Queen of Spice
(Green) Cardamom (botanical name: Elettaria cardamomum)
Cardamom, I can smell its fragrance even as I say the word. The first thing that comes to my mind is my mother's saffron rice, delicately perfumed with just a few of these beautiful lime coloured peridots. But then my mind wanders to the delights of desserts, herbal drinks, and spiced cocktails to which cardamom brings warmth, zest and a hint of a floral (yes, it is complex in its flavour and scent). Green cardamom is a large tropical plant belonging to the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family. It is native to the mountainous regions of India and Sri Lanka. The small oval green pods are about half an inch in length, and the blackish seeds inside are highly aromatic with pungent eucalyptus notes. Cardamom is only ever used sparingly and when blended with other dried spices it compliments both savoury and sweet preparations. In India, cardamom is referred to as the “queen of spice,” and is one of the most expensive spices in the world, surpassed only by saffron and vanilla.
What to know: Visit your local South Asian food market to find packets of green cardamom. Look for pods that have a healthy light lime green colour. There are several plants with the name cardamom, such as black and brown varieties (Chinese black, red, or Indian cardamom), and Thai cardamom that looks similar to green cardamom, however the green cardamom is true cardamom long used for culinary purposes. Some recipes call for the seeds packed inside segments within the pod. Remove the seeds by pulling apart the pod’s papery skin. Use the seeds quickly (don’t remove the seeds and leave them for too long as they soon lose their pungency.) Use a mortar and pestle, or a spice or coffee grinder to grind the seeds according to the recipe. Some recipes call for “bruised” cardamoms; for this simply hit or firmly press the pod with a kitchen utensil.
How you can use it: Whole cardamoms may be added to rice pilaf dishes as is done in the preparation of biryani or Sri Lankan yellow rice (this recipe is in my cookbook.) A whole bruised pod can also be added to cocktails, tea or coffee preparations, and ground cardamom is a lovely addition to creamy puddings, custards, spiced (coffee or butter) cakes, or chocolate cakes. Cardamom is included in South Asian spice powder mixtures where either the whole pod or the seeds are ground, and then combined with other ground spices.
Medicinal and/or Health benefits: antioxidants, digestive health, flushes toxins, dental/oral hygiene and health, blood health.
How to keep it fresh for longer: Cardamom should be stored in airtight glass container in a cool dark, dry, cupboard. Stored in this way, they may be kept for over a year.
Cardamom Infused Cocktails
If you are not much of a cook, then shake up a cardamom spiced cocktail. There are several cocktail recipes with cardamom bitters, such as the maple old fashion or rose water and cardamom cocktail. For fun you can try your hand at a DIY cardamom bitter recipe, though you can buy it too. Here is a simple recipe for a cardamom rose cocktail. Peychaud is credited with first creating the Cardamom Rose Cocktail recipe.
For the Cardamom & Rose Cocktail
1.5 oz gin or vodka (I prefer gin)
.75 oz rose syrup
.25 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
.75 oz fresh squeezed red grapefruit juice
1-2 dashes cardamom bitters (homemade or purchased)
Combine all ingredients into a shaker shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Strain through mesh strainer into a chilled coupe. You may top with seltzer water if preferred and garnish with organic rose petals, scrape of lemon peel, or other pretty organic petals to your liking.