People who cook from scratch these days have an unprecedented degree of access to spices and condiments from around the world. Every culture has its favorite flavorings, and we have the luxury of being able to experiment with spices and come up with new combinations.
Herbs and spices often seem to have natural affinities with each other and with certain foods. The Italians and Greeks learned long ago that basil, oregano, and garlic can merge their flavors very effectively and pleasantly with that of the exotic New World vegetable, the tomato. One spice duo of which I have become very fond over the years is the pairing of cinnamon with cardamom. Cinnamon is a familiar spice, but cardamom is less well-known in the general American cooking world. The seeds come from an Indian tropical plant in the Ginger Family, the Zingiberaceae. I love the word Zingiberaceae! It sounds exotic and tropical to my ears.
Here is a painting from an old herbal showing the various parts of of one of the cardamom species in the genus Elettaria:
Cardamom seeds are best bought still in the pods, which have a triangular cross-section. The pods are symmetrical and top-shaped, but the seeds are shaped in a seemingly random fashion, as if the species is still unsure of what the shape should be. Some look like little round pebbles, while others look for all the world like tiny dog turds:
Here’s Bev pouring a mixture of honey and lemon juice over a pan of baklava. The pastry has a filling of chopped nuts and butter flavored with cinnamon and cardamom. The flaky crust is made of multiple layers of phyllo dough:
Imagine these cardamom flowers languidly opening in a steamy lowland tropical forest as the gibberings of a troop of monkeys echoes from the buttressed tree trunks; epiphytic orchids watch from their perches in mossy tree-branch crotches as the cardamom blossoms open one by one:
A final note: in Iran and some other Middle Eastern countries people often flavor their coffee with crushed cardamom seeds. Sometimes the cardamom seeds are ground with the roasted coffee beans. I’ve tried this and like it; the Scandinavian practice of chewing cardamom seeds also has gained my favor lately.