Cardamom – along with cumin and coriander seeds, cardamom are an essential Indian spice. The pungent and warm bouquet of cardamom seeds with their distinct aroma is unforgettable and the spice adds a pleasing, warm, slightly lemon-like flavour, with an element of eucalyptus and camphor. The plant grows in tropical and sub-tropical areas and comes mainly from India, which produces 80% of the world’s crop. It is a tall shrub with short stems that, after flowering, carry small green seed capsules. Green cardamoms are the most common and useful; white cardamoms are the same type of pods that have been bleached (they are used in Indian desserts). Black cardamoms are quite different; the black spice is used in long cooked, highly flavoured savoury Indian dishes. The flavour is coarse and too overpowering for light dishes. Cardamom plays an essential role in both sweet and savoury dishes worldwide. It is an essential flavour in Indian curries, pulaos, garam masala and other spice mixtures, and is also essential to the flavour of many Indian sweetmeats, desserts, ice-creams and drinks such as the classic chai. The spice is also used widely in Scandinavian and German cooking- in pickles, with herrings and in cakes and pastries. It is one of the spices that flavour aquavit, along with caraway. It is also said that chewing cardamom seeds helps to freshen the breath. The ancient Egyptians used the spice for this purpose, simultaneously whitening their teeth. The eucalyptus and camphor of cardamom does seem to be an antidote to the smell of garlic or alcohol on the breath. Cardamom is also widely used in Arab and North African cooking in spicy stews.
Mustard seeds – the word mustard comes from the Latin word mustum or must, the name for the grape juice used to mix the ground seeds to a paste, known in turn as the mustum ardens, the burning paste. There are three different kinds of mustard seed: white (alba), brown (juncea), and black (nigra). Mustard seeds have little or no smell. The hot taste that gives mustard its bite is released only when the seeds are crushed and mixed with water. Crushing and moistening the mustard, or mixing powdered mustard with water, activates an enzyme present in the seeds, and it reacts with other natural constituents to develop the essential oil, which gives mustard its characteristic taste. Black seeds have the sharpest, most pungent flavour, white seeds are much milder, while the brown seeds come somewhere in between. Mustard is an indispensible ingredient in cooking: the different whole seeds, ground or powdered seeds, prepared pastes and oil are all used. The white seeds are used in pickling and the brown and black seeds are used throughout India in curry powders and also as separate spice for tempering. The seeds are cooked in hot oil until they pop and are then stirred into a variety of vegetable and daal dishes. Mustard oil is used in many Indian recipes. Mustard is used in salad dressings and in mayonnaise. It is also added to cheese sauce, and sauces for cabbage and cauliflower. The seeds can also be sprouted in a glass jar, in a similar way to beansprouts. The delicate sprouts can be used in salads and sandwiches.