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Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

I come from a family of spice traders. My mother-in-law’s family hails from the Cardamom Hills and Thekkady in Kerala. Their land is beautifully verdant, with cardamom growing in a tropical rainforest-like environment, wild alongside pepper vines, cloves, and lots of unidentifiable wild greens, butterflies, and bees everywhere.

My life has been full of spice, as I witnessed the yearly ritual of sourcing and storing spices for the coming year. My mom and aunts talked endlessly about what was in season, sourcing single-origin spices, discussing how to roast them to perfection, and hiring people to freshly grind everything on the terrace of our building. This of course segued into a discussion about recipes and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on their latest creations. 

Spices play such a vital role in Indian cuisine. The blended use of herbs and spices has been part of our culture for millennia, and that their use had some medicinal and restorative properties is well documented in Ayurveda.

With the resurgence of interest in everything natural, I wanted to explore, along with you, one spice that has caught my fancy and share some recipes using it. This week it is the warm and fruity Cardamom. I love how it instantly elevates every dish into something just a bit more refined and comforting.

I’m a self-taught cook and married to someone who needs dessert every night, so I became a self-taught baker. Homemade desserts are so much healthier than the manufactured versions, additive-free, made with natural ingredients, and you can easily sub the fat and sugar content. I tend to gravitate towards non-fussy recipes, down and dirty, with no special equipment needed.

Here I share two of my current favs, with a generous dose of cardamom in them. I have tweaked several recipes that I found online and in cookbooks in order to arrive at the perfect balance of flavors.

Tips

I find that home-ground cardamom (both whole pod and seeds only) boasts a much stronger flavor than pre-ground store-bought varieties. Grind them in big batches–take the easy road, leave the husks on–and store them in an airtight container in the freezer for a year. 

My World Famous Gulab Jamun Cake

This cake is a fusion with all the treasured flavors of classic Gulab Jamun without the deep frying or long soak in sugar syrup. What’s not to love? Adapted from Hetal Vasavada’s Milk and Cardamom.

Ingredients for 1 Bundt cake or 6 mini Bundt-lets

Gulab Jamun Cake made by Mona Shah

Gulab Jamun Cake made by Mona Shah

CARDAMOM CAKE

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon, for greasing
  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup dried nonfat milk powder
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar (Note: I have reduced the sugar, you can add 1 cup if you want it sweeter)
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs (to make it eggless sub: ¾ cup plain yogurt, 1 tsp baking powder, ¼ cup extra flour to the dry ingredients)

GULAB JAMUN SYRUP

  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 8 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

GLAZE and GARNISH

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar (1 ¾ if you want it sweeter)
  • 1 tablespoon dried rose petals
  • 1 tablespoon pistachio, chopped
  • Optional: Top with Halfmoon gulab jamuns placed an inch apart

Preparation

  1. Make the cardamom cake: Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Grease a 10-cup Bundt pan liberally with 1 tablespoon of butter. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and milk powder together until well combined.
  2. Add the butter, sugar, and ground cardamom to a separate large bowl and mix with a hand mixer for 5-7 minutes; the butter will turn pale and fluffy. Add the salt and vanilla and stir to combine. Add 1 egg at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the flour mixture. Mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Do not overmix.
  3. Spoon the batter into the Bundt pan and tap the pan on the counter 3–5 times to remove air bubbles.
  4. Bake the cake for 35–40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  5. 10 minutes before the cake is done baking, make the syrup: Add the water, granulated sugar, saffron, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the rose water and lime juice. Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods from the syrup and discard. Reserve ¼ cup (60 ml) of the syrup and set aside.
  6. Poke holes in the bottom of the Bundt cake with a fork. Pour the rest of the syrup over the Bundt cake while it is still warm in the pan. It will look like a lot of syrup, but the cake will soak it all up. Let the cake rest for 10 minutes, then invert it onto a serving platter.
  7. In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and reserved syrup to make a glaze.
  8. Pour the glaze over the Bundt cake. Sprinkle with the dried rose petals and pistachios.
  9. Slice and serve.

Fall Flavors in my Cardamom Latte

  • Cardamom Latte

    Cardamom Latte

    8 ounces strong French press coffee (I used George Howell’s Tarrazu Vienna with hints of Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Walnut)

  • Optional: 1 heaped tablespoon of Instant Coffee (Nescafe or Bru, with hints of chicory, are optimal)—Add 2 drops of water and beat with a spoon until white and slightly frothy.
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons Thyme Cardamom Syrup (Note: Flavor it with whatever spice you have on hand.
  • I’ve used Thyme but rosemary, pumpkin, lavender all work really well)

For the Thyme Cardamom Syrup

  1. In a small pan over low heat, toast the cardamom pods until fragrant, stirring often. Watch closely to avoid burning them.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush the cardamom pods. Pour the pods and any exposed seeds into a medium sauce pan.
  3. Add the water, sugar and thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.  
  4. Strain solids through a fine-mesh sieve. Store syrup in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Preparation

  1. Heat milk till hot. Use a whisk or a spoon to beat milk until foamy.  
  2. Place 2 tablespoons of cardamom syrup in a mug. 
  3. Pour hot, strong coffee over syrup. 
  4. Top with foamy milk and serve.

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations.

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