Tag Archives: cardamom

Almond Breadcrumb Hearts with Cardamom and Vanilla Infused Honey

mothers day almond breadcrumb fritters in vanilla cardamom honey syrup

Almond breadcrumb fritters in honey infused with vanilla and cardamom

I’ve been thinking about what to make for my Mother’s Day post for the last two weeks! It has to be yummy and special and of course something that my mom would like. It was going to be something with okra and had the recipe all made up. But then I was researching an easy dessert for my cooking club’s Spanish night and came across this recipe for breadcrumb fritters in honey syrup reflecting monastery cooking. There were no pictures but I was instantly transported. I could see monks in long robes gathering up the rosemary for the honey syrup. And saving leftover bread to use in the fritters, ensuring no food went to waste. What was harder to imagine was monks having a decidedly delicious and un-austere meal, much less dessert. Go monks! I love a recipe with a story, don’t you?!

I made the Spanish breadcrumb fritters with rosemary infused honey syrup on Monday. It came out well. But on Tuesday morning, I had a light bulb moment. This recipe could be ‘Indianized’. I changed all my plans and got to work creating my take on an Indian version of the Spanish dessert. Here is what I ended up with.

It was divine. I think my mom will approve 🙂

Happy Mother’s Day!

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mother's day dessert almond bread fritters with vanilla cardamom honey syrup

A sweet treat for Mother’s Day

Vanilla and cardamom infused honey

Making vanilla and cardamom infused honey

almond breadcrumb fritters

Batter for the fritters

almond breadcrumb fritters

Pancake fritters

Ingredients

For the hearts/fritters

  • 3 eggs
  • 3-4 slices of white bread (I used a gluten, dairy and soy free bread from Udi’s)
  • 3-4 tablespoons finely ground almond meal (I use Bob’s Red Mill almond meal)
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil for shallow frying

For the syrup

  • 1/2 cup of honey
  • 2 inch stalk of vanilla bean (you can substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground vanilla bean or 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla essence)
  • 7-8 cardamom pods, slightly crushed to open up the pods
  • 2 tablespoons water
Garnish
  • Cinnamon (I used freshly ground ceylon cinnamon)
  • Mint leaves

Recipe

Beat the eggs in a bowl. Make bread crumbs from 3 slices of bread. I simply tore off small pieces (very therapeutic if you’ve had a long day). You can also use a sharp chef’s knife and dice the bread. Add it to the eggs along with 3 tablespoons of almond meal. You should have a fairly thick batter. If it runs too easily, add more almond meal and or bread.

Heat the coconut oil in a skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Once the oil starts shimmering, pour half the batter and spread to make a 1/4 thick ‘pancake’. Once the pancake is golden brown on the bottom, flip and cook till the top is also golden brown. Put aside on paper towels so that the excess oil gets absorbed and the fritters crisps up. Repeat with the rest of the batter. Cut into hearts using cookie cutters or simply into squares or diamonds.

Next, prepare the honey. The easiest way to infuse honey is to open up a jar of honey, insert the vanilla bean and cardamom pods, close the lid and let sit for 2 weeks. If you can’t wait 2 weeks, the next best thing to do is to heat the honey, spices and water over low heat  in a thick bottomed pot for about 10-15 minutes so the flavors come together. Don’t allow the honey to bubble up. It is important to not heat the honey on high heat as it will change the flavor or worse, caramelize the honey. For even better control over the heat, use a double boiler or make your own: place the honey in a small pot and place that pot in a bigger pot with an inch of water.

Place the pancake fritters in the honey syrup making sure they all get coated. Arrange them on a plate or a bowl and pour any remaining syrup over them. Dust with freshly ground cinnamon and garnish with mint. Give mom a hug.

almond breadcrumb hearts for moms

Almond breadcrumb hearts dipped in vanilla, cardamom infused honey

almond breadcrumb fritters with ceylon cinnamon and mint garnish

With a dusting of freshly ground ceylon cinnamon and mint from the garden

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The third most expensive spice in the world

If you guessed cardamom, you’d be right! This tropical spice is native to India but now most of the world’s production comes from Guatemala and Costa Rica. True cardamom or green cardamom are what most know as cardamom. There are however other varieties. The cardamom pods grow at the bottom of the stems just above the ground. On my recent trip to South India, I saw many cardamom bushes in my family’s coffee estates. Here’s a short video and my lucky find.

 

 

White, green and black cardamom

Green Cardamom

The fresh, floral and woody aromas of cardamom are best highlighted in contrast with milder flavors such as rice puddings. Simply sprinkling some freshly ground cardamom on sweet lassis or other desserts wakes up the taste buds and adds sophistication! In Indian cooking, cardamom is used in savory dishes and spice blends. Whole pods are often used in rice dishes. One of my favorite uses for cardamom is undoubtedly in Indian Chai.

I recommend buying organic to ensure that the cardamom has not been chemically treated to maintain its green color. Better quality crop will naturally retain its bright green color. You can see the difference in shades in the photo below. The green cardamom pods will fade and lose flavor over time.

Different shades of green

White Cardamom

There are two broad varieties of true cardamom, Mysore and Malabar. Green cardamom is typically of the Mysore variety. Malabar cardamom pods start turning white on the plant when their flavor peaks. After harvesting, the pods are sun dried or chemically bleached to make a uniform white. Most of the white cardamom available in the US has been bleached and is therefore considered inferior. But the Malabar cardamom, according to On Food and Cooking has a high concentration of the more delicate flavor compounds. By organic white cardamom from a trusted source to ensure it has not been chemically bleached.

The cardamom in the video above is of the malabar variety.

Black Cardamom

Pods of black cardamom are larger than true cardamom. It is also called Nepal, Chinese or brown cardamom. The flavor of true cardamom is much more complex than that of black cardamom owing to the presence of more flavor compounds. The pods are smoke dried resulting in a spice with a smoky flavor. Black cardamom is used in many North Indian spice blends.

Other varieties

According to Gernod Katzer’s Spice Pages, there are many other varieties of cardamom grown in Vietnam, Indonesia and so on. One variety that I just learned about has piqued my curiosity: Ethiopian Korarima. Like in India, korarima often grows wild with coffee plants.   It is freshly roasted and used to flavor coffee much like gahwa or Middle Eastern cardamom coffee. It is also included in one of my favorite spice blends berbere.

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Ode to a Coconut

The poor coconut has been much maligned as being unhealthy and laden with cholesterol. That view may be changing now as I found out on a recent tour of a grocery co-op lead by a nutritionist. Though high in cholesterol, coconuts contain medium chain triglycerides, or MCT’s. MCTs are easily digested and are converted into energy right away as opposed to other fats that are stored. Some research suggests that consuming more coconuts can help you lose weight!

I’ve always loved coconut is all its forms! Tender sweet coconut water is the best thing on a hot summer day. The next best thing is scooping out the still tender white flesh that later thickens into meat. Grated fresh coconut adds instant deliciousness and texture to ‘curried’ vegetables – see my earlier post. And of course Thai curries and soups made with coconut milk (made by squeezing grated coconut meat) are so flavorful.

Writing about coconuts reminds me of my grandmother’s lovely garden where she has five or six coconut trees. One of my ambitions as a child was to climb one of these trees and harvest my own coconut. I’d seen men shinny up coconut palms using a technique where they alternated hands and feet. This was one ambition that was soon dropped as I could never replicate the frog-like technique. Fast forwarding to the present, I’m just happy that we can buy coconuts and coconut milk in the market!

I’ve noticed recently that many of my friends also love coconut and so I do end up using it quite regularly. For a recent dinner party, I’d offered to bring a dessert. I didn’t have any fresh coconut left but did have some Baker’s sweetened coconut flakes. Coconut “burfi” (a general word for many sweets in India that can be cut into squares) came to mind and I made it, though in a non-traditional way. It was moist and crunchy at the same time and everyone liked it. Best of all, it is super easy to make though after my introduction on how healthy coconuts are, I should probably stick to fresh instead of processed coconut flakes! Here’s the recipe. It serves 8.

You’ll need:

  • Baker’s coconut (sweetened) – 7 oz pack
  • whole milk (I substituted soy milk creamer) – 1.5 to 2 cups
  • sugar (or an alternate sweetener. I used jaggery, a raw form of cane sugar) – 1 tbsp
  • green cardamom – 10, seeded and roughly ground using a mortar and pestle
  • saffron (optional) – 7-8 threads, crumbled

Simmer the milk on medium-low till it comes to a rolling boil. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Simmer for 30 minutes or till the mixture has thickened and there is almost no liquid left. Stir occasionally to avoid burning. Let it cool a bit and spread the coconut mixture in a thick layer in a buttered pan. Refrigerate (or even freeze) for a few hours to get it to set. Don’t worry too much if it won’t harden. It will still taste fine.

Enjoy this yummy dessert and the lovely floral saffron with the woody notes of cardamom perfectly matched with sweet and crunchy coconut!

And a quick tip if you’re shopping for this amazing nut. Choose one where you can hear the liquid sloshing around inside when you shake it.

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An Indian Spice Pantry


People often tell me they love to cook but have no idea where to start when it comes to Indian dishes. They are also put off by not wanting to buy a million different ingredients. And this is really why I started Veena’s Market. The whole process of trying a new cuisine and getting familiar with a few recipes is such a thrill. For those of you interested in cooking Indian recipes on your own, I want to help!

It’s no secret that the symphony of spices is what gives Indian food its complex and mysterious flavor. If the spices are the musicians, you are the conductor. Spices impart different flavors based on when they are added to the cooking process, if they are added whole or ground, and in what proportions. Today, I’ll leave you with a primer on basic spices and practical suggestions for buying and storing spices.

Buy whole rather than powdered spices and avoid pre-made mixtures. And please please please never buy anything called Curry Powder! As you learn to make the blends for different recipes, you can adjust the relative quantities of the ingredients to suit your taste. And then you don’t need to stock up on a different blend for a different curry.  Most commercial blends have too much of the cheaper ingredients anyway.

Store your spices in airtight jars and they will last a good two to three years. To make spice blends, I generally roast whole spices in a non-stick skillet on medium-low heat for 5 minutes and then grind them in a coffee grinder. I don’t use this grinder for anything else. I’ve tried a few grinders and read many reviews. The one I like is a Delonghi coffee grinder that I bought at Crate & Barrel.

The following list of spices is what I consider essential to have in your pantry if you are serious about cooking Indian food. There are many more spices but you can add them to your collection later as you need them. These you will likely need in every other recipe. This list also includes spices common to South Indian cooking.

Cumin

An ancient spice native to Egypt, cumin is widely used in Mexican and Indian cuisines. It is said to aid in digestion and be a rich source of iron.  If you like yoghurt, spice up plain yoghurt with a bit of salt and whole cumin that has been roasted over medium heat on a skillet for a few minutes.

Coriander

An herb and a spice, this versatile plant has antibacterial properties[1].  The herb and the spice are referred to as coriander though in the Americas, the term cilantro is often used for the herb. Add a pinch of coriander powder to mashed potatoes for flavor and you’ll get a good sense of its taste profile.

Black mustard seed

These seeds are added whole to hot cooking oil and will ‘split’ or crackle when cooked. This process is called tempering the oil and is a very common first step or last step in cooking Indian recipes. The Divine Dosa and the Delicious Daal kits from Veena’s Market both use this process. You can substitute brown (but not yellow) mustard seeds.

Green cardamom

These wonderfully aromatic seeds are contained in pods that are typically sold dried. The blend in Veena’s masala used in many kits contain both the green and black varieties for extra aroma and flavor. Cardamom is a must have ingredient for making Indian chai and adds great flavor in many desserts. If you make milk shakes or lassi (a yoghurt drink that can be sweet or savory) at home, add a big pinch of freshly powdered cardamom.

Red Chilies

Chilies are originally from South America and only made their way into India in the 16th century thanks to the Portuguese. The Guinness Book of World records named a chili called the Bhut Jolokia from the Assam region of India as the hottest chili in the world in 2007.  This is the one spice where I will sometimes use the powdered version vs. the whole. Some chilies are OK, but the hotter ones do burn your skin. Another reason is that many Indian recipes call for Kashmiri chilies which can be hard to find in the US.

Cinnamon

True cinnamon grows only in Sri Lanka and is also called Ceylon Cinnamon. What is typically sold as cinnamon in the US is actually Cassia. Cinnamon is lighter in color, flakier and easier to break. Its taste is more complex and sweeter than that of cassia. You’ll notice the aroma is different as well. It’s also more difficult to find. If you do make that cup of chai using cardamom, add some cinnamon as well. It’s just perfect for a rainy day!

Cloves

Cloves are strongly aromatic and help add wonderful heat to a dish. While often added whole to a dish, they are not really meant to be eaten as the flavor is too strong. But it precisely because of their strong flavor that some people will chew on them to freshen their breath. My grandmother would always have a few cloves handy in her purse!

Black pepper

The rounded pepper we consume today is a variation of the long pepper that is native to India. Long pepper was the primary method of adding heat to a dish before the introduction of chilies into India. The best peppercorn still comes from the Malabar Coast of India.

Indian Bay leaves

The Indian bay leaf is not of the same species as the bay laurel but is closely related to the cinnamon tree. While you can often do without bay leaves in a dish, I’ve added it here as I think it adds a wonderful fragrance. The dried leaves are commonly used in the Mughal cuisine of North India. It is usually OK to substitute bay laurel for Indian bay leaves.

Curry Leaves

These aromatic leaves are used in South Indian cooking mostly and impart a heady aroma. The fresh leaves are added to hot oil right after the tempering process. It is often difficult to find fresh leaves. When I do, I buy a lot, dry them at home and store them whole. Before I cook, I crush the leaves in my palm to release the flavor. Often dried and crushed curry leaves are sold. Don’t bother buying this as there is no flavor left.

Turmeric

This rhizome which is also a powerful natural dye (so be careful when cooking with it!) is a key ingredient in South Indian curries. It has a lovely earthy smell and a distinct flavor. Many commercial curry blends add too much turmeric causing a slightly bitter aftertaste especially when the spice blend is not fully “cooked”.

Asafetida

Due to its strongly pungent odor, the name for asafetida in many languages translates to “devil’s dung”[2]. Indeed, if you don’t store this spice in an airtight container, it will contaminate the flavors of other spices stored close by! But don’t be put off by this description! This is really an amazing spice. Amazing flavors are released when it is cooked in oil. Asafetida is an ingredient in many curries due to its flavor and um, how shall I say it, its very useful property of helping to digest food! If you are gluten intolerant or celiac, please note that commercial asafetida is often stabilized with wheat. Please check the ingredients or ask.

So that’s it. That is the basic list of spices for Indian cuisines. There are of course many more but I’m TRYING to keep this list short! Do you have a favorite spice? If you could add one more spice to this list, what would it be?

I hope you enjoy stocking up on these spices, cooking and experimenting with them! And if you’re looking for one of our recipe kits that already includes all the spices you need, you’ll find them here.


[1] The World’s Healthiest Foodshttp://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=70

[2] Gernod Katzer’s Spice Pages, http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Feru_ass.html

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