Spice Rack Challenge: Black Cardamom Chicken Curry

16 Mar

So another, day, another dollar, another month’s Spice Rack Challenge, a food blogger challenge to get creative with our humble little spice racks.  The challenge is coordinated by the fine blogga over at Mother’s Kitchen.  So far, I’ve made rosemary focaccia in January, and Persian style rice pilaf with dried limes in February.

For March, we were charged with the task of using cardamom.  Over in my spice rack, we have green cardamom pods and cardamom powder.  You can make some awesome desserts and sweet breads using green cardamom.    Double’s S Scandinavian peeps make some awesome bread for us every Xmas using cardamom and dried fruit.  The thing is, it was just my birthday and the week prior, it was Double S’s birthday.  Needless to say, the house was filled with sweets and desserts: chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookie bars and rice krispie treats (Thanks, Mom!).  So, even though it kinda defeated the purpose of the challenge in that I didn’t use what i had in my spice rack, I ventured out and purchased black cardamom and made something savory.

Black cardamom pods.

First of all, black cardamom is a bit hard to find.  Your local grocery will only have the green stuff.  You need to go to specialty spice market or Indian grocery store to get black cardamom, but the pods are cheaper than the green pods.  In Seattle, you can get it here or here, which is where I got it.  Love this place!  Best mango pickle I’ve ever had!  Anyway, black cardamom is different than the typical green cardamom.  The seeds have a much more smoky character than the green pods because of how they are dried over an open flame.

For the recipe, I turned to an Indian cookbook that I picked up when Double S and I visited Vancouver last year.  It’s from Vij’s Rangoli, an amazing Indian restaurant in the South Granville District of BC.  See the cookbook here. I chose the only recipe in the cookbook that featured black cardamom, but cumin seeds and coriander seeds back a prime role in this dish as well, as they often do in Indian cuisine.  The black cardamom seeds definitely provide a smoky undertone to this dish.  Black cardamom pods are ideally suited to long cooking dishes like this one, so that there’s time for its fat and water-soluble oils to be released.  So use black cardamom when you’re going to me letting your curry simmer.  I also read that black cardamom is considered to have a bit of a medicinal taste–like camphor and resin and a bit of mint.  It pairs well with chilies and cumin, of which there are plenty in this dish, and its a prime ingredient in garam masala.  All of this to say, black cardamom is kinda magical.

This recipe also features buttermilk.  I’m kinda having a buttermilk renaissance right now.  Buttermilk is basically slightly sour milk, the sourness coming from lactic acids in the milk.  Back in the day, buttermilk was simply what was left over old-timey folks churned cream into butter.  Today, unless you churn your own raw milk into butter and use the remnants as buttermilk (if so, you’re awesome friend!), commercially available buttermilk is milk inoculated with lactic acid bacteria.   It adds a great tang to this dish, so use it or the easy substitute of 1 TBSP fresh lemon juice to one cup milk.

Here goes!

Chicken in Buttermilk Curry, featuring Black Cardamom and Coriander Seeds

Adapted from Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine


2 cups buttermilk

1 cup water

1.5 lbs chicken, or use stewing beef or lamb leg

1 TBSP coriander seeds–I used w TBSP and it turned out very coriander tasting, which we liked, but you might want to go with just 1 TBSP, especially if you really want the black cardamom to shine.

1/2 cup canola oil

1 1/2 TBSP cumin seeds

4-8 garlic cloves, diced

8 cloves

Seeds from 10 black cardamom pods–I think I could have even used more.  Go up to 15 pods and let the black cardamom shine.

Inside of a cardamom pod. Reminded me of a walnut or a brain.

1 TBSP salt

1 large potato, mashed.  Ooh, doggy is this a good idea to thicken up this curry!

1.  On the night before or morning that you plan to make this recipe, pour buttermilk into a large bowl or tupperware, then add meat and mix well.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

2.  When you’re ready to cook. put the coriander seeds into a mortar or bowl and lightly pound/crack them.  Set aside.

Coriander seeds, which add a lot of flavor to this dish.

3.  Heat oil in pit on medium heat.  Add cumin seeds and cook for about a minute.  Then add garlic, and watch it carefully.  My first round of garlic burned quickly.  Keep the heat on a low-ish medium.  Saute garlic for about 5 minutes.

4.  Add coriander, chilies, cloves, black cardamom, and salt.  Stir well and cook for about 3-5 minutes.

Crack the pods with a knife or just squeeze them, then extract the seeds.

Open your windows! This smells strong!

5.  Add marinated meat with all of its buttermilk, plus the 1 cup water.  Stirring constantly, bring it to a boil.

6.  Once it reaches a boil, cover and reduce heat to as low as it goes, or about medium low of you’re using beef or lamb.  Cook for about 1 hour.

Vij says in the recipe that this curry isn't going to win any awards for beauty, but does it taste good!

7.  Remove lid and add mashed potato.  Cover again and cook for awhile longer, up to an hour longer.  Serve with basmati rice or naan.

Ready to eat!

OMG, did this turn out better than I had expected!  I was worried for several hours that I decided to use chicken breasts instead of beef (I’m not the biggest fan of lamb) and that the meat would be dry and the spices wouldn’t have a chance to infuse, but it turned out great.  Don’t be afraid to let the chicken breasts cook for a full two hours.  The chicken got pull apart tender and the meal was a lot less greasy that it otherwise would have been.   The cardamom and cloves gave the dish a great depth, and was very different from my usual anti sweets in my savory rule.  Success!  Get yourself some black cardamom and give this a try!


8 Responses to “Spice Rack Challenge: Black Cardamom Chicken Curry”

  1. Maggie March 20, 2011 at 11:42 AM #

    This sounds great! I could try it with coconut milk kefir in place of the buttermilk.

    Did you grind the cardamom once you took it out of the pods? In the recipes I tried with the black cardamom I did remove the seeds and grind only the seeds, not the pods. That was when the flavor put me off, but I liked the flavor of the whole pods. If you didn’t grind them, did they taste good when you bit into them?

    • ohbriggsy March 21, 2011 at 8:08 AM #

      Coconut milk kefir sounds awesome–great idea.

      anyway, no i didnt grind the seeds. i didnt even actually notice biting into them, and i liked the overall flavor of my dish. i did read around that black cardamom needs other spices to balance out its intensity. my recipe called for quite a bit of cumin (which i toasted) and coriander seeds, so im thinking maybe that rounded out the flavor and lessened the medicine-y taste of the cardamom.

  2. Danielle March 24, 2011 at 7:58 AM #

    Sounds delicious! We love a good curry here at chez hates!

  3. Mary March 24, 2011 at 10:25 AM #

    I sooo wanted to try using black cardamom, but the two places I tried near where I live were a no-go. I’m definitely going have to try harder to find it, though, ’cause this sounds amazing! BTW, I noticed a medicine-y, menthol-like smell from the green and ground cardamom I used in my recipes, too, but I couldn’t really taste that in the finished products (and there was a ton of ground cardamom in the chicken I made!).

    • ohbriggsy April 10, 2011 at 8:26 AM #

      thanks, mary! i hope you can find black cardamom. they were cheap at my local indian market. anyway i agree, i think the medicine-yness of it all is diminished in cooking, especially if other indian spices are added.

  4. shayne March 29, 2011 at 7:04 PM #

    you are right it does look a lot like walnut meat, never noticed that before

  5. Keri May 21, 2011 at 6:37 PM #

    You should give your hand at making your own butter, You will be surprised. Take whipping cream and a pinch of salt…..put in a glass jar…..leave enough room to shake…..and then shake it like hell for around 8-10 minutes until it separates……you will never want to buy it again…..you try my butter recipe and I am going to mae your dill pickle chips tomorrow.

    • ohbriggsy June 13, 2011 at 3:33 PM #

      thanks for stopping by! did you make the dill chips? i love them and am coming to my last jar, but my cuke patch is looking good. i haven’t tried butter yet–will do soon! agreed that fresh butter leaves store butter in the dust!

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