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The Many Charms of Cardamom
Originally grown in India, the aromatic spice pod known as cardamom has a long culinary history. Recently, it's seen an explosion of popularity in American coffeeshops and bakeries, popping up in everything from cookies to cocktails. Unlike many spices that tend to work just in sweet or just in savory dishes, cardamom is a switch hitter, pairing well with either. It's a natural partner to flavors including fig, lime, and almonds, and it makes a dang good rice pudding.
It's also featured in a relatively new flavor of Eclipse Breeze chewing gum, a sign that it's stating to break into the American flavor big leagues.
Green vs. Black
Compared with green cardamom, black cardamom has a smokier aroma and a mint-like coolness. Green cardamom appears in Indian spiced teas and sweets; the black variety often appears in curries via the spice mixture known as garam masala.
Extracting the Heart of Cardamom's Flavor
Cardamom extract is one of the simplest and most useful ways to start exploring this spice. Fill a small jar with partially crushed green cardamom pods. Then, cover them with vodka and let them sit for up to 2 days. (Any longer, and the extract can become bitter.)
After soaking, strain your solids out and keep the liquid extract -- it can be used anywhere you'd normally use vanilla, particularly for sugar cookies and other otherwise lightly flavored sweets (such as blondies or tuile cookies.)
If you'd like to get rolling with some battle-tested recipes, easy options include Cardamom Shortbread Wedges, Cardamom Cream Crepes, or Quick Cardamom Rolls (see recipe below). Beyond that and other recipes, your imagination is your only real limit -- think of cardamom as a substitute for vanilla or cinnamon and start playing from there.