cardamom: 12 posts

Saraban : Persian Spiced Hazelnuts

Saffron, pistachios, apricots, pomegranates, angelica seeds… When my inspiration for scent pairings starts to wane, I flip through my favorite Iranian books and think of the vibrant combinations of Persian cuisine. It’s one of the world’s most sophisticated, with complementary and contrasting flavors used in a single dish. There are rice pilafs steamed until every grain is separate and glossy and then embellished with saffron scented butter and rosewater. Poultry is cooked with fruit and sweet and sour sauces. Meat is grilled in a variety of ways and vegetables star in everything, from soups to jams. Even something as simple as a yogurt cucumber salad is served topped with a flourish of golden raisins, walnuts and herbs. Every mouthful is an adventure. Every taste is a surprise. It’s a cuisine custom-made for perfume lovers.

saraban1bsaraban1a

If your perspective on Iran comes from the news, then you’re likely to associate it with the brutal events of the 1979 Islamic revolution, religious intolerance and reprehensible treatment of women. Persia, on the other hand, may connote the orientalist visions of roses and nightingales. As Greg and Lucy Malouf note in their marvelous book on Persian cuisine, Saraban: A Chef’s Journey Through Persia, “there is an element of truth and exaggeration in each version, but they are, of course, one and the same place… This duality, these contrasts, the opaqueness–once we arrived in Iran, we realised that they all contribute to a very real sense of mystery, and of reward.”

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Belgian Gingerbread Treasure : Speculoos (Speculaas)

It’s called spéculoos in French, speculaas in Dutch, and Spekulatius in German, but by whatever name you call this fragrant gingerbread cookie, it will always evoke the scent of holidays in this part of the world. Speculoos may look humble, but take one bite, and you will know why it’s a favorite among Belgians. Perfumed with cinnamon, clove and cardamom, the cookie tastes of butter and caramel, and it’s impossible to have just one.

For me, speculoos is one of the quintessential Belgian tastes. Of course, there are also fries and waffles, but speculoos have their place of honor in this small country of 10 million, bridging the cultural divide between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the North and Francophone Wallonia in the South. Speculoos are eaten all over the Benelux region, with some areas such as Hasselt specializing in their own unique versions. Traditionally, the cookies were baked to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on December 5th in the Netherlands and December 6th in Belgium, but today you can find them at bakeries all year round. In Paris you will be served your expresso with a square of dark chocolate, but your lait russe (café au lait) in Brussels will arrive with speculoos on the side.

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Dreaming Florence : Hazelnut, Orange and Cardamom Biscotti

The airplane landed with a slight bump on the tarmac in Florence, and I stepped out into the Italian summer of swaying palm trees, blue skies, and soft, but naughty breeze that kept trying to lift my skirt. Belgium is only a few hours away from Italy, but culturally it might as well be on a different planet. The rainy Belgian autumn was behind me. I checked into my hotel, turned off my cell phone and went out to walk along the Arno. Perhaps, it’s a sign of my fragile emotional state over the past few months, but as I ate my pistachio gelato, I felt something close to absolute happiness.

The last time I visited Florence was almost 10 years ago, and while I have grown obviously older, she is still the same–voluptuous, ravishing, beautiful to the point of overwhelming. How could such simple things be so perfect, I kept wondering as I smelled the late summer roses blooming in profusion inside enclosed gardens or bit into the golden biscotti perfumed with anise and orange zest. A few days later I was back in Brussels, walking through the park and kicking tawny chestnuts with the tip of my boot. I missed the languid beauty of Italy. I may not have been able to infuse Brussels with the generous Italian sun, but I could conjure up Italian scents and tastes in my own home.

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Scented Garden : Geranium and Spiced Arancello Recipe

Geranium cropped

By Elise Pearlstine

Sometimes the leaves, not the flowers, tell the story of an aromatic plant. I fell in love with the fragrant leaves of the scented geranium from my first sniff. From the rich, lemony smell of the citronella type to the green, floral, minty smell of a peppermint one, it is a wonder to rub your fingers over the rough, intricately shaped leaves to test the scent. There are many varieties–spicy ones, minty ones, as well as a beautiful pine-scented type with hints of rose and nutmeg. There are several hundred species in the wild. I once had a lovely chocolate mint variety that I worked very hard to keep alive in southern Florida but it did not make it through the hot summer months. It had a lovely, deep minty smell (the chocolate was mostly in my imagination) but it was a striking plant with purple streaked leaves. I gave up on scented geraniums for a number of years but recently bought six small plants – rose geraniums and attar of roses geraniums. Within a few weeks, the rose geraniums seemed to realize they were in Florida and quickly withered and died. The attar of roses plants, however, have stayed with me. I recently moved them into my office to get photos and just the act of moving them and putting them in a smaller room served to bring out the scent. They filled the room with a heady scent of rich rose with a lovely touch of green herbs.

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Indian Sesame Cardamom Candy (Til Gul Ladoo) Recipe

Cardamom sesame candy

As the sesame seeds heat up, their delicate aroma dramatically changes into a dark, toasty fragrance that hovers above the pan. This simple transformation is delightful, but becomes even more special when, after mixed with ground cardamom and peanuts, sesame seeds hit a pan of melted sugar. At this point, it is a fragrance of such richness and opulence that I want to bottle it and wear it as perfume: dark caramel, spicy and nutty notes blend into a beautiful harmony. What I am making is til gul ladoo, a sesame cardamom candy popular in the western Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.

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