Indian cuisine is famous for its creative use of a wide range of mouth-watering spices. From the mustard shades of turmeric to the rich reds of chilli powder, spices add colour, flavour and texture to all manner of Indian recipes – savoury, sweet and even drinks.
Cardamom is a particular favourite in the Indian kitchen and nowhere is this more evident than in the Deep South – specifically, in the sunshine state of Kerala.
Although cardamom is now utilised in a great many Indian dishes, it used to be one of the most expensive spices around, coming in with the third highest price tag after saffron and vanilla. Although this spice grows wild in the rainforests of South India and Sri Lank, it is believed that the cardamom produced in Kerala is the best in the world.
The seeds of the cardamom plant grow on towering bushes and are extracted from small, oval-shaped fruits measuring just 1cm in length. These little green pods can be popped open to reveal 10-20 chocolate brown, sticky seeds.
Cardamom is often referred to as a warming spice, in the same league as cinnamon and nutmeg. Its aromatic notes provide a rather perfumed taste if consumed alone, yet when added to dishes it produces a fragrant sweetness with a gentle, mellow flavour.
Uses of Cardamom
One of the key uses of cardamom in Kerala is for that perennial favourite spice blend of India – garam masala. Garam masala recipes change depending on region - some families will even tweak favourite recipes to suit their own personal preference, passing the recipes down through the generations. The spice blend can be added to a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes and as a result, it is the most popular spice blend in India.
A typical Keralangaram masala might contain a variety of warming spices. Cardamom would most likely be accompanied by fennel seeds, cloves, mace and cinnamon. It could be added to a number of vegetable preparations as well as curries and stews, adding an aromatic depth of flavour that’s hard to resist.
Another place you will find cardamom used to excess is in the delicious desserts of Kerala. From creamy kulfis to flavoursome rice puddings, cardamom is synonymous with an Indian dessert whether it is used as a garnish or a key ingredient. A must-try dish is payasam, a rice pudding created from milk, sugar, rice, cardamom and a generous helping of ghee. Locally produced cashews and dried fruit are often sprinkled over the top of payasam as a garnish. The spice is also used to flavour banana-based desserts in Kerala – the banana is cooked in a sugar syrup and sprinkled with cardamom for a unique and luxurious taste.
The delicate spices of India require an expert chef to bring out and balance the flavours of a dish. At London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants you can count on the fact that each recipe has been carefully crafted with particular attention to spice – book a table today and experience authentic Indian food livened up with a contemporary twist.