Off the Beaten Aisle: Cardamom
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.
• 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.
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.
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 jmhirsch.com.