Something about the chilly weather and the upcoming holidays has me craving cardamom, that warming, festive, wonderful spice so popular in Scandinavian baking, and in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines.
It’s probably all about the masala chai. I find it hard to resist that steaming milky goodness, with its intriguing blend of spicy and sweet. The first time I encountered homemade masala chai—I wish I could say it was during a trip to India, but it was in fact here in New York—was a revelation, both in the tea’s richly complex, peppery taste, exotic yet comforting, and in its intoxicating aromas, redolent of faraway lands.
There are myriad versions of masala chai, and while I am fond of all the spices that can be used in it—cinnamon, pepper, ginger, fennel, star anise, cloves—it’s the cardamom that sets my heart aflutter. A member of the ginger family, and simultaneously citrusy, floral, and woodsy, cardamom is intensely flavorful and fragrant, and its distinct notes seem to rise above the other ingredients in the milky tea. (So perhaps it’s not too surprising that the potent spice has been used in perfumes since ancient times.)
Regardless of the form it takes—cracked or whole pods, or ground—a little bit of cardamom goes a long way.
This season, I can’t wait to cook with cardamom in pudding, custard, cookies, and gingerbread. I’m excited about using it in Swedish Cardamom Rolls, and with fruits, as in Clementines in Ginger Syrup and Sautéed Bananas with Cardamom Praline Sauce. Finally, there will be rubs, and cardamom-infused meats, like Lamb Chops with Cumin, Cardamom, and Lime; and Black Pepper Spice-Rubbed Beef Tenderloin.