Cardamom is precious: one of the three most expensive spices by weight, along with saffron and vanilla. Its aroma is distinct, yet hard to describe. It’s a little bit spicy, a touch citrusy, a slight bit sweet and anise-like—maybe. In concert with fellow warming spices cinnamon or nutmeg, it smells like Christmas to me, especially when brewed in Spiced Milk Tea. You’ll want to wrap your hands around a steaming glass, bend your head and drink in the intoxicating scent before taking a sip. A lactose-free version, just as heady, can be made with soy or almond milk.
Indigenous to India and popular in Scandinavia, cardamom may be yellow-green, white, or brown. The seeds can be separated from the pods; both components are assertive enough to flavor a braise. You can get the seeds pre-ground, which is what you’ll want if Cardamom Sour-Cream Waffles suit your fancy, but act fast. The seed loses its flavor much faster once liberated from the protective pod. Try the waffles for breakfast with tart fruit preserves, like lingonberry, as homage to Sweden.
This week I’m most excited to revisit Paul Grimes’s bold Lamb Spice Rub, featuring white cardamom pods toasted in a dry skillet. Coriander, cumin, yellow mustard, salt, ginger, hot pepper flakes and nutmeg round out a complex crew, creating the perfect complement to lean meat. And, of course, there’ll be cardamom for dessert. The ingredient is front and center in Cardamom Milk Pudding (above), a silken five-ingredient variation on muhallebi, a Middle Eastern delicacy.
What’s your favorite way to use cardamom?
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.) Continue reading
When I was a Smiths-listening teenage vegetarian, I had no problem getting the flavor of meat: I simply ignored—or, rather, simultaneously ignored and enjoyed—the bits of bacon in my mom’s green beans. Frankly, with all the bacon, fatback, and ham hocks used to season the vast majority of vegetables and legumes in my North Carolina hometown, I probably ate more pork products as a so-called vegetarian than I do now as an omnivore. After all, I had yet to really start cooking for myself or to discover my now favorite vegetarian meaterizer: Spanish smoked paprika.
I use pimentón, which is available in both sweet or hot varieties, to give the smoky flavor I associate with cured pork to a wide range of food, including kale, lentils, white beans, and eggs.
- Smoky Eggplant and Tomatoes
- Red-Lentil and Red-Pepper Pâté
- Smoky Spanish Tomato Soup
- Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds
- Spanish White Beans with Spinach
- Sweet Potato Purée with Smoked Paprika
Take a good whiff from a new bottle of cinnamon, cardamom, or cumin. It’s downright intoxicating, right? No wonder mankind was willing to risk so much to get a hold of spices. The ancient spice trade spurred the exploration of the world and with it the exchange of plants, animals, and ideas.
Today, purchasing spices and dried herbs only involves a trip to the supermarket. The problem now is that they’re commonly packed in containers that hold far more than most people will use before the contents age and lose their flavor. And where do most of us store our spices? In the worst possible place! Near the stove, where heat and light rapidly deteriorate them. After about six months of this abuse, they’re worthless.
Let’s instigate a new kind of spice trade, this one much more modest, but with the potential to strengthen your community. It’s like a CSA for trading spices and herbs among your neighbors. Join together, figure out the ones you commonly use, and pool your money. Buy one container of each, then divide up the goods. There are several handy small spice storage gadgets, from stackable containers to little glass jars with mouths wide enough to insert a measuring spoon. Pretty soon you’ll be sharing recipes, and then hosting progressive dinners. As the spice trade grows, you’ll be able to buy in bulk and save even more money. Best of all, you’ll be forging new bonds and having fun doing it.