As part of our last cook-up post, we made plantains sprinkled with cinnamon, pepper and sea salt and fried in coconut oil.
When reaching into our spice cupboard for the cinnamon, I noticed the jar of cardamom resting nearby…mostly full and largely neglected (I think we last pulled it out when making paleo pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving).
I love cardamom and thought, Hmmm, why not sprinkle this atop our plantains too?
I did. It was delicious. And I’ve been sprinkling cardamom atop many other things since. Not just dessert—but also my morning coffee and even savory dinner dishes (like last night’s lamb meatballs).
Why the sprinkling of cardamom with wild abandon (or at least vigorous shakes of a spice jar)?
Sure, cardamom’s unique, intense aroma is part of it.
And, after all, cardamom is a Chinese herb that works wonders for facilitating smooth digestion, warming and strengthening the digestive organs, transforming “damp” in the body, and stopping certain sorts of diarrhea.
In Chinese, we call it sha ren 砂仁, or “sand seeds.”
But the real reason behind my cardamom obsession has to do with memory. And Cairo. And friendship.
You see, in one of my past lives, I lived in Cairo, Egypt. And one of my dearest friends and I would buy our coffee beans from a tiny, bustling coffee-bean shop in wast al-balad, or downtown. And we’d request that our freshly roasted beans be ground with pods of cardamom.
(Another dear friend in Cairo, Yahya, took a handful of photos at a tiny coffee bean shop for me after I wrote this article. Made me so happy to receive them! The one above was my favorite.)
Back at our apartment, we’d prepare an intensely dark, intensely thick brew of cardamom-spiked ahwa (coffee) using our kanaka (Turkish coffee pot).
Many afternoons, we’d drink it together out of small glass cups while seated on floor cushions working, studying…sharing stories and ideas and tears and laughter and friendship.
The walk to and from the shop, the smells and sounds of downtown Cairo, the memories of my friend and my life there—all are so far away.
But smelling cardamom—even the far less aromatic version that comes in store-bought jars—makes them seem closer. Makes them real again.
So this past week, I’ve been feeding myself memories with each sprinkle.
The connection between food and memory is a powerful one. And I’d love to hear what foods take you back to far-away, long-ago places, people and ways of being in the world.
Please indulge my whim for this day, and share your food memories in the comments!
And check out our Cooking with Cardamom post for ideas on how to use this healing, tasty spice.