Black cardamom is one of those ingredients I've wanted to try for a while. Smoky and a little funky, black cardamom is related to the better-known green cardamom, but its flavor is vastly different. Black cardamom is to green cardamom as Loki is to Thor - dark, biting, and deep down, craving to be liked. Green cardamom is wonderful in many, many dishes, but I was excited to try black cardamom in a more savory, almost meaty application. Black cardamom gets its smoky, darker flavor from being dried over an open fire, and as such is perfect wherever you want a smoky, earthy, almost gingery accent. Though black cardamom is traditionally used in (among other things) Indian spice blends such as garam masala, I found a recipe for collard greens braised in coconut milk and spiced with black cardamom, asafoetida (hing) powder, and a few other spices.
A quick note about asafoetida, another intriguing ingredient that I like to store in the “How did anyone ever think to eat this” files: Asafoetida is the dried and powdered resin of a tree. (Seriously, HOW did humans discover this?) In addition to being used as a digestive aid and in other medicinal applications, asafoetida is a standard ingredient in South Indian cooking. You should know, though, that it does have a very distinct, shall we say, aroma, and that many find this aroma to be unpleasant. I was actually a little hesitant to give asafoetida a chance, but I am so glad that I did. Like a funky cheese, a sour pickle, or a moldy piece of bread (just kidding on the last one), asafoetida adds a little spunk to your food. A pinch goes a long way, and it has become my secret weapon when I want to enhance the layers of a dish. For example, I made a sauté of onions and kale, served on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes, and added a pinch of asafoetida to the hot oil while the onions were browning. It added a little je ne sais quoi to the dish, making it completely different from anything I’ve made before. Anyway, back to the collard greens:
This is my new favorite way to prepare collard greens and I imagine it would work well with any sturdy green (kale, chard, etc.). After toasting a few spices in some hot oil, you add a thinly sliced onion, two bunches of ribboned collards, coconut milk, and a bit of water. Then you just put a lid on it and stand back. After 40 minutes, you have meltingly tender collard greens, exotically spiced yet still familiar. Serve it over rice (or maybe even this) and you have a hearty, warming dinner.
Braised Collard Greens with Coconut Milk and Black Cardamom
adapted from Serious Eats
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 pinch asafoetida (hing) powder
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 teaspoon Urfa pepper
1 large onion, thinly sliced in half moons
Salt and pepper to taste
2 bunches of collard greens, ribs removed and leaves cut into 1-inch ribbons
1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
Juice of half a lime
Cilantro, to serve (optional)
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds, asafoetida, and cardamom pods. Cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds, then add the coriander, paprika, and Urfa pepper and cook for 30 more seconds.
Lower heat to medium and add the onions and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften and start to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the collards in handfuls, stirring to coat the greens with the oil after every addition. Stir in the coconut milk and 1/4 cup of water, lower heat so things are simmering gently, and cook until very tender, about 40 minutes.
Stir in the lime juice then taste and adjust seasoning. The collards should melt in your mouth and there should be a bit of sauce left in the pan. Serve over rice, garnished with cilantro if you like.