Spices of the Month - December
Posted: Saturday, December 1, 2012
This month, Kowalski's is featuring the warming spices of the season: cardamom, cloves, ginger and cinnamon sticks.
Cardamom, the seedpod of a ginger-like plant, is a spice native to the East that originated in southern India. Contained within the football-shaped pods are several dozen sticky, black seeds. The pods can be used whole, but in Western cooking the seeds contained within the brown, black, green or bleached white pods are usually ground into a powder. The pod itself is generally not used, as it can impart unpleasant bitterness. Pungent, warm and aromatic with flavors of eucalyptus, camphor and lemon, cardamom is recognizable in recipes such as Dutch "windmill" cookies, various Scandinavian cakes and pastries, and in traditional chai tea blends. It is also traditionally used in many Indian dishes, pickled herring and in punches and mulled wines.
Cloves are dried flower buds sold both whole and ground. Cloves are often used in Asian, African and Middle Eastern cooking to flavor to meats and curries. They are also used in sweet and baked dishes, such as those with fruits like apples, pears, squash or pumpkin. They are extremely pungent, so recipes calling for cloves often require a very small amount. Whole cloves can be added to the poaching liquid for fruits, the brining liquid for meats or pickles, or used in homemade potpourri.
Ginger comes from the root of a tropical flowering plant. It is particularly hot and fragrant and is an important ingredient in Chinese, Korean, Japanese and many South Asian recipes. It provides an interesting counterpoint to flavors of lemon, chocolate or pumpkin, among other fruits.
The flavors of fresh and dried ginger are somewhat different, with dried, ground ginger being six times as potent as its fresh counterpart. Powdered dry ginger root is typically used as a flavoring for recipes such as gingerbread, gingersnaps and other cakes and cookies, as well as beverages like ginger ale, ginger beer and ginger tea.
Cinnamon sticks are the unground form of the inner bark of a tree used to make ground cinnamon. Try these ideas for using the whole sticks:
- Make cinnamon sugar by adding 3-4 sticks per pound of sugar and letting it stand for 2 weeks.
- Steep cinnamon sticks in milk before using the milk to make pudding, hot chocolate or custards.
- Add to the poaching liquid for fruits (such as apples and pears).
- Use a microplane or coffee grinder to grind whole sticks; use the freshly ground cinnamon as you would fresh nutmeg.