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I Spice: Cardamom

The Lana Turner Milkshake has a certain spiciness; read on to get the recipe. (Monica Bhide)

In all my years of teaching cooking classes, one spice that always gets an extreme reaction is cardamom. People either love it or really don’t want to have anything to do with this very strong, aromatic and intense spice.

Green cardamom pods have small black seeds inside; both pod and seeds are edible. The flavor is lightly sweet. Black cardamom is quite fragrant and has a pungent, almost smoky flavor. It is used whole to season dishes, then removed before serving. (Some stores sell white cardamom, which is basically green cardamom that has been sun-bleached).

This spice finds a home not just in Indian cuisine but also in several other ancient cuisines around the world, including Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Ethiopian.

“I love cardamom because it is so unique: deep and perfumed, slightly resinous and sweet," says prolific food writer and cookbook author Marlena Spieler. "It is happiness in each mouthful, especially in a cup of dark, strong Middle Eastern coffee — reminds me of cafes in Jerusalem.”

She first used cardamom to flavor a tapioca pudding and loved the way the little black seeds crunched in her mouth in contrast to the soft, sweet pudding. She considers the green and black cardamom to be very far apart in flavor and recommends not swapping them for each other in dishes unless the recipe directs you to do so.

To get the maximum flavor from your cardamom, Spieler suggests buying green cardamom pods, then using a mortar and pestle to grind the spice as you need it. This is a great tip, since most ground cardamom tends to lose its flavor quickly. I am often asked if I grind only the seeds or the whole pods. It really is your choice; I personally prefer the taste of both of them together. If you want to use only the seeds, open the pods, remove the seeds and use as needed. Don’t discard the pods; use them to flavor your morning cup of coffee.

Cardamom's uses are endless. Spieler adds whole pods to Ethiopian wat and Yemeni soups that simmer and allow the spice to release its charms. Ground cardamom is used by Swedes and other northern Europeans in baked cardamom buns, cakes and yeasty sweet breads. Food writer Crescent Dragonwagon supports the sweet use of cardamom: “I make an ice cream with cardamom, sometimes ginger and saffron. it’s a nice dessert for an Indian-influenced meal. I also once made a tres leches cake with cardamom, rose water, and crushed pistachios on top.” Washington-based writer Kim Fernandez likes to use it to perfume a simple loaf of white bread.

One interesting use of cardamom is zchug, a Yemeni version of salsa, adored in Israel where it is eaten with everything and anything. It’s delicious with couscous, rice, soup, chicken, meat, potatoes, falafel — even a grilled cheese sandwich, Spieler tells me. Zchug involves blending together garlic, hot chili peppers, ripe tomatoes, fresh cilantro, parsley, olive oil, ground cumin, ground turmeric, cardamom seeds, curry powder and lime juice.

I usually buy my cardamom at the local Indian grocery stores, but I do have a soft spot for the cardamom sold at Whole Foods Market. It is amazingly fragrant.

-- Monica Bhide

Lana Turner Milkshake
1 serving

This spiced shake is a "flavor combination diva" at ACKC in Logan Circle. It also can be served as hot chocolate and as an ice cream dessert.

3/4 cup store-bought or homemade vanilla ice cream
2 teaspoons white chocolate shavings
1/3 cup white chocolate sauce (see NOTE)
1/3 cup fresh blueberries (stemmed and rinsed), pureed, plus 3 berries for garnish
1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 cup nonfat milk
Whipped cream, for garnish

Combine the ice cream, white chocolate shavings, white chocolate sauce, blueberry puree, cardamom and milk in a blender. Puree until frothy.
Pour into a tall (16-ounce) glass. Top with whipped cream and the 3 blueberries.

NOTE: To make white chocolate sauce, heat 1 tablespoon of nonfat milk, then stir in 3 tablespoons of white chocolate morsels until they have melted.

Per serving: 716 calories, 17 g protein, 72 g carbohydrates, 40 g fat, 24 g saturated fat, 191 mg cholesterol, 244 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 69 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  May 15, 2009; 7:30 AM ET
Categories:  I Spice , Recipes  | Tags: I Spice, Marlena Spieler, Monica Bhide, cardamom, recipes  
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