The other week I made a breakfast smoothie and a visiting friend suggested posting its recipe on Fig & Quince. “But it isn’t Persian food,” I protested. “Just add some saffron to it and call it Persian!” she quipped, which made us all laugh. “Saffron and cardamom,” I hastened to add. After all, while saffron (gorgeous, glorious saffron) is the quintessential Persian spice, cardamom (under-the-radar and a bit of an unsung hero) is nearly as pivotal a spice in Persian cuisine.
Cardamom, called “hel” in Farsi (pronounced as if you’re going to say “Helen”) comes in small aromatic pods (white or green or black) containing tiny black seeds. The aroma of cardamom is hard to describe, but it is nice and penetrating: a mixture of clove, vanilla, and some other undefinable smell that is … just cardamom.
In Persian cooking, we use green or white cardamoms to make: moraba (jams), torshi-yeh-miveh (fruit pickles and preserves), shirini (pastry), bastani (ice cream), desserts, and sweet fragrant meals like khagineh (sugar omelet) and shir berenj (rice pudding.) Cardamom is also one of the ingredients of advieh-yeh-polo (the mixed spice used for rice dishes.) Black cardamom pods are used almost exclusively for medicinal purposes, such as aiding digestion. ( Black cardamom is also a natural breath freshener: one could chew the pod much like a chewing gum, seeds and all. Fun fact: Cardamom seeds are one of the ingredients in Wrigley’s “Eclipse Breeze Exotic Mint”.)
If you don’t have any cardamom in your pantry do go ahead and stock up on some (best stored in pod-form because seeds and ground cardamom quickly lose their flavor) as here at Fig & Quince we’re gearing up to have a few cardamom-centric recipes coming your way pretty soon.