I was delighted to get a letter from my sister-in-law Tonia that included a special gift: Nigella flower seeds to grow in my garden. Nigella flowers bloom a gorgeous pale blue, followed by pretty pods full of crunchy little edible seeds. These have a unique somewhere-between fennel and nutmeg flavor used world-round in cooking. In fact, Tonia’s letter included memories of the nigella-sprinkled bread sticks her Armenian aunt used to make. Sometimes called black cumin, black caraway or simply “black seeds” and labeled “kalonji” in the Assyrian market near my home, nigella pairs nicely with sesame seed. I prefer crunchy thin crisps over doughy bread sticks with my salads, so I’ve made these crackers very thin. The tiny bit of yeast in the dough makes them bubble up nicely in spots as you bake them, for an even crisper crunch. Brushed with a bit of olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, these are very good as a snack, or, with salad.
FOR THE CRACKER CRISPS:
• 1 cup warm (tepid) water
• 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast granules (just about 1/2 a packet)
• 1 Tbsp sugar
• 2 Tbsp vegetable oil; plus 2 tsp for greasing bowl
• 2 1/2to 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus a bit to dust your work top
• 1 1/2tsp salt
• 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
• 1 Tbsp nigella seeds
FOR THE SALAD:
• 2 cups fresh young arugula leaves
• 1 small cucumber peeled and cut into chunks
• 1 large heirloom tomato, cut into wedges
• 1/2 cup pitted Greek olive mix
• 1/2 bell pepper, cored, seeds removed and sliced into strips
• 1/2 cup feta cheese, cut into cubes
• 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
• Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
• Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
NIGELLA + SESAME CRACKER CRISPS WITH SIMPLE SALAD
MAKE CRISPS: In a large, shallow bowl, sprinkle yeast over tepid water and stir to dissolve. Add sugar, 2ó cups of flour and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and gathers into a mass. Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead dough, turning and folding and pushing dough with the heels of your hands. Add small amounts of flour as you knead if the dough is sticky. Continue kneading about 10 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Shape dough into a ball. Oil bowl with 2 tsp of oil; place ball of dough in bowl, turning once to coat. Cover bowl lightly with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in volume.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Punch down dough. Divide into four pieces. Working one piece at a time, roll a ball of dough into a very large, very thin rectangle (about one feet. x two feet) Using a fluted pastry wheel cutter, cut dough into long thin strips. Line a sheet pan with parchment and fill with the strips. Brush each with oil and sprinkle with nigella and sesame seeds and salt. Bake for 10 minutes in 400-degree oven, watching carefully to ensure strips do not over brown. Cool strips on a rack. Repeat process with each ball of dough.
ASSEMBLE SALAD: Place arugula in serving bowls. Top with all other ingredients. Drizzle with oil and lemon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.