On a chilly, winter day, when the house is filled with the opulent odor of baking cardamom bread, it's easy to understand why fierce wars were once waged over spices.
Cardamom lends a rich flavor to savory and dessert dishes alike -- it has charisma, if you like. It's an integral part of many Indian curries, and is very popular in Arab countries where it's used in coffee. But here in America, it's not on every cook's spice shelf.
Why? Well, perhaps the cost is prohibitive. The first time I encountered cardamom at a food co-op, I thought there had been a pricing error. The price per ounce was several times that of cinnamon or nutmeg (vaguely analogous spices).
But when I opened the jar, the wonderful fragrance fairly bowled me over. It was mysterious, provocative, romantic. How much cardamom do you need, anyway? Like most spices, it's best to buy small quantities of fresh quality to ensure potency. I got some and have been hooked ever since.
Cardamom (sometimes spelled cardamon) is a member of the ginger family. It grows wild and also is cultivated in warm climates, notably in southern India and Central America. The small seed pods, which ripen at various times, are harvested from the plant every few weeks. When dried in the sun or by applied heat, they're pale green or brown.
Cardamom is available in several forms: a fine, fawn-colored powder; a greenish pod, which can be used whole or "bruised" in basmati rice or poultry dishes; and a dark, hairy sort of pod. The last can be extracted from the finished dish so as not to alarm the delicate diner. You can often find cardamom pods and seeds at health food or Indian grocers, and the ground version is widely available at supermarkets.
The distinguishing characteristic of cardamom is its franklexotic flavor. It's definitely worth a try. For cardamom fans and initiates, here are some of my favorite recipes.
This rounded loaf, or boule, makes a pretty gift and is delicious with marmalade.
6 1/2 -7 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/4 cups very warm (125-135 degrees) water
2 packages fast-acting yeast
1/2 cup softened shortening
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cardamom
2 tablespoons melted butter
Combine 3 cups flour, salt, yeast and the water; mix well. Add shortening, honey and cardamom and remaining flour, then knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes until satiny and smooth. Place in an oiled bowl and cover; allow to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. Punch down and divide in half; shape each half in a ball, or boule. Place the boules 3 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet; cover and let rise for 50 minutes. Meantime, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Score the risen loaves diagonally and brush with melted butter; bake for 40 minutes or until browned.
Cardamom roast chicken stuffed with dates
1 cup pitted, chopped dates
1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cardamom
juice of one lemon
1 medium-sized roasting chicken
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Saute chopped onion briefly in butter, remove from heat and add dates, bread crumbs and 1 teaspoon of the cardamom. Add half the lemon juice, salt and pepper; stuff chicken with mixture.
Sprinkle outside of chicken with the remaining cardamom and a pinch of salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan and bake for 2 hours, or until brown. Sprinkle with remaining lemon juice and serve.
Cold cardamom chicken
FOR THE CHICKEN:
6 boned, skinned chicken breasts
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (see note)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
4 green cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
FOR THE SAUCE:
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 cup heavy cream or yogurt
vTC Blend yogurt, garam masala, turmeric and salt. Rub chicken with the mixture and marinate for 1 hour.
Heat stock with cardamom pods and bay leaf. Put in chicken; simmer 20 minutes.
Strain off stock; set chicken aside to cool.
Melt butter, whisk in flour until smooth. Add garam masala, turmeric and a pinch of salt. Whisk in reserved stock; bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in mace, cardamom and cream or yogurt.
Spoon sauce over chicken and chill before serving.
Note: Garam masala is a blend of spices available at ethnic, specialty and gourmet shops.
Coffee of the sultans
Brew a pot of strong coffee, add honey and evaporated milk or heavy cream to taste; whisk in 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom per 1/2 cup. As an alternative, use liquid cardamom flavoring, available in small vials in gourmet shops.