Cardamom is my favorite spice of all time. It is equally at home in curry as it is in a coffee cake. But ground cardamom is not always of the highest quality. If you have the choice, buy whole cardamom pods, either green or black. To use, open the outer hull, remove the seeds and crush them in a mortar coffee mill.
1 tablespoon coconut oil, ghee, or butter
4 large cardamom pods, seeded and crushed
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ cinnamon stick
3 scallions, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon garam masala
½ head of cauliflower, separated into small flowerets (about 2 cups)
1 cup lentils
4 cups vegetable broth or water
1 can chickpeas, with liquid
1 teaspoon unrefined salt – try Moroccan, Arabian Fleur de Sel, Kala Namak, or a salt infused with curry or cardamom
1 cup paneer or plain yogurt
- In a large saucepan, heat coconut oil. Add cardamom, cumin and cinnamon, and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce heat, add scallions, garlic and cook until tender. Stir in garam masala.
- Add the cauliflower and cook 3-5 minutes stirring to coat with spices. Add lentils, broth and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 30 minutes. Add chickpeas and their liquid, and cook until warmed through. Season with more salt as needed.
- Fish out the cinnamon stick and serve over rice, topped another pinch of salt, a dollop of paneer or yogurt, and a side of cucumber pickles or raita.
I am really in the holiday spirit this week! There has been a lot of baking, wrapping, and sneaking around, which is always fun. My favorite thing to do is to make the kids think there is no way they will get the thing they most want, then spring it on them Christmas morning. It’s a little warped, I know.
This time of year I use an excessive amount of my favorite spice of all time, cardamom. I love it because my grandmother and mother made special Norwegian cookies with it every Christmas. I really enjoy it in sweets, but it also plays a major role in my savory cooking. I use it numerous curries, pilafs, and marinades year ’round.
This recipe, though, is meant to spice up your holiday baking. These cookies are sweet, exotic, and make a terrific accompaniment to coffee, tea, or a tall glass of milk.
I especially like them this time of year because they remind me of the Nutcracker Ballet. I grew up watching the San Francisco Ballet production of that holiday classic, and one of the scenes was titled Arabian Coffee. The boys always liked that scene best, as it included a ballerina in belly-dancing garb. Happy Bellidays!
2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks butter
2 tsp. freshly ground cardamom
2 TB. instant powdered espresso
3-2/3 cups sugar
1 TB. vanilla extract
1 TB. milk
2 TB. cinnamon sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Sift together flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.
- In a large bowl and using a sturdy spoon or an electric mixer, cream butter, cardamom, powdered espresso, and sugar until free of lumps. Add vanilla extract, egg, and milk. Slowly add sifted ingredients and mix well to fully incorporate. Chill dough for 30 minutes.
- Roll out chilled cookie dough on a floured surface to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out cookies with a floured cookie cutter and place cookies on lined baking sheets 1 inch apart. Sprinkle each cookie lightly with cinnamon sugar and bake at for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown on the edges. Cool 5 minutes before removing from baking sheets.
Cardamom is an Asian shrub in the ginger family. It grows long, pointed leaves off a large stem, similar to tulips or iris. Its tropical flower makes way for plump seed pods that contain the pungent, oil-rich cardamom seeds. The pods are picked by hand when green, and dried in the sun. They’re sold green, which are not processed beyond natural drying, and white, which are treated with sulfur dioxide to mute the flavors.
Black cardamom has a completely different smoky, peppery quality because it’s dried over open, smoky flames. It can hold up well to, and is preferred for, heavier, spicier dishes than the green or white pods. That said, there’s no need to run to the store for black if all you’ve got is green.
Cardamom is popular in India, where it’s a common ingredient in curries and rice dishes. Scandinavian and Bavarian chefs know cardamom well and take advantage of its sweet overtones in fruits, breads, and pastries. It’s also a key ingredient in strong, cloyingly sweet Turkish coffee.
Ground cardamom is widely available, and white pods can be found in better markets. Green and black may take a little more time to track down (savoryspiceshop.com).
It’s always better to buy spices whole if possible. Once ground they lose their flavor rapidly, but whole, they will keep forever. (I still use a stash of whole cardamom pods I bought on my honeymoon in 1989.) To use whole cardamom, break open the pod, and remove the tiny seeds inside. It’s best to grind them in a small mortar, but use a coffee grinder if you have a lot to grind.