Flickers of Spring….and a pinch of cardamom

February 9th, 2011

A drift of sweet scent wafts through the window as I lift a pot of deep blue and punchy pink hyacinths from the window sill and close the shutters every night. Fragrance, color, what healing powers the senses convey.  I turn to spices as the soup, sauce or chops are cooking, digging in the spice drawer for brilliant turmeric, tiny cumin seeds, ginger and crushed cardamom.  Cumin seeds send a smoky hint of the east  as they toast in the old Griswold skillet before I add sliced onions and then sear the turkey or sausages for supper. Just a dash of Nouilly Prat white vermouth deglazes the pan, a knife-tip of ginger and a pinch of sea salt are sprinkled in before the lid goes on and flame is turned down.  Using cardamom in savory dishes has become a habit as I stretch from accenting apple cakes or poached pears with this member of the ginger family.  Beyond its presence in Scandinavian sweets and pastries, where I first encountered it, cardamom is a great team player.  Indian and eastern Mediterranean cooks have known this for eons!

Black, crushed or green in the pod?

What is cardamom, anyway?  Happy growing in rain forests and tropical climates, the seeds of the pod of Ellettaria cardamonum are prized from India to Sri Lanka, and east to Malaysia.  It is a member of the ginger family (as noted), with long flat and pointed leaves.  The cardamom tree grows to ten feet/three meters high, and bears white flowers with a blue or lilac stripe in the center.  Cardamom appeared in Europe about 1200 A.D. – possibly another import brought with the courageous crusaders on their return from the middle east.  Its attributes are not only fragrance and flavor, but as a digestive aid and as a breath freshener.  Many cooks prefer to buy the green pods and to seed them as needed, certainly keeping flavor longer -  do avoid the finely ground caradamom found in supermarkets, which loses flavor once uncapped.  The pods mixed in with coffee grounds add an eastern Mediterranean tone to a French press or drip coffee.  This cardamom fan uses it so often,  I find the long glass tubes of crushed Guatemalan cardamom sold in Scandinavia keep the parfum longer when tightly re-corked and kept in a cool place.

It is a spice with character; a pinch is enough.  What was I saying about this team player:   skillet-toasting cardamom with cumin seeds before adding onions perks up a weeknight meal.  It adds an intriguing note to carrots cooked with garlic and sliced fennel.  Include cardamom in a “rub” for pork or duck, or even in a marinade for fish to add a new dimension to supper for a valentine….


  1. Ilke says

    Hi, welcome back:) Spring is near and your pictures are a reminder :)
    I just talked to my grandma, this is her version of Keskul:
    4 cups of milk (close to a 1-lt I suppose)
    1 cup of granulated sugar
    2 Tablespoon of cornstarch
    4 egg yolks
    almond or pistachio to decorate.
    You mix cornstarch with 1 or 2 tablespoon of water and make a runny paste. Then mix it with vanilla, egg yolks and sugar. Put milk in a pot over medium heat and slowly add the starch-egg mixture into the milk, , stirring continuously. Then cook it like a pudding until it thickens slightly.

    And then when I was searching the internet, I found this Turkish cooking blog: Her recipe seems to make it more pudding like with the crema and milky color than what I normally see in the pudding shops. But thought this might give you a different approach as well..

    March 12th, 2011 | #

  2. Ilke says

    Oh by the way, our tablespoons in Turkey is not a direct measure. if you are using american standard measure, you might want to add a tad bit more cornstarch… When she says tablepoon she is actually using the real tablespoon…

    March 12th, 2011 | #

  3. marolyn says

    Oh, yes spring is at last in full glory. Gives me much needed energy and I look forward to doing a post on Keskül for Easter. Now it is in the testing stage, as it seems there is one type with eggs, another without but thickened with ground almonds. Thanks, Ilke!

    April 7th, 2011 | #

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