I was reading Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking the other night about spices. While many people know that Saffron's sweet earthy stigmas are the most expensive spice, commanding up to $5,000 USD/pound - I didn't know that Vanilla was the second at $200/pound and Cardamom was the third at $22/pound.
McGee mentions how Nordic countries often use Cardamom in baked goods. Supposedly the Vikings fell in love with the stuff a very very long time ago. I thought briefly. I know it goes in Chai Tea, and Garam Masala... but what else has Cardamom in it?
Apparently, 80% of the annual Cardamom crop (which is picked by hand - ergo the price) goes to Arab countries mostly for use in Gahwa, Cardamom Coffee. This is a big part of the culture, which was hitherto unbeknownst to me. From MapsofWorld.com:
The ritual of presenting gahwa begins when the host places a set of four coffee pots, called della. Next to an open fire he pours the coffee beans onto a mahmasa, which is held above the flames. He stirs the roasting beans and when the beans are cooked they are left to cool before being crushed with a pestle in a mortar called mahbash.
Water is poured into the second large pot which contains freshly ground coffee which is then boiled over fire. Now the host pounds the cardamom seeds, and sometimes a pinch of saffron, into the third della which is then filled with the freshly brewed coffee from the second pot and brought to boil again. Finally the gahwa is poured into the fourth and smallest pot and served with utmost etiquette.
Well, I don't have time for all of that rigamarole but I do have ground Cardamom, of which I add about a half-teaspoon to my regular morning dose of coffee. Bam. Bam bam bam. They go really well together.
Coffee can be both savory (black) or sweet, think Chocolate-Covered Espresso Beans or Coffee Ice Cream. So can Cardamom. There is a distinctly earthy tone to it, an astringent bite, and a eucalyptus note - almost mint-y.
This Cardamom Coffee can either be consumed neat and pungent, or it can be 'powder-puffed' with cream and sugar; either method works deliciously. Traditionally, Cardamom Coffee has no sugar or milk added. I like it best with just milk.
I have begun to add Cardamom to my morning coffee every time and I'm looking at investigating the differences between Cardamom's two distinct varieties: Malabar and Mysore. I also plan on grinding my own.
You may have a jar of Cardamom sitting in your spice shelf going stale. You may be reading this thinking, "as a matter of fact, I do." You may have caught yourself at one time, maybe even in the last few months, thinking, "what the heck do I do with Cardamom?"
You are not alone.
I too had those feelings of inadequacy, of helplessness. Of, "yea, I know Cardamom..." - even though you really don't. No one likes to be called out on the playground. Now you don't have to. Next time you brew some "Joe," put in a full teaspoon of the ground green and then you can say with confidence,
I know Cardamom.