pods that add charm to winter arrangements. But this loss is also my gain because each inflated, papery capsules is full of tiny black seeds; I can’t resist giving one a gentle shake to hear them whisper their secrets. Soon these seeds will spill onto the soil and, with a little warmth and sunshine, they’ll grow rapidly and bear a profusion of pastel-coloured flowers in blues, pinks, lilacs and whites.
I grow two varieties of nigella. I grow N. damascena, or Love-in-a-mist, purely for the enchanting array of ruffled flowers that are ready to be picked in early summer. The foliage they grow from is exquisite; finely curled and fern-like it adds an air of magic to the garden. The resulting seed-pods are equally beautiful.
I also grow Nigella sativa which has lots of other names including; black cumin, black onion, kalonji, fennel flower to name but a few. I grow this for its edible seeds.
There’s some confusion as to whether the seeds of Love-in-a-mist are edible or not. I’ve tried them and lived to tell the tale so, in my opinion, yes they can be eaten, but there’s little point. The flavour is faint and leaves you nibbling and gurning, chasing tiny seed particles around your mouth trying hard to identify what it tastes like. It tastes sweet, a little like grape flavoured candy. It’s not for me I prefer the stronger stuff.
Nigella sativa produces seeds that are spicy, smoky and intensely flavoured; they smell of aniseed and taste of naan bread. If you think you’ve never eaten them but enjoy curry and naan then chances are you have; they are the little black dots that pepper the flat breads.
I’d love to visit Marrakesh and bake fresh bread in the rooftop ovens but instead I contented myself with my own kitchen and had a go at making fresh naan bread flavoured with garlic and nigella seeds. The dough was deliciously warm and silky, I could have played with it for hours, instead I knocked it flat and put it on a warm tray in a very hot oven for a few minutes. The bread rises a little in the heat and then it’s time to put it under a hot grill until it is lightly toasted. It smells delicious as its cooking; and it doesn’t last long once it’s served up warm on a plate!