Foodwriter, author and cookery teacher Marlena Spieler gives you a rundown on the deep, perfumed, sweet spice that is cardamom.

In all my years of teaching cooking classes, there’s one spice that always gets an extreme reaction. Cardamom. People either love it or want nothing to do with this aromatic and intense spice.

The whole spice – the green cardamom – looks like a small pod and has small black seeds inside; both pod and seeds are edible. The flavour is lightly sweet.

Fragrant black cardamom has a pungent, almost smokey, flavour and 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. I don’t recommend it.)

Cardamom finds a home in several ancient cuisines around the world, including Indian, Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Ethiopian.Cardamom is “deep and perfumed, slightly resinous and sweet”, says prolific food writer and cookbook author Marlena Spieler.

“I love it because you can add it to desserts or savoury curries or spice mixes from North Africa, Yemen and Ethiopia. It is happiness in each mouthful, especially in a cup of dark, strong Middle Eastern coffee – reminds me of cafes in Jerusalem,” said Marlena. Spieler considers green and black cardamom far apart in flavour. She discourages swapping one for the other unless the recipe instructs you to do so. To gain maximum flavour from your cardamom, Spieler suggests you buy the green cardamom in pods and use a mortar and pestle to grind it as needed. Ground cardamom tends to lose its flavour quickly.

It’s your choice whether to grind only the seeds or the whole pod. I personally prefer the taste of both of them together. To use only the seeds, open the pods, remove the seeds and use as needed. Don’t discard the pod – use it to flavour your morning cup of coffee.

Cardamom‘s uses are endless. Spieler simmers whole pods in Yemeni soups and the thick Ethiopian stew called “wat”. Swedes and other northern Europeans use ground cardamom in baking cardamom buns, cakes and yeasty sweet breads.

Food writer Crescent Dragonwagon makes “an ice cream with cardamom, sometimes ginger, saffron”.
“it’s a nice dessert for an Indian-influenced meal,” said Dragonwagon. “I also once made a Tres Leches cake” – the three-milk dessert made with sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream – “with cardamom and rosewater, with crushed pistachios on top.”
Cardamom is available in the spice section of your local market. The whole spice also can be found at specialty food stores, including Indian grocers and online spice stores.
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