Beate Baldry forages for exciting Asian ingredients that are readily available in Singapore, to discover their traditional uses and ways to incorporate them into Western home cooking.
This month’s ingredient: Cardamom
(aliases: winged cardamom, black cardamom, green cardamom, Nepalese cardamom)
What it is
There are two types of cardamom: large, brown-black pods and smaller, pale-green pods, both with papery exteriors that contain small, black seeds. Cardamom is one of the world’s most expensive spices, after saffron and vanilla. The cheaper white cardamom pods have often been bleached to reduce their potency.
Cardamom is an aromatic and sweet spice with a peppery camphor taste. Black-brown cardamom is often used in savoury dishes for its more smoky flavour, while green cardamom, with its minty edge, is used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Where to find it
Ground powder and whole pods (which provide the strongest and longest-lasting flavour) can be found in the dry spice section of most supermarkets, at wet markets or at Mustafa Centre.
• Cardamom is commonly used in Indian cuisine, from cooked dishes like biryani rice and curries to sweets like kulfi ice cream and drinks such as masala chai. It is an ingredient of the common spice blend, garam masala.
• In Vietnam, cardamom is used to flavour the stock of the national dish, pho, a delicious noodle soup dish with beef or chicken.
• In China, it is used in braised beef dishes.
• In Europe, it is often used in sweet baked goods and desserts.
In Ayurvedic medicine, cardamom is used to treat many ailments, including the following:
• Digestion – it can help with nausea, acidity, bloating, gas, heartburn, loss of appetite and constipation
• Diuretic – cardamom helps the body eliminate waste, so it’s a good detoxifier too
• Depression – cardamom is believed to have anti-depressant properties
• Oral Health – cardamom alleviates bad breath and can heal mouth ulcers and mouth and throat infections
• Cold and Flu – being part of the ginger family, cardamom may relieve cold and flu symptoms; it’s also anti-inflammatory and can reduce pain and swelling in the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat
• Antioxidant – essential oils in cardamom act as antioxidants and also inhibit the growth of viruses, bacteria, fungi and mould
• Aphrodisiac – it is said to combat erectile dysfunction and impotence
Cook it at home
Preparation tips: Whole pods can be added during cooking. The papery skin is not edible, though. To release the maximum flavour, give the pods a quick bash with a mortar and pestle to expose the seeds. You can also slit the pods lengthways with a sharp knife to release the seeds, which can then be used in various dessert recipes, and in the recipe on the following page.
Cardamom iced buns (pictured above)
Ingredients for the dough
• 160 grams soft butter
• cup granulated sugar
• Pinch of salt
• 1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
• 2 cups milk
• 4½ tablespoons active dry yeast
• About 6½ cups all-purpose flour
Ingredients for the filling
• 320 grams soft butter
• ½ cup sugar
• 3 tablespoons cinnamon powder
• 1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
• ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
Ingredients for the icing
• 200 grams icing sugar and water to add
1. In a bowl, beat together butter, sugar, salt and cardamom.
2. In a saucepan, heat milk until warm. Turn off the heat, add the yeast and stir well (do not let it boil as this will kill the yeast). Once dissolved, add the milk to the sugar-butter mixture.
3. Mix in flour gradually, then knead with your hands or a mixing dough hook. Aim for a smooth, elastic consistency (10 minutes or so).
4. Cover the bowl with cling-film and leave the mixture to rise for an hour – it should double in size.
5. Beat together the filling ingredients until they resemble a smooth paste.
6. When the dough has risen to double its size, punch it down to knock the air out, divide it in half, and roll each half out into a large rectangle. Spread half of the filling onto each rectangle.