A TASTE OF THE EAST
There are generally 2 classes of cardamom. One is a smaller green spice while the other is a larger brown spice known as black cardamom. Both are used in cooking savoury and sweet dishes. However, green cardamom is more common for sweet recipes such as Indian chai and rice puddings. This spice is very common in Indian cuisine as India is one of the largest producers. In the Middle East cardamom is also quite popular in coffee. They have spicy notes that are quite aromatic. Black cardamom has a bit more of a smoky taste, although it is not typical smokey. For this reason, black cardamom works well with rice and meat dishes.
Another unique spice is saffron. This is also a very eastern spice. The largest producers of some of the highest quality saffron are the 2 countries that use it most in their cuisine, Iran and Spain. Saffron can be quite expensive but, when you understand the process of how it is gathered, it makes sense as to why. The saffron crocus flowers take some time to develop, are extremely sensitive to the conditions they are grown in and their cultivation time is short. Not only that, but saffron itself is actually the stigma of the flower. This means that only a few strands of saffron are picked per flower. To make enough to sell one portion, several flower stigma need to be picked and weighed. Given that they weigh very little, that is a lot to make 1 portion to sell. Saffron is amazing in foods though. A few strands create a beautiful golden colour and a unique taste.
Passing through the spice aisle I came across black cardamom and purchased some with the intention of trying it out. I had tried green cardamom several times but this was new to me. While having lunch at a local Indian restaurant I asked about this spice. They told me it could be used for a variety of dishes but in rice was very popular. Having smelled the interesting scent of black cardamom I decided to try it out in a kind of pilaf. Being Spanish, I had saffron on hand because that is how I enjoy my rice dishes. It wouldn’t be too hard to throw in a few more flavours.
To make this rice side dish for 2 people, start with 1/2 C of jasmine rice. It doesn’t seem like much but rice does nearly triple in size when cooked. Sauté about 2 Tbsp of finely diced red onion in a Tbsp of vegetable oil to add some flavour. I know vegetable oil is not the typical olive oil my recipes call for. The reason is because olive oil has a strong flavour of its own. To get the full effect of the cardamom and saffron, I chose a tasteless oil to cook with.
Once the onions have cooked for a few minutes in the hot oil, add a pod of black cardamom and a pitch of saffron. Stir this for a few minutes and you will notice the colouring from the saffron beginning.
Before adding your rice, make sure you give it a rinse in cold water until the water is no longer murky. This washes the rice but also gets rid of some of the starch which will make your rice sticky. Sticky rice is good but not for this dish.
Stir in the rice with the onion and spices along with some salt. Add water (double what the amount of rice is) and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, stir the rice, drop the temperature to low so it simmers, and cover the pot. Let it simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn off the stove but let it sit, covered, for 5 more minutes. This technique for cooking rice always yields a perfectly cooked grain. It is the same technique I use for cooking quinoa too.
Before serving, remove the cardamom pod and fluff the rice with a fork and let it cool a bit. This will ensure the grains don’t mush together and the rice stays light and fluffy. Enjoy with other spiced foods as a part of an exotic meal 😉
1/2 C jasmine rice
1 C water
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp finely diced red onion
1 black cardamom pod
1 pinch saffron
1. Rinse rice until water runs clear.
2. Sauté onion in olive oil in a pot until onion is cooked.
3. Stir in cardamom and saffron.
4. Stir in rice.
5. Add water and bring to a boil while stirring.
6. Once water boils, reduce heat to a simmer.
7. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.
8. Turn off heat and let sit, covered, for another 5 minutes.
9. Remove lid and fluff with a fork before serving.
Protein 3.3 g