One of the trademark moves of the Indian kitchen is to flavor a whole spectrum of mains, sides, desserts and drinks with a smattering of spice. Spice and Indian food goes hand-in-hand – from the signature curries of each region to the carefully hand-crafted sweets that are part and parcel of every celebratory occasion or festival on the sub-continent.
Although a visit to an Indian spice market would reveal an almost mind-boggling array of multi-hued powders and whole spices, there are certain usual suspects that crop up time and again in Indian recipes. One of these popular spices is cardamom.
Once upon a time, cardamom was something of a rare spice and quite difficult to find here in the UK. Instead, keen cooks hankering for the warming notes of this oh-so Indian spice to add a burst of flavor to their culinary creations would have to use substitutions such as all-spice or combinations of nutmeg and cinnamon.
However, the times have changed and now this firm favourite of the Indian spice rack has moved from its previous home in specialist food stores to the shelves of mainstream supermarkets all over the nation. If you haven’t experimented with cardamom in your cooking in the past, perhaps now it is time.
Cardamom is a particularly aromatic spice that consists of small pods filled with seeds. The pod itself is not edible, so most recipes call for the seeds to be extracted and popped into a dish whole or else ground into a fine powder and sprinkled liberally into the mix.
The overall flavour of cardamom is a unique combination of spicy yet sweet notes – a taste which works very well with sumptuous meat curries as well as creamy desserts. However, there are two varieties of cardamom which are particularly common in India and both have slightly different attributes.
The first is black cardamom, a spice with a rich, smoky aroma. Black cardamom is relatively easy to get hold of on the sub-continent but as a result, it is not considered to be quite as exquisite as its green counterpart. In fact, green cardamom is often referred to by the playful nickname ‘Queen of Spices’ – a regal moniker which demonstrates just how valued cardamom is by the people of India. There is another type of cardamom known as the white variety, but this is thought to simply be green cardamom bleached by the light of the sun.
The versatility of green cardamom might have made it a popular ingredient in India, but its use is not solely relegated to this country. Many global cuisines have discovered this delicious spice and its reach spans from the exotic east all the way to countries such as Scandinavia where it is an integral ingredient in baked goods as well as sausages and that wintry beverage, mulled wine.
If you want to experience the expert spicing of India, consider a visit to Veeraswamy, one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants. Using only the finest ingredients, the professional chefs of Veeraswamy have developed a menu that showcases all the exotic flavour of traditional Indian cooking. Book a table and see for yourself.