Moving along with my Curry Crusade chronicles and making my valiant attempt at demystifying East Indian Cuisine I will now try and get all of you acquainted to some of the most commonly used spices. Once you are armed with this sword of knowledge about the origins, source and various characteristics of each of these, you will be a raring to go sailing like a swashbuckling buccaneer in the vast unexplored ocean of global cuisine.
I am quite sure you will get much bolder and will attempt to use these in your everyday cooking creating a variety in whatever it is that you normally cook, and like a very wise man (or woman) has said sometime long ago – Variety they say is the spice of life-
Like I had grouped spices into three groups. I will start with the ones I categorized The Basics. I am just listing these alphabetically for your convenience.
Cardamom actually should have been Cardamoms because there are in fact two types
Green Cardamom, and Black / Brown Cardamom.
Green Cardamom is called the “queen of spices” and I personally agree with that wholeheartedly, have you ever had the pleasure of biting into a pod of green cardamom? And if you have not I would highly recommend it. It is perhaps the best natural mouth freshener you could ever come across. Luckily I came across this picture to share with you and it shows the various kinds you may come across the ones in front are normal green cardamoms along with some ground cardamom seeds which I would personally stay away from, though the powder must be very convenient it may not be as fragrant since the volatile oils in the seeds loose most of their essence within a couple of days, and there is no telling how long ago the seeds were crushed. Towards the back of the picture you will see whitish pods these are more of a European presentation where these are bleached to make them fashionable.
Cardamoms are native to south western India to the state (that’s what we call a province here in Canada) of Kerala and the tropical monsoon rainforests spread an entire mountain range called the cardamom hills. This large rhizomatous perennial thrives around an altitude of 3300 feet above sea level. Flowers that look like miniature orchids give way to the green pods after pollination. These pods are harvested just before maturity and freshly harvested cardamoms do not hold much of an aroma it is only after drying that the full strength of the aroma is developed. Cardamom along with saffron and vanilla is one of the costliest spices in the world partially due to the fact that the pods are still harvested, painstakingly by hand to prevent damage to the plants as well as the individual pods. Traditionally the pods were sun dried over a period couple of weeks but that would give way to a pale green or a creamish color and take away some of the potency of the aroma, Later on drying process was done in a shed where the harvest would be dried over wooden stalls heated with a wood fire furnace with special arrangements to keep the smoke away from the cardamom pods. This has now been replaced by gas fired as well as electric options to keep up with the demand. Cardamom is now grown in India, Srilanka and Guatemala.
Now if you are into baking and have not used cardamom, you are seriously missing out on a heavenly aroma, just sprinkle some freshly ground cardamom seed powder into the next cookie dough you mix or a pie you bake. If you do not have a mortar and pestle just use a clean coffee grinder like I do to grind whole spices that I use. To take it a step further I have a separate spice grinding coffee grinder that I use exclusively for spices.
To give a new twist to your next cup of tea or coffee just drop about two pods of cardamom in the water you boil and voila you will be pleasantly surprised. Oh yes a necessary word of caution would in order here. Actually two to be precise. One when you use cardamom you are required to crush the whole pod under a spoon or a knife or whatever to can get a hold of and then throw it into the stew or pie whatever you are cooking. Now once the cooking is done that very crushed cardamom has rehydrated and has an uncanny resemblance to a fly so don’t be surprised if someone at your dining table suddenly yells out “there’s a fly in my food” and you have to start explaining that it’s just a cardamom, and then secondly because I am very confident you will like it so much that you will try to use it as much as you can, my advice!!! go easy unless of course you have the runs because cardamoms are known to cause constipation for some people.
So there you go cardamoms can be or rather should be used in pastries, cakes, cookies sweets, milk puddings, stewed fruits, rice dishes and of course curries and the way to use can be either as freshly ground powder or crushed whole pods if you feel comfortable that way you can remove the crushed pods once the cooking is done, personally I love getting a pod in my next spoonful, unexpectantly and getting a boost of aroma flash in my mouth.
I welcome queries and/or suggestions please get in touch with me on my firstname.lastname@example.org on specific queries or suggestions.