What is a polynym? One of the definitions is “one of multiple names for the same thing.” For example, firefly and lightning bug are alternative names for the same bioluminescent insect. Great, you say, but I thought this was a food blog, not an esoteric discussion of linguistics and entomology.
You’re right, this blog is about the foods we make at home, and one of our recent favorites was the rolls we served with our Thanksgiving meal. The seeds we put on top of the rolls were sesame and charnushka (also spelled charnuska). Now we suspect everyone is familiar with sesame, but charnushka? Well, charnushka is not just a seed and a spice, but a polynym, too. You may be familiar with one of charnushka’s many other names. Charnushka is also called onion seed, nigella seed, roman coriander, black cumin seed, black caraway seed, calonji (also spelled kaloji and kalonji). This polynymous spice actually comes from a flower native to Asia, not an onion, caraway, coriander, or cumin variety. The scientific name for the plant is Nigella sativa.
Charnushka is an extremely versatile spice in its own right. As the website allspicerack.com indicates, “It has a broad flavor profile that is peppery but also a little sweet, slightly bitter, smoky, and nutty, with similarities to thyme and a touch of licorice.” It is best to pan toast the seeds before using them. The toasting enhances the flavor by releasing oils from the seeds.
We found this recipe for excellent dinner rolls from the Spice House website. The link is here, and the recipe is attributed to Lily N. Or should we have called them “supper rolls?” Never mind. We found the dough mixed well in our bread maker. Maldon salt flakes worked well with the seeds on top of the rolls. We also list the ingredients and directions below.
1 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
½ cup honey
2¼ tsp (1 packet), yeast
½ cup butter
1½ tsp kosher salt
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp charnushka seeds
1 tsp white sesame seeds
1 tsp coarse Mediterranean sea salt
Combine the warm water, milk, honey and yeast in a medium bowl. Allow the yeast to proof for 5 minutes. The mixture should look bubbly.
Then, add yeast mixture, butter, flour and salt to your mixer bowl. Add salt to the opposite side of the bowl from your yeast mixture to keep that yeast alive!
Using your dough hook, knead the dough until combined about 3-5 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly greased work surface and shape into a rectangle about 1 inch thick cut into uniformly sized pieces.
Form each piece into a ball pinching the seams on the underside making a smooth top. Transfer dough to a greased 12 inch cast iron pan. Give the rolls a bit of room to rise.
Allow to rise at room temperature for about 2 hours or until they have almost doubled in size and are touching. Sprinkle the tops of the rolls with seeds, white sesame seeds, and Portuguese sea salt.
Preheat oven to 375. Bake for about 20 minutes. Brush with butter and extra salt and seeds if you like!
Makes 12 rolls.