Spice Hunting: Black CardamomUpdate: 3/13/2013
You probably know about cardamom. Queen of Spices. Savior of baked goods, Enlivener of curries. All that jazz. A member of the ginger family, black cardamom is a relative of green cardamom, but they're far from the same plant.
It has some of the same flavor notes, especially an uplifting menthol element, but it's also smoky, brash and bold.
These intense, heady notes put black cardamom in the "warming" spice category, along with black pepper, cloves, and chiles. It's a major component of the spice blend garam masala, which literally means "warming mixture."
Like green cardamom, you can remove the seeds and use them whole or ground (for a really intense kick), or grind the whole pod.
The flavor is still plenty strong, they're easy to pick out, and it's tough to grind them to a fine powder without getting some unpleasant shards along the way.
Black cardamom is usually used in concert with several other spices, both to temper it down, and because it does a fantastic job of blending disparate flavors together.
At its most simple, some rice tossed in a rice cooker with some black cardamom pods is a great improvement to a quick weeknight dinner. It's a lot more sophisticated in dry rubs and sauces for braised meats (especially beef); it's a common player in many North Indian curries.
And in one of the more interesting cases of Indian-Chinese fusion, some swear that black cardamom is essential to certain Sichuanese red-cooked dishes.
It's a powerful spice, but superb in blends, making it just as versatile—and worthy of adulation—as its more renowned green cousin.
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