Cardamom pods (Recipe: masalawali chai — Indian spiced tea)
Did you know that more than eighty percent of the world's export production of cardamom pods finds its way into cups of coffee?
Not into Starbucks mocha cappuccino.
Not into Peet's cafe au lait.
Not into the Dunkin' Donuts Great One my husband drinks almost every morning.
In Arab cultures, cardamom -- the world's third most expensive spice, after saffron and vanilla -- is added to coffee, as a sign of hospitality. Before guests are served, they are shown the green cardamom pods that will be used. The appearance of the pods is important; the more plump and perfect the pods, the more respect for the guest.
Native to the Cardamom Hills region of Kerala, cardamom is the fruit of an herbaceous plant in the ginger family. The best cardamom still comes from India, but it's also cultivated in Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea and Guatemala. Fruits are harvested by hand just before they are fully ripe; after drying in the sun for a few days, the pods are ready. Each pod contains 15-20 small black seeds.
As with most spices, ground cardamom degrades rapidly, so whenever possible, buy whole pods and grind as you go. To remove the seeds, which are slightly sticky, toast the pods in a dry pan for one minute. Place in a mortar and bruise the pods slightly with a pestle. Remove the outer pods and pound the seeds into a powder.
When you shop, look for plump and evenly-colored pods. Store in the freezer, or in a jar in a cool, dark area of your pantry. The flavor will hold for a year or more, though the color will fade a bit.
Considered one of the "warm" spices, cardamom lends a strong, fruity, somewhat smoky and almost bittersweet flavor to both sweet and savory dishes, and it's an essential component of every cook's garam masala. Used whole, the pods add subtle seasoning to rice, dal, chutney, pumpkin wontons, rack of lamb, chickpea or chicken curry, The ground seeds might find their way into fragrant baked goods like pulla, winter white cheesecake, cardamom yogurt pudding or chocolate soufflé.
While the majority of the world's export goes to Arab cultures, ten percent lands in Scandinavia, where cardamom is a popular addition to spiced cakes, cookies and breads -- and, of course, Swedish meatballs.
Masalawali chai -- Indian spiced tea
When our local farm stand opened a little café two summers ago at the intersection of nowhere and nowhere, and posted a sign outside announcing WE HAVE CHAI, I knew this wonderful drink had "arrived." This recipe, which is really a method for making many variations of chai, comes from Feast of India: A Legacy of Recipes and Fables, by Rani (Mahendri Arundale). Serves 6.
7 cups cold water
1 cup milk
1 cinnamon stock
6 green cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
1-1/4 inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup light brown sugar, honey or agave nectar
2 Tbsp Darjeeling, Assam or Nilgiris tea
In a pot, bring the water and milk to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the spices and brown sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, and turn off the heat. Cover the pot and let the spices steep for 10 minutes, then add the tea leaves and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the tea and serve immediately.