Secret Ingredients: Cardamom

 

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We all have our favourite recipes. Through trial and error and tinkering we take a standard recipe and make it our own, and it often becomes our signature dish. This is usually because we have added a little something, a secret ingredient that the original recipe didn’t call for. Secret ingredients make cooking fun, especially when your family or guests are trying to guess what you did to make your dish so wonderful. One of our favourite spices is cardamom, and we use it in such diverse applications that it has become an indispensable secret.

Cardamom is a member of the ginger family, and it is the pods of the plants that are typically dried and either ground or used whole in cooking and baking. It has an almost ethereal aroma to it, a floral perfume that has hints of pine and cedar, and works its magic in dishes both sweet and savory, in apple pies, curries, rice dishes and beverages like hot toddies and chai. There are two main types of cardamom, black and green. Black cardamom has a slightly smoky, bitter taste that works well in stronger savory dishes like biryani while green cardamom is milder and gentler on the palate.

 

use a coffee grinder to grind only as much as you need to ensure freshness

use a coffee grinder to grind only as much as you need to ensure freshness

Cardamom is native to India although it has been cultivated in Guatemala since it was introduced there by the German planter and cardamom enthusiast Oscar Majus Kloeffer in the early twentieth century. Now Guatemala is the world’s largest producer of cardamom, but the purists in India aren’t taking this lying down,  insisting that the Central American variety is inferior. Interestingly, while we may associate cardamom with the traditional cuisine of the Indian subcontinent, it is the countries of northern Europe that have really embraced cardamom in sweet baked goods like Julekake, the traditional Norwegian Christmas bread, in cakes  and Swedish cinnamon and cardamom bread .When it comes to baking, cardamom has found its home sweet home, just check out this beautiful pistachio and cardamom pound cake.

 

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The next time you have a recipe that calls for fall spices like allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg, add a little ground cardamom as well. It will add that little je ne sais quoi to your next apple pie. Even something as simple and ho-hum as baked apples becomes elevated to a new level,  and it will have the same effect on your next  banana bread, coffee cake or  muffins. Toss in a few pods of green cardamom when cooking your next batch of basmati rice, it is amazing how it will become transformed. Do you like rice pudding? Try a little cardamom the next time you make it, you will be transported to heaven’s truck-stop.

If you haven’t added cardamom to your dessert island collection, you should definitely give it a try. It makes the ordinary fruit pie extraordinary, and it is bound to have your guests and family ask you, “What’s your secret?”

 

When's the last time anyone asked what your secret is to your baked apples?

When’s the last time anyone asked what your secret is to your baked apples?

 

Do you have a secret ingredient that you are ready to share with us? If so, please let us know in the comment section, we’d love to hear all about it!

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