Almighty pod: Skye Gyngell cooks with cardamom

More potent than its size suggests, the tiny cardamom is equally good in sweet and savoury dishes. And, says Skye Gyngell, its aniseedy flavour is utterly irresistible

Surprisingly, cardamom is a member of the ginger family. Inside a dry but rather pretty green outer shell lie the little seeds that impart an aniseedy, almost mint-like, taste. A little goes a long way, as its flavour is intense.

It originates in India, where it is widely used to flavour savoury and sweet dishes alike. Buy whole and keep in a sealed jar; once ground, they soon lose their flavour.

You can warm gently in a saucepan before using – this will enhance the flavour – then pound gently. Remove the husks and use the seeds which lie therein.

We are delighted to note that Skye's restaurant (Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com) has just been awarded its first Michelin star

Chai

I have rather fallen in love with chai lately – largely because we have taken to making it at work. I find its aniseedy sweet gentleness completely irresistible.

Serves 6

2 tbsp Earl Grey tea (or any other tea that you particularly like)
3 tbsp caster sugar
6-8 cardamom pods, left whole
200ml/7fl oz whole milk

Put the tea, sugar and cardamom pods into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar, add the milk and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Remove from the stove, strain and pour into little glasses. It is important that this tea is served really warm.

Sweet rice with cardamom and rosewater

This rice has a very Eastern feel to it – it is a lovely way to finish a meal. Try serving it alongside a glass of fresh mint tea. It is also very nice served slightly chilled in the summer months – on its own or alongside a little just-poached fruit such as nectarines or apricots.

Serves 4-6

250g/8oz risotto rice
900ml/1 pints whole milk
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
The peel of unwaxed lemon
A little pinch of salt
6-8 cardamom pods
200ml/7fl oz double cream
150g/5oz caster sugar
1 tbsp rosewater

Rinse the rice well under cold running water, then place in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the milk, vanilla pod, lemon peel, salt and cardamom, bring to a boil and immediately turn down to the lowest possible heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is tender but still retains its bite – this should take about 20 minutes. Now stir in the cream, sugar and rose syrup. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Potato and cauliflower curry

Serve this simple and quick curry alongside a little chutney and some steamed basmati rice.

Serves 4-6

tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely sliced
2 green chillis, deseeded and finely chopped
1 bunch of coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves reserved for garnish
tsp coriander seeds
tsp fennel seeds
tsp mustard seeds
6 cardamom pods, roasted and ground
2 medium-sized waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into generous-sized chunks
1 thumb of ginger, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fish sauce (you can use a light soya sauce if you prefer)
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp palm sugar
1kg/2lb of ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 tin coconut milk
1 head of cauliflower, broken into 1-inch florets

Place a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat on top of the stove and add the oil. Once the oil is warm, add the onion, chilli, coriander and crushed spices. Cook for 10 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the potatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic, fish sauce, tamarind and palm sugar. Stir once or twice, allowing the palm sugar to dissolve as you do so. Then add the chopped tomatoes and coconut milk and cook for 20 minutes, by which time the potatoes should be tender but not falling apart. Add the cauliflower and cook for a final 5-10 minutes – I like the cauliflower when it still has a little crunch.

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