Off the Beaten Aisle: Cardamom

By: J.M. Hirsch
honey cardamom chicken

The typical grocer sells some 50,000 different products. The typical shopper buys the same 264 over and over again. The point of this blog? To persuade you to take a second look at some of the 49,736 foods that don’t usually land in your cart.

Cardamom, for example. This spice aisle resident is a master of blurring the sweet-savory line. Yet most people know it only (if at all) for the rather dull cookies named after it. But cardamom is way more than a cookie, and it belongs on the dinner table as much as in desserts.

First, the basics. Cardamom is a seed that is related to ginger and originated in India (both of which explain why it makes frequent appearances in Indian sauces, chutneys and rubs). The taste is citrusy and floral, as well as warm and peppery.

Cardamom is sold whole (black seeds in a greyish-green pod) and ground (a fine greyish-blue powder). While the flavor is best when you get whole pods and grind them as needed, raise your hand if you can admit that’s too much trouble.

What to do with it?

•    Toss ½ teaspoon into your morning smoothie; it adds a mild peppery-fruity flavor that works well with mangos, peaches and apricots.

•    Mix ½ teaspoon each of cardamom, ground black pepper and salt. Toss over shrimp drizzled with olive oil, then roast at 450°F for 5 to 7 minutes.

•    Add ¼ teaspoon to packaged rice pilaf to add awesome citrusy flavors. It works similar wonders with roasted root veggies (with salt and pepper).

•    Make your own jam? Cardamom is great in strawberry and blueberry jams. And it has a similar sweet-savory play in fruity vinaigrettes.

Cardamom also is common in curries (the citrus notes balance the fattiness of lamb while its peppery side complements poultry).

To demo how easy it is to use an overlooked ingredient like cardamom to overhaul your weeknight cooking, I created this simple roasted chicken and potatoes. Don’t want to do thighs? Use breasts, or even the whole bird.

The point? Getting big flavor from everyday cooking can be easy. And the secret ingredient often is right in front of you.

Cardamom-Honey Chicken Thighs with New Potatoes

Substitute any root veggies you like for the potatoes in this recipe. Sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips are fine choices. You also could skip the veggies entirely and serve the chicken over egg noodles tossed with the pan sauce made at the end of this recipe.

Start to finish: 1 hour 5 minutes (15 minutes active)
Servings: 4
⅓ cup honey
Zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil, divided
Kosher salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1½ teaspoons ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1½ pounds new potatoes
1½ pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

Heat the oven to 400°F.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, orange zest, 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, the garlic powder, cardamom and pepper. Set aside.

In a 9-by-9-inch metal roasting pan, toss the potatoes with the remaining tablespoon of oil and ½ teaspoon of salt. Arrange the potatoes in an even layer.

Use a pastry brush to coat the chicken thighs with the honey mixture under and over the skin. Arrange the chicken pieces over the potatoes.

Cover with foil and roast for 35 minutes. Uncover and roast for another 15 minutes. Transfer the meat and potatoes to a plate, cover with foil and set aside.

Set the roasting pan over a burner on medium-high heat. Bring the liquid in the pan to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Serve the chicken and potatoes drizzled with the pan sauce.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 655 calories; 297 calories from fat (45 percent of total calories); 33 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 143 mg cholesterol; 53 g carbohydrate; 33 g protein; 2 g fiber; 199 mg sodium.

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is author of the recent cookbook, “High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking.” He also blogs at

Next Up

Sage — Off the Beaten Aisle

Sage is a perennial herb related to mint. There are many varieties, including pineapple-flavored sage from Mexico (best suited for desserts). Try this recipe.

Halloumi — Off the Beaten Aisle

Sometimes called Greek grilling cheese, halloumi is just that — a dense cheese that holds its shape and won’t drip through the grates when grilled.

Off the Beaten Aisle: Sambal

Throughout Asia there are numerous condiments referred to as sambals. Most are made by grinding together chili peppers and vinegar. Read on for tips and recipes.

Hominy — Off the Beaten Aisle

Hominy is the name given to whole corn kernels, usually white, that have been cooked in a lye or lime solution to remove their thick hulls.

Honeycomb — Off the Beaten Aisle

It’s time to think beyond the honey bear bottle. My favorite? Honey in the comb, pure and simple. Here's how to use honeycomb.

Buttermilk — Off the Beaten Aisle

Buttermilk is the tangy milk-like liquid left behind when cultured cream is churned to make butter. It’s usually commercially produce by adding cultures to low-fat or fat-free milk.

Off the Beaten Aisle: Kumquats

There’s really no way around it: Kumquats are an odd little fruit. Read more for kumquat tips and recipes.

Related Pages