Recipes with Cardamom

| December/January 1996

  • The varied forms of cardamom and “false” cardamom include, from bottom to top, ground and whole green pods, husked seeds, pods of a Chinese medicinal cardamom, white pods, grains of paradise, pods and seeds of Ethiopian cardamom, and black pods.
  • A rare blooming of the author’s 6-foot cardamom plant caught her by surprise. Expecting the white-and-violet flowers of Elettaria cardamomum, she discovered that the plant on her patio more likely belongs to a different genus altogether.
  • The complex yet delicate flavor of cardamom turns Roast Pork with Pears and Basmati Rice Pilaf into a feast.
  • Capture the flavor of a Scandinavian Christmas with the rich taste of Glogg and Kaffekage.
  • A widely held belief is that cardamom will give your mouth a fresh, clean taste. In fact, cardamom remains an element of the Indian after-dinner ritual of chewing spices to stimulate digestion and freshen breath.

Cardamom Recipes: 

Pea Soup
Roast Pork with Pears
Seed Cake
Arabic Coffee
Basmati Rice Pilaf 

Like tiny Christmas boxes, cardamom’s apple green husks hint at a treasure inside—the fragrant seeds that Indians call “the queen of spices”. The name suits both cardamom’s regal price and its alluring aroma. Few spices cost so much. Few have such a complex bouquet, one that is simultaneously floral and camphorous, smooth yet pungent, sweet and warm yet clean and refreshing.

Unfortunately, cardamom’s high price has relegated it to a minor role in the world’s cuisines. Most of this spice is used in a limited array of traditional, celebrative foods—Swedish Yule glogg, holiday breads and sweets, Arabic ­coffee served in thimble-sized cups as a ­gesture of hospitality, Indian masala tea and banquet pilafs. Don’t let cardamom’s cost and limited range of classic dishes dissuade you from trying this fragrant spice. A little of it goes a long way, and its flavoring potential is enormous.

True Cardamom

Although most of us think of cardamom as a single spice, the word is applied to two groups of fragrant members of the ginger family. One, called true cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum and its cultivars, produces the expensive green or white pods you’ll find at your grocery or gourmet store. The other is a heterogeneous group of plants belonging primarily to the genera Amomum, Alpinia, and Aframomum. The seeds of these “false” cardamoms are used as cheap regional seasonings, folk medicines, and adulterants or extenders of the “true” spice. See page 34 for more about these plants.

True cardamom is a majestic plant with long, lance-shaped leaves. Depending on variety and cultivation, the plants grow 6 to 15 feet tall. Like its spicy relatives (ginger, turmeric, and galanga), it is a tender perennial native to the Asian tropics and requires similar tropical conditions: fertile, well-drained soil, heat, and abundant water (ideally, an annual rainfall exceeding 100 inches). The plants also require shade and wind protection, so most commercial cardamom is grown in semicleared jungle plots or on plantations intercropped with coffee trees, tea shrubs, betel palms, or black pepper vines.

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