The first few weeks of each year is highlighted by scads of articles on food trends. Rare is the article that gives me pause to stop and say, “Wow, really? I guess I could see that.” Well, that is exactly what happened a few weeks back when the trending reports from last year’s San Francisco Fancy Foods Show started to hit the media outlets. Out from that show came a surprising little notation: cardamom. Apparently cardamom is about to have its moment, popping up in everything conventional from confections and candies to even tea. I guess some of us have cardamom in our spice drawers, a forgotten bottle once bought for a single use recipe. But there are a handful of clever uses for this aromatic and fragile spice that may make you take a second look at cardamom. At least while it’s trending this year.
Cardamom has long been an addition to tea and Indian coffee, and is probably how most know such a spice exists. The third most-expensive spice in the world (following behind saffron and vanilla), it is a fragile spice, that at times can be difficult to work with. The pods are papery and contain tiny seeds (the spice). When split open the seeds scatter, then to use them they must be gathered and then ground before using. However, once the seeds are ground, both aroma and flavor dissipate quickly, making it hard to store in a ground form.
The most common variety is the Green Cardamom, brown (sometimes known as black) cardamom is also popular and widely available. Hailing from the ginger family, the intensely aromatic green cardamom is complex with hints of ginger, lemon, lemon verbena, and a bit of floral sweetness. The brown cardamom aromatics are similar but with a distinctive hint of smoke and mint.
What makes cardamom really so appealing though is its versatility. It provides a warm sweet spice to coffee cakes or pastry (by adding Green Pods or grinding the cardamom seeds) or transforms savory dishes with its addition to other spices to create aromatic blends, such as Garam Masala, for curries or Ras el Hanout for roasting meat), and then be ground and added with coffee or tea leaves for a distinctive and flavorful experience.
But in my estimation, if you really want to be a trend-setter, you’ll grab your cardamom and start combining it with your stand-by salt and pepper. Combine them and start using the combination to season meats, fish and poultry. Then, when you turn your attention to baking, combine your cardamom with a bit of lavender, or rose petals and add in to neutral platforms such as sugar cookies, or shortbreads; pound cakes and chocolate ganache. As you get more comfortable with the intensity of this spice you’ll begin to see the endless possibilities and combinations. Cardamom loves anything that is aromatic, so when you combine it with other aromatics your chances for success go up exponentially. Just take care not to go with a heavy hand. If ever there was a case to be made for subtlety and sleight of hand, this is it. A little goes a long way. So does balance.
I keep a bottle Parfum de Sel in my baker’s basket for just that reason. Made by my go-to purveyor of fine spices, salts, herbs and teas, The Spice and Tea Exchange, this extremely fragrant salt blend combines the intense aromatics of lavender and cardamom with sea salt. As a finishing salt, or when used in baking applications, such a shortbreads, pound cakes or cookies, it’s the subtle blend of aromatics that make this salt work.
A note about that bottle you have in your drawer: cardamom should be richly aromatic and intense when ground. If you have a bottle on hand you need to determine whether it needs to be replaced before using it. Open the bottle, or crush come pods, and wait a moment. If your spice is fresh the rich aromatics will find its way to your nose within seconds. If you have to go in search of the aroma, that is to say you have to hold the bottle up to your nose and smell; it’s time to replace it. Buy high quality, low quantity when it comes to cardamom. I recommend The Spice and Tea Exchange, as your best source for quality and price.
Recipe: Pistachio Cardamom Macaroons
Makes about 4 dozen
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided use
2 cups slivered (or whole) almonds
1 cup shelled pistachios
½ cup flour
2 teaspoons TSTE Cardamom Seed, ground fine in a spice grinder
1 ½ teaspoons TSTE Red Rose Petals crushed and then ground in spice grinder with cardamom seeds (optional)
5 egg whites
Preheat oven to 400° F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place a large mixing bowl in the refrigerator to chill.
Place almonds, pistachios, and 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until the nuts are ground to a powder and the mixture is just beginning to bind (look for the mixture moving up the sides of the work bowl). Scrape the sides of the bowl, and then add the flour and the ground cardamom and rose petals, if using. Pulse to combine. Add the remaining confectioners’ sugar. Turn the food processor on and add the egg whites. Process until a thick tacky dough begins to form.
Remove the mixing bowl from the refrigerator. Turn the dough out into the chilled bowl and with a sturdy wooden spoon mix until the dough is well combined. The dough will be tacky and thick. Prepare a finger bowl of ice water.
Spoon the dough onto the prepared sheet in about 1/2-tablespoon mounds, spacing the mounds about 1 ½ inches apart. Once the cookie sheet is filled with mounds, dip fingers and a kitchen teaspoon (not a measuring spoon) into the iced water. Form mounds into rounded discs about 1 1/2-inches in diameter, dipping fingers and spoon into ice water as needed to make working with dough easier.
Bake cookies 1 sheet at a time until cookies are dry and cracked on the tops, about 10 minutes. Slide parchment to a cooling rack and allow cookies to cool on parchment. Remove cookies from parchment. Repeat with remaining batter, using new parchment for each batch.
Store completely cooled cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature.
Recipe and Photo Copyright © 2012 by Donna Marie Desfor and There’s a Chef in My Kitchen, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2012 WITF, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desforback to top