August 13, 2014

What’s Cooking: Cardamom spices up savory and sweet dishes

Here is the wildest, craziest, most mind-blowing fact about cardamom: Not only is it a spice that is used in both savory and sweet dishes, it is an important ingredient in the cuisines of India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Scandinavia.

Here is the wildest, craziest, most mind-blowing fact about cardamom: Not only is it a spice that is used in both savory and sweet dishes, it is an important ingredient in the cuisines of India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Scandinavia.

If geography is not your strongest suit, what makes the fact so bizarre is these areas are nowhere near one another.

It is more than 4,000 miles from India to Norway. It is more than 5,300 miles from Vietnam to Sweden. Jordan is more than 2,500 miles from India and is 2,200 miles from Sweden.

In other words, cardamom has leapfrogged around the world, dropping little bombs of intense and aromatic seasoning wherever it goes. It is not used much in American kitchens, but given the fact that it plays equally well with side dishes, main courses and dessert, perhaps its time has come.

Cardamom is a little bit sharp, a little bit sweet and a little bit rock ‘n' roll. A couple of seeds on your tongue can be marvelously refreshing. It is sometimes used to flavor tea, such as chai. And rice pudding simply wouldn’t be rice pudding without it.

To discover just what cardamom can do, try the recipes here. (Note: The jeweled rice will take awhile, but it’s worth it.)

Then branch out. For example, cardamom works beautifully with those lovely pears that are just coming into season. A cake, perhaps? That could be just the start.


Jeweled rice

Serves 6

Note: The fruit-and-nut mixture can be made up to 2 days in advance; cover mixture and remaining saffron mixture separately, and chill. I used roasted pistachios and skipped that step.

Recipe from Bon Appétit.


1/4 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios (see note)

1/4 cup slivered almonds

2 cups uncooked basmati rice

Kosher salt

1 orange

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchstick-size pieces

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate, let cool, then coarsely chop. Spread almonds on the same baking sheet and toast until golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes (watch carefully; they can burn). Set nuts aside.

Place rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Cook rice in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until grains have lengthened but are still firm, 6 to 7 minutes; drain and rinse under cold water. Spread rice on another rimmed baking sheet; let cool.

Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, remove zest from orange and thinly slice the zest lengthwise (reserve flesh for another use). Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add orange zest and carrots, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and set aside (discard syrup).

Combine cranberries and raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water (not boiling); let soak 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Place saffron in another small bowl and add 1/4 cup hot water; set aside.

Heat butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt and cook, stirring often, until soft and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add cardamom, cumin, turmeric and 1 tablespoon saffron mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Reduce heat to low, add cranberries and raisins, and cook, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Stir in reserved nuts and orange zest and carrot mixture; season with salt. Set fruit and nut mixture aside.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large, wide, heavy pot over medium heat. Add half of rice, spreading evenly; top with fruit and nut mixture, then remaining rice, spreading evenly. Using the end of a wooden spoon, poke 5 to 6 holes in rice all the way through to bottom of pot (to help release steam and help rice cook evenly).

Drizzle remaining saffron mixture over rice. Place a clean kitchen towel over pot, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and secure loose edges of towel on top of lid, using a rubber band or masking tape.

Cook until pot begins to steam, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and cook, without stirring, until rice is tender and bottom layer of rice is browned and crisp, 30 to 40 minutes.

Scoop rice into a wide serving bowl, breaking bottom crust into pieces.

Per serving: 500 calories; 18 g fat; 4.5 g saturated fat; 10 mg cholesterol; 8 g protein; 83 g carbohydrate; 30 g sugar; 6 g fiber; 20 mg sodium; 40 mg calcium.


Yogurt spiced chicken

Serves 4

The yogurt makes the meat tender and juicy, and it also tempers the spices. Recipe by Daniel Neman.


1 whole chicken, cut up, or 3 to 4 pounds of chicken pieces

1 cup plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly ground is best)

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Salt and pepper


Rinse chicken and pat dry.

In a large bowl, combine yogurt, allspice, nutmeg and cardamom. Add chicken pieces and mix until chicken is thoroughly coated. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Arrange grill for indirect heat or preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Knock or brush off as much yogurt marinade as you can. Liberally sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and pepper.

If using grill, place chicken skin-side-down on the grate away from the coals or flames, and close the lid. Cook white meat 25 to 30 minutes, turning once. Cook dark meat 45 to 55 minutes, turning once.

If using oven, heat a grill pan or heavy, ovenproof skillet very hot on the stove. Spray with nonstick spray (or add a little oil), then place chicken skin-side-down on the pan. Cook until seared and brown, but do not let it burn, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip chicken and place pan in oven. Cook white meat 25 minutes or until done; cook dark meat 45 minutes or until done.

Per serving: 390 calories; 22 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 145 mg cholesterol; 45 g protein; 0 carb.; no sugar; no fiber; 135 mg sodium; 30 mg calcium.


Chewy molasses cookies

Makes about 30 cookies

Note: Be sure not to overbake these cookies or you’ll lose their chewy texture.

Recipe from Bon Appétit.


2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

11/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup light or dark molasses

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

Coarse sanding or raw sugar, for rolling


Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and salt in a small bowl. Whisk egg, butter, granulated sugar, molasses and brown sugar in another bowl. Mix dry ingredients with wet, just to combine.

Place sanding or raw sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough by the tablespoon and roll into balls (if dough is sticky, chill 20 minutes). Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spaced 2 inches apart.

Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until cookies are puffed, cracked and just set around edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Per serving: 85 calories; 3.5 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 1 g protein; 13 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; no fiber; 120 mg sodium; 15 mg calcium.

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