Monday, July 23, 2012

Cardamom in the Kitchen: One Cook's Spice for Happiness

As part of Allrecipes' 15th Anniversary celebration (official date: July 28, 2012), we've invited some of our favorite bloggers to share their personal Recipes for Happiness--the theme for our anniversary celebration--because recipes and cooking are about so much more in our lives. In this guest post, Susan Pachikara, author of the blog Cardamom Kitchen, and a new iPad app of the same name, describes how she developed her passion for flavorful food as a child. Under her mother's wing, she learned to prepare everyday Kerala dishes. (Kerala is an Indian state tucked along the southwest tip of the peninsula.) In 2005, her love for culinary arts led her to Kendall College where she trained as a chef. After a brief foray in the food industry, she started Cardamom Kitchen with the mission of promoting home cooking and culinary nutrition. Susan has also led cooking classes at Whole Foods Market, Gilda's Club, the City of Chicago's World Kitchen, Common Threads, farmers' markets, as well as classes for children and adults in Chicago. She shares one of her favorite family recipes here. Try it out and look for more authentic recipes to complement its flavors by visiting Allrecipes' Indian recipe collection

(Spread more happiness, and help celebrate its 15th anniversary! Share a special moment in your life by posting a photo here of your special #RecipeForHappiness!) 

I grew up in a kitchen that stocked more cardamom than ketchup. That may sound unremarkable, except that I was raised in the American Bible Belt in the 80s. Feathered hair, deer hunting, and tuna fish casserole topped with smashed potato chips were the rage. The standard bottle of cardamom sold in supermarkets emptied out quickly, so my mom bought the three-sided pods in bulk. She kept several palms full in a re-purposed jam jar within reach of the stove. The rest sat on a turntable in the pantry along with quills of cinnamon, black peppercorns, turmeric, and other surplus spices she stored away.

When my parents immigrated to the States from Kerala--a tropical state on India’s southwest coast National Geographic Traveler Magazine calls “Paradise found”--they brought along their love of its native spice, cardamom. My father shared stories of family-owned estates where leafy cardamom shoots flourished. He taught us how it was harvested by hand and dried in the hot sun and kept us glued to the table with tales of merchants who coveted the alluring spice.

To celebrate birthdays and other special occasions, my mom ground cardamom to flavor pudding (payasm) and carrot fudge (halva). She also dunked cardamom pods in simple syrup to flavor donuts (gulab juman). For Christmas, she layered it in chicken biriyani. But on most days, she used cardamom to recreate the Syrian Christian meat dishes of her childhood. She plopped the greenish pods on top of cubes of beef that she boiled and then sautéed, and used the fragrant spice to flavor chicken stewed in coconut milk or thickened with coriander. She tossed cardamom in dry curries, she tossed it in wet curries. She cracked it, pounded it, soaked it, and fried it.

As a first generation South Indian-American, I consider cardamom both exotic and commonplace. When I think about my recipe for happiness, it includes this alluring, floral spice, which like my family traces its roots to Kerala. I love to fold it into whipped eggs whites for crunchy meringues just like these Cardamom Rose Meringues, and dust it into dry ingredients for melt-in-your-mouth tea cookies like these Cardamom Cookies. I love to whisk it with milk to indulge in a bowl of Mango-Cardamom Bread Pudding.

Mango-Cardamom Bread Pudding (photo by Meatball Saves the Day)
My mom’s recipe for chicken stew included in the Cardamom Kitchen iPad app calls for my favorite spice trio--cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. When cooked together, they fill the kitchen with a warm, slightly sweet irresistible flavor. The stew is traditionally served with a spongy coconut pancake called appam, but it also pairs beautifully with steamed basmati rice or an Indian flatbread called chapathi. Explore Allrecipes' collection of authentic Indian rice dishes or even explore for more ideas to complement this flavorful stew. I hope the recipe will also become one of your family favorites.

Chicken Stew (photo by Cardamom Kitchen)
Recipe Copyright by Cardamom Kitchen

3 tablespoons canola oil
5 black peppercorns
2 (1-inch) cinnamon sticks
8 cloves
8 cardamom pods
2 cups roughly chopped onions
1 jalapeño pepper, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
1-1/2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 cup roughly chopped tomatoes
10 to 15 fresh curry leaves (or 5 sprigs of cilantro)
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, rinsed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup roughly chopped potatoes
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon vinegar

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and cardamom pods. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.

2. Add the onions, jalapeño pepper, and ginger. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions become translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes and curry leaves, if using them, and stir.

3. When the tomatoes start to soften, stir in the chicken, potatoes, water, and salt. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and cover. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the chicken flakes when pulled with a fork.

4. Add the coconut milk, vinegar, and cilantro (if using in place of the curry leaves). Stir gently and cook for another minute.

5. Remove the jalapeño pepper, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon before serving.


Susan, your writing makes me feel like I'm standing right beside you in the kitchen (albeit, accompanied by a heaping pile of fragrant cardamom!). It's such a treat to learn more about the versatility of this warm spice from you. Looking forward to trying that chicken stew!

You truly create a whole-body experience when retelling these culinary and family memories. It's an inspiration to create memories with my own daughter in the kitchen. Can't wait to try this dish-sounds delicious!

Love your simple elegant style of writing. I was immersed in your world and could almost taste the cardamom essence in your dishes. Thank you.

So beautifully written--and such great looking recipes. I'm actually printing several of them and fully intend to make them.
Scott Warner
Program Chair
Culinary Historians of Chicago

Great entry Susan! I like that you include your back story as it really shows you offer a new, fresh perspective.

Cardamom is common ingredient in spicy and sweet concept of Indian recipes.