If there was only one spice I was allowed to own (gasp!), I would pick cardamom.
Cardamom is versatile enough to be used in both sweet and savory preparations, and a little goes a long way. Did you know that cardamom is related to ginger? Fragrant and delicious, it is grown exclusively for its seedpods. This is a much loved Indian spice and is the third most expensive spice in the world.
Purchasing: Purchasing cardamom off a store shelf can prove tricky. Resist the urge to purchase cardamom powder as it may contain adulterants. Select pods that are a bright sage green and not grass green (as these may have been artificially colored). Pods must appear plump and dry but not soft. However, shriveled pods are common and should not be a discouraging factor. Black cardamom or Hill Cardamom is much more intense in flavor than Green Cardamom and is not a recommended substitute.
How and when to use cardamom: Different recipes call for the use of whole or powdered cardamom based on the desired intensity of its flavor. Preparations that involve extended stewing, brewing or sauce based cooking call for whole green cardamom. Powdered cardamom is often used in quick brews such as Chai and in baked or fudge-like confectionery creations such as ‘Barfi’ or Halwa. Twice cooked dishes such as Biryani are much more flavorful when Black Cardamom is added into the sauce.
What part to use: Green cardamom may be used whole or just for its seeds. To extract the seeds, peel the outer pod and use the small black seeds whole for intense flavoring. The small white membrane inside the seed pod is safe to eat and can be included with the seeds. If your dish requires a subtle flavor - such as the preparation of cardamom flavored milk, crush the seeds with a tablespoon of granulated sugar in a dedicated spice mill and add it into the milk. The outer seed pod of cardamom can be used for lightly flavoring granulated sugar, by adding to simple syrup or even an everyday pot of rice. Although fibrous, the seed pod has a light mouth-refreshing quality and makes a good alternative to chewing gum especially for children. Use faded pods to perk up potpourri or in fragrance oil-warmers: with warm oils such as cinnamon or clove during the winter months or Jasmine or other floral oils during summer months.
Cardamom in Ayurveda: According to Ayurveda, when consumed on its own, cardamom is considered a warming spice. It lends its healing properties to aid digestion, morning sickness, nausea, colic for babies and similar everyday ailments. There are many sources that detail the health benefits of this little green spice.
Cardamom Milk Recipe:
The cool months of Fall and Winter call for warm comforting eats and drinks. This is a very simple recipe for Cardamom Milk, when you are looking for a flavor change to your daily dairy intake. Adding nuts and saffron boosts the nutritional value of the recipe, and also makes it good for your body. I have often made this drink at bedtime - the cardamom and nutmeg has a soothing effect after a busy day and also gives you a restful sleep. This recipe takes only a few minutes to make, but you will want to sip it for hours!
Makes: 1 cup
Time: 2-3 minutes
1 cup milk or almond milk
2 pods of green cardamom
Pinch of nutmeg, optional
2 strands of saffron
Sugar, to taste
1 tbsp sliced almonds or pistachios
Open the cardamom pods as mentioned above. Use the seeds for this recipe and reserve the husk for later.
Milk: Warm the milk in a small saucepan. After the milk has warmed for a minute, add the cardamom seeds, nutmeg, saffron and sugar. Stir this in. Allow it to come to a gentle boil and keep the heat on medium low for 1 minute. The milk will change color to a light golden yellow on account of the saffron. Garnish with sliced almonds just before serving.
Almond milk: Follow the same process as above, except keep the heat on low at all times and simply allow it to warm through. Use freshly made cardamom powder as mentioned above, instead of the seeds to allow the flavors to mingle more evenly. Add the nutmeg powder and saffron and continue to warm the milk for another minute. Garnish with sliced almonds or pistachios before serving.
edited from an original post published: April 19, 2013