Cardamom packs potency
MY FRIEND Charlotte on the Big Island sent a collection of spices my way that she'd picked up at an Indian spice plantation -- and included a request for help figuring out how to use them.
It's a handy gift, as the spices came in small packets, better for experimentation, as it always bugs me to pay top dollar for, say, fenugreek, and get so much more than the little bit a recipe requires.
So, to begin my payback to Charlotte, here's a lesson in one of the spices she sent, cardamom.
This earthy, powerful spice is used heavily in Indian, African and some Asian cuisines, as well as in Scandinavia -- in dishes from curries to baked goods. In Arab countries, it may be used to flavor coffee.
The green (sometimes white) cardamom pods encase tiny brown seeds. Some recipes call for whole pods; others for ground seeds. Whole pods are better for keeping the flavor fresh, but to find them you'll probably have to visit a specialty store, such as India Market (946-2020). Very little is needed to impart a great deal of flavor.
Cardamom is a common flavoring in Indian rice dishes such as this pulao, made with basmati, a light, fragrant white rice. The cardamom is often accompanied by saffron and/or a cinnamon stick.
Adapted from "Best-Ever Curry Cookbook" by Mrioula Baljekar (Hermes House, 2000, $23)
1-1/3 cups basmati rice
Generous pinch saffron threads
2-1/2 cups hot chicken stock
1/4 cup butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
6 green cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup cashews
Soak rice in water 20 to 30 minutes. Drain well.
Sprinkle saffron over hot stock. Set aside.
Heat butter in soup pot or large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Add cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and bay leaf, sauté 2 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, 2 minutes more.
Add stock and raisins. Bring to boil; stir. Lower heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, heat oil in small skillet. Add cashews and stir until browned. Drain on paper towels. Remove cinnamon stick, bay leaf and cardamom pods. Sprinkle cashews over rice. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 410 calories, 23 g total fat, 9 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 700 mg sodium, 45 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 6 g protein.
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