Cardamom Curried Cauliflower and Lentils

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cauliflower

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.

Ingredients

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

Method

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Using Cardamom

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cardamom art

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.

Turmeric

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turmeric

Turmeric has has been used for centuries in Eastern cuisines, but is just now trending in the West as a miracle food. You’ll probably recognize this spice as a component of curry powder.  It’s a member of ginger’s botanical family (zingiberaceae), and if you saw it fresh, you’d mistake it for ginger. It grows in knobby rhizomes and has a similar gingery flavor with a hint of peppery heat. But once you cut into a turmeric root, it’s clear you don’t have ginger. The flesh inside is bright yellow-orange. Its pigment lends its color to many foods, including curry powder, cheese, butter, pickles, and hot dog mustard.

Powdered turmeric is made from the smaller offshoots of the main rhizome that are boiled, peeled, dried, and ground. Turmeric is available fresh in Asian markets, but its flavor is no more remarkable than the more easily attainable powder. Both forms will stain your skin and clothes, so take care.

Curcumin, the main flavor component , is a super- powerful antioxidant, is being studied for its possible beneficial effects on Alzheimer’s disease, cystic fibrosis, colon cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma.  It has been proven to be a powerful anti-inflammatory, relieving symptoms of arthritis, osteoarthritis. It reduces discomfort of digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and is being studied as a possible solution to the buildup of arterial plaque.

If you are considering adding turmeric to your diet for health reasons, researchers agree that raw is best.  So invest in a good microplane grater, and find your nearest Asian market.  Add it fresh to salad dressings, sprinkle it over vegetables, add it to you curries, soups, stews.

Thom Kha Gai (Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut)

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thai-soup-02We had a little cold snap, so I’m feeling that it is still acceptable to make hot soup.   (Okay, by cold snap, I mean it got down to 60.  Sorry, rest of America.)

I’ve decided on this Thai staple because there’s a palm tree outside–therefore my soup should have a tropical flair.
This classic recipe calls for the leaf of the Makrut Lime tree.  It was formerly known as Kaffir lime, but that name has since been outed as one that carries great offense in certain parts of the world.  I don’t feel like being that guy, so I’ll use the Thai name.

The a fruit is cherished, not for the inner flesh or juice, but its super-potent double-lobed, figure-8 leaf. The leaf’s intense aroma is an essential ingredient throughout Southeast Asia. You’ll find it floating in broths, soups (pho, tom kha gai), and curries and combined with other herbs and spices like garlic, galangal, and chiles. The fruit is bright green and very bumpy and is no substitute for the intense lime aroma of the leaves. Makrut lime leaves are available at Asian markets.

kaffir

INGREDIENTS

1 (5.6-oz.) can coconut milk
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup fresh galangal, grated
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 TB. fish sauce (nam pla)
6 makrut lime leaves, crushed
2 Thai chiles, minced
3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
2 limes, cut into wedges
1/] cup fresh cilantro, chopped

METHOD

  1. In a large soup pot combine coconut milk, chicken broth, galangal, and lemongrass. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Strain and return liquid to the pot.
  2. Add fish sauce, lime leaves, Thai chiles, and chicken. Simmer 30 minutes more. Serve hot with lime wedges and chopped cilantro.
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