WTF is Green Cardamom?
Green Cardamom is a whole spice, a pod to be precise, harvested from a shrub in the ginger family. The plant originates in Southern India, and many South Indian dishes feature the spice prominently. The flavour it imparts is sweet and peppery, and the aroma is a methol-infused floral scent. In India, it’s known as the “Queen of Spices”. One of the best things about green cardamom is it’s versatility. It can feature in creamy kormas and kheema/ground meat dishes as well as Indian desserts, scenting Indian rice, Nordic breads and cardamom-infused Middle Eastern coffee.
It’s sold as a package of pods (and in powder form), but occasionally you may come across recipes asking for “cardamom seeds”. These are the seeds inside the pod itself. If you crack open the green shell, there are maybe 20-25 tiny black circular seeds inside. If the pods are fresh, the seeds will be slightly stuck together with resin and a thin membrane. The seeds themselves have a slightly different flavour on their own, something like cloves and pepper and a few other things. The point here is – green cardamom is green cardamom; there’s nothing else like it. Let your nose show you – go smell some at the store before you buy it.
That said, as cardamom is somewhat of a unique flavour, some people may not enjoy it as much as others. Although, if you’re going to be serious about international cooking at home, cardamom is a must. It’s fairly available in the city – any import or health food stores would carry it, as well as spice stores, a few grocery stores with well-stocked Indian aisles, and obviously any Indian-owned grocery store. I just bought some fresh green cardamom (restocking my supply) at St. Lawrence Market (Lively Life Fine Food, on the lower level – they have a great selection of international spices, flours, Asian imports, and many other things, not to mention very helpful staff) if you want a specific central source.
There’s also something called white cardamom. I won’t go into much detail about that, but it’s essentially bleached green cardamom. The bleaching process dulls the peppery and menthol qualities and let’s the sweetness come to the front. White cardamom is more common in Scandinavian cooking.
Geez. I almost forgot one major thing. Green Cardamom is the preferred flavouring ingredient in Indian Chai tea. It’s the dominant flavour you’re getting when you’re sipping that delicious Chai Latte for example (except not as fresh and robust as making it yourself, natch). Who doesn’t love Chai? Fools, that’s who.
Turkish Coffee with Green Cardamom
If you grind your own coffee beans, try adding green cardamom in with the beans in a ratio of about 6 coffee beans to one pod and brew as you’d normally. Or, if you’re rocking instant brew, trying crushing a few pods in a mortar and pestle, and dropping them into the bottom of a coffee cup, then pour hot, dark-roast coffee over it. Try two pods per cup to start, but if you like the flavour, add one or two more next time. You’re going to need a bit of extra sugar to balance out the strong coffee and cardamom flavours, so keep that in mind when you’re at the sugar bowl. Or if you want a richer brew, sweeten it with condensed milk. In Middle Eastern etiquette, cardamom-infused coffee is a way of greeting guests, and flashing a bit of class, since cardamom is traditionally one of the more expensive spices by weight in the entire world (we’re talking ancient spice-bling here). Don’t worry about your bank balance though, it only costs about 2-3 dollars for a bag that has about 75-100 pods in it. A little goes a long way.