Chetna Makan: Cardamom Trail

Chetna Makan

You are probably well acquainted with pairing the herbs and spices in your cabinet for baking: carrot cake with cinnamon, chocolate cake with a bit of espresso coffee, or peach pie with some vanilla. Don’t stop there. Break through all the conventional pairing and surprise your taste buds with something new.

In The Cardamom Trail: Chetna Bakes with Flavours of the East (Mitchell Beazley 2016) Chetna Makan writes:

Home baking is not very popular in India, and, as with most Indian kitchens, outs did not have a built-in oven…My first memories of baking are of Mom using our very basic tabletop oven (which she still uses) to make birthday cakes for my two sisters and me. (p. 6)

That early beginning has led to an imaginative cookbook that marries the ingredients, spices, and techniques of India with more traditional Western baking. That early birthday cake was probably nothing like the plain vanilla or chocolate cakes American kids got for their birthdays! Think of this book as the flip side of The Hundred Foot Journey – if the main character, Hassan, had also been a pastry chef.

The Cardamom Trail by Chetna MakanThe Cardamom Trail covers everything in baking from Cakes, Pies and Tarts, to Savory Small Bites and Breads. A Carrot and Banana Spiced Cakes (p. 28) includes not only cinnamon but also less familiar cardamom. Once you buy a spice, you’ll want to use it in more than one recipe. Read about Cardamom (pp. 52-3), the uses of green and black varieties and how to get the seeds out of the pods along with a list of the recipes that include the spice. Why not make a tray of Masala Chai Baklava (pp. 102-3) and invite your friends to celebrate Eid, the end of Ramadan? Instead of the usual Middle Eastern/Greek pastry, this one is full of cashews and almonds and doused in syrup flavored with ginger, cardamom and tea? The small diamonds of pastry look absolutely scrumptious in the photograph by Nassima Rothacker.

Maybe you are adding Saffron to your repertoire. First read about all things Saffron (p. 43) and then try a few of the recipes like the Saffron Brioche Buns with Mango Cardamom Cream (p. 119) that includes green cardamom and two pinches of saffron threads.

The Savoury Small Bites chapter includes a many more familiar Indian inspired treats like Fennugreek Papdi Chaat (p. 158) for your next cocktail party:

There are many permutations of ingredients, both for the biscuits and the chutneys to spread on top. In this version, the sweet, slightly nutty flavor of dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) combine with thyme-like carom seeds to create an exquisite biscuit, which is given extra punch by the chili chutney.

She also includes a gluten-free Tapioca Vada (p. 162), Spinach Pakoras (p. 165) and Cashew and Paneer Koftas (p. 168) which, though fried, are full of vegetables, flavor, and color. This is a chapter that will help you get out of a rut of wine and cheese and the usual hors d’oeuvres.

Follow The Cardamom Trail to your local Indian market and explore the aisles armed with an inspired cookbook. It’s time to make some room in your spice cabinet for new flavors.

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