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Food Memories: Cardamom

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Growing up I was a child who loved to eat, I went to school happy and with a spring in my step whenever I knew my mum was cooking my favourite food that evening. I recall that even if I was having a bad day that day, the knowledge that I was going to indulge for dinner was something that was able to sustain my sense of happiness that particular bad day.

I grew up in the Netherlands with Pakistani parents and many of my (early) food memories involve the rich and diverse kitchen of Pakistan. Growing up I never considered what a true privilege it was being surrounded by exotic and beautiful spices, where each individual fragrant component played an integral part in creating the richness of Pakistani dishes.

I never questioned the many spice jars found in my mum’s kitchen cupboards, which were filled to the brim with powdered and whole spices such as turmeric, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, bay and curry leaves, green and black cardamoms to name a few (these are honestly a few!). I assumed that surely everyone cooked this way and was equipped to handle and use spices as skilfully and effortlessly as my mum and her friends.

This changed when I started cooking Pakistani food myself at the age of 22. Suddenly all these familiar spice sights and comforting spice smells didn’t look very welcoming any more. I had stocked up my own kitchen cupboards with all the spices found in my childhood kitchens, but possessed no real knowledge or understanding on how to use them properly. This is when the humble green cardamom became my friend.

The green cardamom or ‘elaichi’ in Urdu, contains for me the essence of Pakistani cooking. It is used in the majority of its dishes, sweet desserts and savoury foods alike and hundreds of millions of people on the Indian subcontinent start their day with ‘chai’ tea spiced with cardamom. For me the addition of the cardamom in my early Pakistani cooking added the missing je ne sais quoi and felt, smelled and tasted oh, so right!

The beauty of the green cardamom is in its subtleness and its ability to stay in the background whilst providing a fragrant, zesty and minty undertone. I find this spice super friendly because of its versatility and ability to effortlessly marry with other spices and ingredients, while adding beautiful aroma and flavour.

Even now, after many years of incorporating it in my own cooking, the cardamom still manages to surprise and even silence me. I recently went to my friend’s house where in between busy and loud catching up, she passed on to me a hot mug of green tea with a crushed pod of cardamom. I became silent the instant I took my first sip and a true sense of contentment, bliss and wonder at this familiar spice washed over me.

In recent years I find that I automatically reach for the green cardamom whenever I feel creative and want to experiment in my kitchen. I love adding cardamoms when making blood orange marmalade, baking French pastry and tarts and I won a prize when I submitted my cardamom, fennel seeds and almond cupcake recipe to a competition. I reckon I have found a lifelong cooking companion in my green poddy friend!

Cardamom, Cranberry and Clementine Tart

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients:

Pastry
175g plain flour
100g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
25g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp. cold water
For the filling
5 free-range eggs
125g strained full fat Greek or Turkish yoghurt
225g caster sugar
4 clementines, juice and zest
1 lemon, juice only
30 dried cranberries (I used orange flavoured cranberries)
10 pods of cardamoms, use only the seeds
Icing sugar for dusting

Method:

For the pastry:

Add the flour, butter and icing sugar into a food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and water and pulse until combined. Tip out onto your work area and quickly knead until smooth. You’re after a short pastry, so do not overwork. Form a ball, wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Grease a 23cm tart tin or mini fluted tart tins.

Once the pastry dough has firmed up, quickly roll out into a circle big enough to cover your tart tin’s base and edges.

Line the tin with foil, including the sides, then fill with baking beans.

Bake blind for 12-15 minutes, remove foil and bake for 10-12 minutes until the pastry is dry. Remove from oven and reduce the oven temperature to 180C.

For the filling:

Whisk the eggs with the juice and zest of the clementines, lemon juice, sugar, yoghurt and crushed cardamom seeds until combined.

Pour the filling carefully in to the baked pastry case (I use a jug for this!).

Bake for 15 minutes and scatter the cranberries on top. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes or until just set.

Leave to cool slightly then dust with icing sugar and enjoy!

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