Green & Black: Cardamom's Aphrodisiac Properties & Uses Explored

Cardamom is one of my favourite spices ever, being one that I’ve been exposed to from a tender age, under the name “hel” – and in this regard I’m not different than any other Middle Eastern kid who’ve been indulging in baklava in special occasions, or been tempted to take a sip of the grown-ups’ dark roasted coffee fragrant with cardamom.

What I love so much about cardamom is its complexity and versatility as it so readily lends itself to both savoury dishes, beverages, confections and desserts. My first times using it on my own initiative have been as part of my version of an aromatic vegetable stew for couscous, along with coriander seeds, cinnamon and cloves. And later on I learned how wonderful it can work in basmati rice, not to mention myriads of aromatic curries, masalas and other spice blends, and countless desserts – Oriental sweets are the obvious ones (Baclava, sahleb, sheera, gulab jamun, rice puddings and more), but also in European pastries and baked goods (carrot cake, banana bread, gingerbread, and many Scandinavian pastries, surprisingly).

So it is both with amusement and excitement when I learned that cardamom is also considered to be a “stimulating” aphrodisiac. Green cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is the fruit of a tropical plant related to ginger (Zingiberaceae) is picked when unripe and dried. White cardamom is simply green cardamom that have been bleached, so do avoid buying this “spice”. Black (aka wild) cardamom (Amomum costatum) and has some common traits in its aroma profile – with the camphoreous component amplified, but also with an unusual smoky and earthy note that is absent in the green variety

It is also quite different in how it can be employed in dishes, lending itself much more freely to savoury dishes such as hearty curries, soups and stews and as a component in garam masala.

Green cardamom is perfect in Middle Eastern and East Indian desserts – often paired with the flavours of rosewater, saffron, cinnamon, coconut and other nuts (Gulab jamun, Indian Halvas, Baclava, Harissa), or to top off puddings and steamed milk beverages (Sahleb, Banana Sheera). It also works wonders with ginger, nutmeg and mace in warming European pastries (gingerbread, carrot cake, banana bread, pfeffernusse and more).

And of course – it is used to flavour Turkish coffee (usually it is the only spice added) and Masala Chai, where it is blended with fresh ginger root, aniseed, fennel or star anise, black pepper and allspice berries along with Assam tea leaves.

In savoury dishes, cardamom is an essential in many spice blends, such as the Indian garam masala, and is put to use in countless Indian curries. Morocco’s famous Ras el Hanout and in the Arabic Hawayej blends. It’s best friends in savoury spice blends are coriander and cumin seeds.

Romantic Aromatic Bath with Cardamom & Rose

Transport yourself to the orient with this simple bath-time treat that is equally majestic to enjoy alone or with your lover:

Fill your bathtub with warm water, and sprinkle with one cup of epsom salts (you may also add 1/4-1/2 cup sea salt or dead sea salts if you wish). Epsom salts relax the muscles. Sea and Dead Sea salts purify and cleanse the skin.
When the bath is full, put one drop of each pure Bulgarian Rose Otto and cardamom oil or CO2 into the tub. Soak and enjoy the sweet and exotic aromas mingle and fill the air. It feels to me like a thousand petals of roses unfold and above it, the sweet exotic aroma of cardamom reminds me of eating Rahat Loukum in a Hammam (something I'm yet to experience...).

If you don't have pure rose otto or can't afford it, rose geranium oil would be a good enough substitute, although it's aroma is ever so slightly more citrusy and herbaceous. It still gets that Oriental sweets aroma when combined with cardamom though :-)

Basmati rice with cardamom & carrots
(adapted from "Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites" - there is it called "Golden Basmati Rice" p. 185, which includes grated carrots, orange zest and 1/2 tsp each cinnamon and turmeric).

1 cup white basmati rice, soaked for 20-30 minutes, than rinsed and drained

1 onion, diced

1 Tbs. ghee (clarified butter) or grapeseed oil

Generous pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 Tbs. boiling water for 30 minutes

2 whole cardamoms, peeled and ground with mortar & pestle (they certainly taste much better when freshly ground - totally worth the extra effort - not mention, it's so much fun to pound them and inhale the fresh aroma of the seeds released into the kitchen's air!)

1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste - I recommend not using more than 1tsp per cup of rice)

1-3/4 cup boiling water

1/4 cup sliced almonds, slightly roasted on a dry cast iron pan (for about 2-3 minutes)

- Begin by soaking the rice in cold water, and the saffron in boiling water. While they are soaking, prepare the cardamom, cut the onion and have all your other ingredients handy.

- On medium heat, warm the ghee in a small (about a quart size) pot.

- Sautee the onions until golden.

- Add the rice and the cardamom, and sautee while stirring for another 2-3 minutes.

- Add boiling water, salt and the saffron (with the water!), and bring to a boil again, without the lid. Reduce the heat to low, and cover the pot. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender.

- Remove from heat, and keep the lid on for another 10 minutes. Be sure to keep the lid closed! This is the final stage of cooking, that will ensure your rice is well cooked, but nice and fluffy (rather than sticky...).

- While the rice is steaming quietly in the pot, prepare your almonds by roasting them gently in a cast iron pan. Be sure to stir and attend to them fully, so they don't get burnt! This will take about 2-3 minutes.

- When the rice is ready, fluff it with a fork, and transfer to a serving dish. Top with the roasted sliced or slivered almonds, and enjoy with your choice of curry, dal or Middle Eastern style casserole (such as eggplants, zucchinis or ladyfingers in tomato & pepper sauce).

SmellyBlog recipes with green cardamom:
Chai No. 1

Chai No. 2

SmellyBlog recipes with black cardamom:
Babaghanoush with Black Cardamom & Pomegranate

Spiced Italian Plum Cake

Black Beauty Chocolate Truffle (infused with Lapsang Suchong and Black Cardamom)

Perfumes with Cardamom:

Épice Sauvage



Vetiver Racinettes

And my two One of a Kind current offerings:

Incense & Chocolate

Sandal Tree

Black Cardamom & Pomegranates - Savoury Seduction

Babaghanush with Pomegranate & Black Cardamom
Nothing signifies the beginning of fall season more than that of cooked & baked spices filling the kitchen. After all the easy summer cooking (steamed vegetables, mostly), it's time again for making robust curries, soups and baking delicious aromatic cakes.

Black cardamom is a relatively new discovery of mine in the world of spices (you should see my spice rack! Its only rival is my perfumer's organ and my shoe collection). And I've been using it creatively to transform familiar recipes into something exotic and mysterious. Because this is what black cardamom smells like: smoky, spicy, pungent, warm and aromatic. It is similar to green cardamom with its eucalyptus-like camphoreous vapours that rise when pounding it in the mortar and pestle. But it has a personality all of its own - smoky, dark and earthy, not nearly as sweet as green cardamom. Therefore, it is perfect for savoury dishes that need a departure from the mundane.

And that's what I did to my babaghanoush recipe, along with some pomegranate molasses (!), both combined transported it from a familiar dip commonly eaten with flatbread or in sandwiches, into a delicious treat that I think won't shame a great chef in a fancy restaurant. Savour it!

Eggplants are a versatile vegetable that might seem intimidating to most North Americans, but in reality is quite easy to cook with, if you only know how to prepare it so its flavours really shine. The key with eggplants is not let its high water content overwhelm the recipe and take away from its flavour. This is why eggplants are best when roasted to the point of caramelization; or pre-salted to drain excess water before being sauteed, fried or baked. Eggplants are even used in Moroccan confections (I kid you not!). But now I want to share with you a recipe that is a spin on a most familiar and popular dip called babaghanush. Usually, eggplants are roasted on open fire If you have a gas stove, roast the eggplant directly on the gas flame; if not, simply prick with a fork 2 large eggplants and bake or grill in 450-500, rotating periodically, until it is blackened from all sides. Scoop the cooked flesh out with a spoon, and mash with a fork or a potato masher. Add the following:

1-2 Tbs tahini (raw white sesame paste)

Lemon juice from one whole lemon

2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated

2 Tbs pomegranate molasses (dark, almost black syrup from pomegranates - be sure it's one with no sugar additives - you can find these in most Persian or Middle Eastern grocery stores)

1/4 tsp cumin, ground

2 black cardamom pods, peeled and pounded with mortar and pestle

Salt to taste (might not be necessary - depending on the type of tahini you use; many of them already have sufficient amount of salt in them already)

Garnish with olive oil, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds, or with black olives.

Serve as a dip for vegetables, flatbread, or inside sandwiches. Personally, I just eat it with a spoon as is...

My next challenge is creating a dessert for this weekend featuring both pomegranate and black cardamom. I've used black cardamom in my Black Beauty Truffles with much success, and am curious to see how the tangy touch of pomegranate (not to mention their ruby red colours) will enhance a chocolate dessert. Wait and watch...

Blue Plum Cake

Italian Plum Cake Ingredients

Harvest season is fast approaching, bringing forward some of my favourite fruit and the funnest thing to do on less than perfect weather days - baking!

The Italian plum cake recipe I'm about to share with you is a spin-off the apricot almond cake I've been baking at least once (if not twice!) a week ever since apricots decided to ripen. Only in this one is gluten free and warmed up with some spices.

The plums you should use are the Italian plums, aka blue plums or prune plums. These and sugar plums are the only plums you can split open and pit without squeezing their juice out recklessly... These plums always appear dusty when picked up fresh from the tree, and that dust gives their naturally purple skin a surreal blue hue. The dust or powder is, in fact, natural fruit enzymes that assist in digesting them. Therefore, I don't even bother with washing them, but I'll leave that decision up to you.

I've also added some spices, and of course you can feel free to leave them out if you are not into these spices, or come up with your own spice combination you like for these special plums. The almonds this time are unblanched. So grind up some whole or sliced almonds in a coffee grinder for this recipe. It will give the cake a nicer flavour. I find that sliced almonds have a fair amount of bitter almonds among them, which make their flavour even more perfect for the cake (in which case, you may not need any bitter almond extract at all!).

My first time I made it with cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg, which is the typical Eastern European pairing with prunes as in Povidl (prune plum butter). The 2nd time around I've decided to experiment with black cardamom - my newly found farouvite spice. I'm pleased to announce that the results were phenomenal!

Italian Plum Cake
10 Tbs salted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cups evaporated cane sugar
3 eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract (or use vanilla paste if you have - it's amazing!)
1 tsp pure almond extract

1/2 tsp allspice, ground
1 black cardamom, freshly ground in a mortar and pestle

1/4 tsp cloves, ground
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
Pinch of nutmeg, grated on a microplane (optional)
2 tsp. baking powder 1 cup buckwheat flour (be sure NOT to use a buckwheat pancake mix!) 1 cup (200gr) ground sliced or whole almonds (with the brown peel)
1/4 cup sour milk
16 prune plums, halved and pitted

- Preheat oven to 350F
- Whip butter and sugar with a blender.
- Add the eggs, vanilla, almond extract and spices.
- Add the baking powder, flour and ground almonds
- Add the sour milk
- Line a springform pan with parchment paper
- Pour the batter and even it out with a rubber spatula (it is a rather solid batter, almost resembling a drop cookie batter)
- Place the halved prune plums, face down, and press slightly onto the batter
- Bake for 30-40 minutes (until a knife inserted in middle of the cake comes out clean)
Best served warm and fresh out of the oven; or wait till the next day - it actually becomes moister the next day! Best to keep in room temperature, so if you don't anticipate eating it within 3 days and you live in a hot climate, by all means refrigerate it and bring to room temperature before serving.

* Equipment you will need for this recipe:
Standup or hand mixer
12" spinrgform pan
baking parchament
rubber spatula
measuring spoons and cups
nutmeg grater
mortar and pestle

Black Beauty

isn't she a beauty?, originally uploaded by serni.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a spark of inspiration. The night before I felt so drained and discouraged I didn't think I would make any truffles at all... But that morning, I woke up bright and early, and we already had early breakfast plans with my brother Noam (who offered to take us out - how sweet of him, and so perfect for a full weekend market).

So I wake up, and I had the chocolate all ready and my ingredients all lined up. I've been in love with black cardamom every since I read about it in Vij's at Home cookbook. I always dismissed black cardamom as a spice because all I read about it was that it's inferior to the green cardamom. And since I love green cardamom so much, I thought there was no point searching for something inferior to it... After cooking an amazing black chickpeas, date and black cardamom curry from the book, I was so moved by black cardamom's beauty, that I was determined to explore this spice in every way possible - including truffles. I just was not sure how.

2 Varieties of Black Cardamom, originally uploaded by norecipes.

Black cardamom is usually much larger and coarser looking than green cardamom. In both cases though, the shells from these pods are removed before grinding. However, they can be cooked whole (much like cloves), which is how they are used when cooking chai. The outer shell of black cardamom has a distinctively smoky and earthy aroma. The glossy seeds, once exposed and pounded with a mortar and pestle, have an aroma that is camphoreous yet earthy still. It lends a very unusual flavour to curries - giving them intense depth. And apparently, that's what gives the food at the renowned Vij's Restaurant its characteristic, as it is used in many of their recipes, and is a main ingredient in their signature garam masala.

I haven't dined at Vij's much (only once, actually), because the lineup there is 2 hours long (and there is always a lineup) - by which time I would have been able to cook up a recipe from either of their fabulous books and feel really proud of myself (not to mention feed a whole flock of starving teenagers, students and/or artists for a fraction of the cost).

So, I can actually attest to the magic of black cardamom and I'm so glad that I added yet another unlabeled jar of mystery onto my spice rack (the only thing that is more elaborate than my spice rack is my perfumer's organ...).

At 7am, I infused my cream with a generous heap of black lapsang suchong tea, crushed cardamoms (with pods included) and simmered them for a while. Meanwhile, my dark chocolate was melting on the bain-marie, to which I later added a dash of finely ground black smoked salt, some of my favourite type of gin, and even more finely ground black cardamom seeds (in my marble mortar and pestle). Whisking the two mixtures together, I had a ganache ready, a shallow pan ready (these were going to be cut up into squares, rather than formed into balls like I usually do). I let them chill and headed down the street for breakfast with the family.

A few hours later, I was at my table at Portobello West, putting the final touches to my table, such as putting little tags and signs for little items that require explanations, as there is more to them than meets the eye. It was time to tell the world about my new truffles... I started writing down what's in them, and I realized it would be really hard to convince people to eat them based on a list of ingredients only. They had to have a name. As I was printing the ingredients on the little card -

Black cardamom

Black smoked salt

(Black) Lapsang Suchong Tea

I realized that everything in these truffles was black and beautiful and the name just announced itself on the tag:


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