19 March 2011

Cardamom Challenge

Posted in events, food at 9:46 pm by Tricia

Being the procrastinator that I am, I was waiting until this weekend to prepare my dishes for the March Spice Rack Challenge. But as it turns out, we also picked this weekend to install the remaining drawer and door fronts in our kitchen. (We have an appraisal being done soon. The previous appraiser thought our house was too much “under construction” – the perpetual plight of DIYers! – so we’re tying up a few loose ends before this one arrives – nearly 2 years later. Have I mentioned that we procrastinate?) This is what the kitchen looked like when it was time to cook dinner:

messy half round counter

piles of drawer fronts on the table

other messy counter

piles of door fronts on another counter. stack on floor not visible!

March madness indeed!

The challenge spice this month was cardamom. I could refer you to my February entry, since cardamom is an ingredient in baharat, a spice mix (common in the Arabian Gulf States) that I used in my dish last month. Instead, I will give you the recipes for the dishes I was planning to make: muhammar (sweet rice, aka Bahraini pearl divers’ rice) and bathala theldada (Sri Lankan sweet potatoes with cardamom and chiles), which I would serve with a nice lemony roasted chicken or maybe some grilled lamb kebabs. If I had enough cardamom pods left, I would also make an ancient Indian drink called panaka (the variation described as ‘a cold ginger-cardamom drink with lemon and mint’). In fact, I hope to make all of these in the week to come – once the counters are again cleared of hammers, drills, and drawer fronts!

p 249 in The Complete Middle East Cookbook

serves 5-6 (“1 if you are diving”)

1/4 tsp saffron threads
3 cardamom pods, cracked
2 Tab rose water
2 cups basmati rice
6 cups water
1 Tab salt
1/3 – 1/2 cup granulated sugar or honey
1/4 cup ghee or butter

1. Place saffron and cardamom in the rose water and leave aside to steep.
2. Pick over rice and wash until water runs clear.
3. Bring 6 cups water to the boil in a heavy pan. Add salt and rice and stir occasionally until water returns to the boil. Leave uncovered and boil for 8 minutes. Drain in a colander.
4. Pour sugar or honey onto hot rice and mix through with a fork.
5. Heat ghee or butter in pan in which rice was cooked and add sugared rice. Sprinkle rose water mixture on top. Make 3 holes in rice with end of a wooden spoon.
6. Cover rim of pan with a paper towel and place lid on tightly. Cook rice over low heat for 20-25 minutes until tender.

This almost sounds like a dessert, but the author recommends you “Serve with grilled fish and roast lamb.” She also explains that it was eaten by pearl divers on the belief that “they could dive more frequently and with less ill-effect if they had sweet […] and sustaining foods” beforehand. This recipe has two less common ingredients (besides the cardamom pods), but as it turns out, I do have saffron on hand (purchased for a Paper Chef challenge that I didn’t actually complete) and rose water (purchased with this cookbook in mind, but not yet opened).

In addition to the rice and in the spirit of multicultural eating, I was also intrigued by this sweet potato recipe in my favorite cookbook (Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, as frequent readers may recall). I figure the heat from the chiles will be a nice foil to the sweet rice and mild chicken. Tonight I would have made a half batch, because I’m down to 1 sweet potato.

Bathala Theldada
(Sri Lankan sweet potatoes with cardamom and chiles)
p 285 in  Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian
Serves 6

2 very large sweet potatoes (about 2.5 lbs)
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
5 Tab peanut or olive oil
3 whole dried hot red chiles, broken into halves
2 whole cardamom pods
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
20 fresh curry leaves (“substitute fresh holy basil or basil leaves for a different but equally interesting flavor”)
3 onions (about 1 1/4 lbs), cut into halves lengthwise and then into very fine half rings
1 to 3 tsp coarsely crushed dried hot red chiles
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tab fresh lime juice, or to taste

Peel the sweet potatoes and quarter lengthwise, then cut into chunks about 3/4 inch. Put in large pot and cover well with water. Add the turmeric and bring to a boil. Stir well to mix in the turmeric. Boil, uncovered, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender but still firm. [I suspect you should drain them, but it doesn’t specify in the recipe.]

Put the oil in a large frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, put in the red chiles. Stir once and when the chiles darken, a matter of seconds, put in the cardamom and cinnamon. Stir once or twice and put in the curry leaves. Stir once and put in the onions. Stir and cook the onions for 5 to 6 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. Put in the sweet potatoes. Stir and fry for 5 minutes. Put in the crushed red chiles, salt, and lime juice. Stir and cook, lowering the heat as needed, until the sweet potatoes are tender enough for your taste.

Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods before serving.

And finally, I was intrigued by this drink recipe, also in World Vegetarian (I told you it is my favorite!). Jaffrey writes that it was popular “about three thousand years ago. It does not exist today. That is probably a dangerous statement to make. There may well be some pocke of India […] that still prepares it […]. Perhaps I should say that I have not seen it served, nor have I ever seen a full recipe for it, just a mention in ancient texts.” But it seems to me like (non-fizzy) ginger ale with cardamom, so it can’t be too bad… I’m definitely going to try this soon.

p 644 in World Vegetarian
serves 6

2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 Tab dark brown sugar (or Jaggery if you have it)
10 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
6 Tab fresh lemon juice
fresh mint

(cold lemony-minty variation) Combine the ginger, sugar, cardamom pods, and 2 cups of water in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer on medium low heat about 15 minutes, or until you have 1.5 cups left. Strain and cool. Add lemon juice, mix, and refrigerate. Serve in small quantities with lots of ice and mint springs. (I might mix it with fizzy water, if it’s as sweet as I suspect.)



  1. Leila said,

    That rice looks good, though that does sound odd, to eat it with savory food.

    I’m… iffy on cardamon. If I smell it solo, I find it nauseatingly overwhelming, but I seem to like it mixed with other spices.

    • Tricia said,

      I made the rice sometime last week. I decided I like the cardamom and sweetness and butteriness, but the rosewater not so much. I once ate a chicken dish at a Middle Eastern restaurant that had some kind of rose(water?) something-or-another in it. I adored that dish, so figured it would work in this rice, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. We’ll finish it (it made a ton, and 2 out of 3 boys didn’t like it), but I won’t bother making it again (or I’ll sub for the rosewater).

      Sweet potatoes tomorrow night…

    • Tricia said,

      The sweet potato dish was fabulous, although I’m not sure I could detect the cardamom. I probably need to make the tea, so I know what cardamom by itself tastes like… The spouse did not seem to like the sweet potatoes as much as I did.

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