Cardamom Confusion

I have a recipe asking for Black Cardamom. Is that the same as Green? Can I use them interchangeably?

cardamoms

In a word; NO! Most recipes calling for cardamom mean the fragrant green cardamom. Black cardamom is much stronger and smokier. Although they are related, they have completely different appearances and flavours. Green cardamom is a tropical spice from the South of India. Black cardamom (sometimes called brown cardamom) is grown in the Himalayas.

The lesser known black cardamom is created by fresh red pods being laid out to dry with a hot fire turning them black or brown and providing their smoky flavour. Some chefs consider it a false or poorer cardamom to its green cousin, but it really should be thought of in its own right with its own unique smoky, eucalypt and slightly minty flavour. When removed from the pods, the seeds are sticky. They will dry out and lose their best attributes, so use them direct from the pod or preferably, use the bruised whole pod to flavour your dish and remove it before serving.

It is best used in many tandoor recipes where the smoky edge adds to the flavour of dishes like Tikka Masala. Try bruising the pod and put it whole into some yoghurt where it will infuse the yoghurt with its flavour. Remove the pod before using the yoghurt as a marinade for meats. You can also add the pods to Asian soup stocks. Crush the seeds with star anise to use with Chinese stir fried beef or roast pork. Black cardamom plays well with bitter, long-cooking greens like kale. It also elevates relatively bland lentil and rice dishes in an unsubtle but not overwhelming manner. The smoky flavour also lends itself to being added to barbecue marinades.

Such a strong spice needs strong flavours to stand up to it. Black cardamom is usually used in concert with several other spices to temper it down, and because it does a fantastic job of blending disparate flavours together.

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Black cardamom and cumin rice

5 black cardamom pods

⅓ cup of rice bran oil

2 small dried red chillies

1 teaspoon cumin seed

2 medium onions, finely diced

2 cups of long-grained rice

juice of one lime

Bruise the black cardamom pods by hitting them with the handle of a knife to split them slightly. Heat oil in a large pot on medium-high. When it starts to shimmer, add the chillies, cumin and black cardamom pods and stir constantly till fragrant, about a minute. Add the onions and cook them gently until soft. Add the rice and stir so the oil coats each grain. Scrape the bottom of the pan frequently to prevent sticking. When the edges of the grains have turned translucent and the centers are milky white, add water to just cover the rice, bring to a boil, and cover, turning the heat down to medium.

Cook for 25 minutes. Add salt to taste and stir in the lime juice well. Serve immediately.

This taming of flavours also works well this Black Cardamom Chicken recipe, which you can serve with the rice.

6 tablespoons olive oil
500gms skinned chicken breast, cut into serving pieces.

1 large onion, diced

5 whole black cardamom pods, crushed slightly

1 cinnamon stick

1  3cm piece fresh peeled ginger, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

4 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

In a large heavy bottomed pot like a Dutch oven, heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and add chicken breast pieces and brown them all over. Remove and reserve.  Heat the other 2 tablespoons of oil in the pot and gently cook the diced onion until golden. Add the cinnamon stick and black cardamom and stir for a few minutes. Add garlic and ginger and gently cook (about 5 minutes). Add the cumin and coriander. Stir. Add the tomato paste with enough water to make a thick sauce. Add paprika, salt and black pepper to taste. Fold in the chicken, reduce heat and cover. Cook over stove for 20-30 minutes.

chicken and lassi

Green cardamom is very expensive but little goes a long way. It is used in sweet and savoury dishes across a number of different culture’s cuisines from Vietnamese to Scandinavian.  You can either use the whole pod in a recipe or the seeds from the pod, but a word of warning; if a recipe says to use powder, know you are wasting your money. Once the seeds have been ground they lose their volatile oils so quickly and thus all their flavour. Its fresh top flavour notes make it a good addition to curries and Middle Eastern dishes, Danish pastries, cakes, biscuits and fruit desserts. It pairs particularly well with citrus, so try sprinkling a little on slices of orange for dessert, or on your grapefruit for breakfast. Mix it with orange juice to cook chicken in. But where it shines is when added to rosewater and saffron in milk or rice puddings.  Or better yet, used straight with anything made of coffee. Arabian cultures put a split pod into the spout of their coffee pots, allowing the hot coffee to soak up the cardamom flavour as it is poured out of the spout. You can get a taste of this by putting a bruised pod into your plunger coffee for a refreshing start to your morning.

Try this decadent, fragrant version of a lassi. Blend 2 cups yoghurt, 2 cups milk and 1 cup water with 3 teaspoons of rosewater and a teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom seeds and sugar to taste.

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