Cardamom

Cardamom

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

At our local Indian takeaway, there is always a pretty little brass dish of breath-freshening seeds and spices on the counter for customers to nibble on while waiting for their chicken vindaloo. In addition to the more familiar fennel seeds and whole cloves, tiny black cardamom seeds are almost always included in this mix. They are amazingly potent, and crunching them between the teeth releases a powerful citrussy flavour, with more than a hint of cleansing camphor. It is easy to see why they are chewed throughout India and in Arab countries as a digestive, and to sweeten the breath.

In western countries cardamom is still considered fairy exotic – a true spice of the Orient. They are, in fact, a member of the ginger family, and while they are native to India, they also grow in other tropical regions such as Asia, South America and even the South Pacific. We probably know them best for the refined and exotic flavour they add to Indian curries, dhals and rice dishes. But cardamoms also feature in Persian cuisine, and are an important ingredient in the bolder spice mixes of North Africa and Arabia. They add a curious, slightly camphorous undertone to the complex blend ras el hannout used throughout Morocco. In Yemen cardamoms are added to relishes such as the fiery zhoug and the musty, mysterious hilbeh.

Cardamoms also work deliciously well in sweet dishes and hot drinks. All around the Middle East they add a sweet perfume to Arabic coffee, while in some African countries they are added to both tea and coffee, usually combined with other spices such as cloves, cinnamon and ginger. Cardamoms add an exquisite flavour to creamy milk-based puddings, custards and even ice-cream. They work equally well in spicy biscuits and cakes, or with honey as a marinade for poultry and duck.

Selecting and storing cardamom

There are two main varieties of cardamom – green and a larger less common black one. The green cardamom is the one you are most likely to encounter. These are readily available from most decent supermarkets, although we tend to purchase them from Middle Eastern or Indian grocers, as there they tend to be plumper and fresher. Some suppliers prefer to bleach green cardamoms and sell them as ‘white’ cardamom, but they loose some of their fragrance and flavour in the process.

As with all spices, it is really difficult to know when they were harvested and packed, or how long they have been sitting on the shelves. To ensure freshness it is best to buy them in small quantities and use them fairly quickly.

Cardamom seeds and ground cardamom powder are also available, which might seem more convenient, but the flavour is likely to be inferior to those you crack and grind yourself.

Using cardamom

Cardamom’s fragrant seeds are crowded into a pretty pale green pod, shaped like a miniature rugby ball. The pod may be used whole, or split to remove the seeds, which are usually ground into a fine aromatic powder.

To use whole cardamoms, crack them open (a heavy rolling pin does the trick nicely), and add them to rice pilafs, Moroccan tagines or sugar syrups with other flavourings such as cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. You will be doing your diners a favour if you fish these aromatics out before serving the dish – nobody wants to crack their teeth on a clove or end up with a mouthful of overpowering camphor.

Crushed to a fine powder, cardamom seeds are added to a range of spice mixes, particularly in North Africa and the Gulf States, where they are used to flavour savoury soups and stews. In the Middle East ground cardamom seeds are used more commonly to scent biscuits and cakes, custards and milky puddings, creams and ice-creams. Whack the pods with a rolling pin, or pierce them with the point of a sharp knife, and pry loose the tiny black seeds within. They can then be ground in a small coffee grinder or using a mortar and pestle. The essential oils in the seeds begin to dissipate very quickly once ground, so it is always better to grind them yourself at the last minute. The minute you start to pound away you will be rewarded by a waft of heady citrussy perfume, which will fill your kitchen with images of the Orient.

Recipes in this Chapter

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