Cardamom, the intensely aromatic sweet spice native to India, is a precious asset to cooks all over the world. You'll see it sold pre-ground or as green pods with small seeds packed inside. Buy the pods, if possible; the spice loses aroma and flavor quickly once ground. Crack open the pods, remove the seeds, and grind to a powder in a coffee grinder or a small mortar.

Whole pods work beautifully in savory dishes from the Indian repertoire, such as curries and pilafs, where they add complexity. The spice comes into its own, though, in ground form in sweet baking dishes, from the Finnish cake-bread called pulla to the rice-flour shortbread cookies in the recipe here. I also love it in rice pudding and to flavor whipped cream.

Cardamom also gives a great lift to hot tea and coffee. No need to grind—just crack pods before using them. Make a warming chai by tossing several cardamom pods into the teapot, along with tea, minced ginger, and/or black pepper. In Arab cultures and in Ethiopia, coffee is often flavored with cardamom. To make, crack two pods and add them to your French press along with the ground coffee before you pour in the hot water. The water will draw flavor and aroma from the cardamom as the coffee steeps.

by Naomi Duguid, award-winning cookbook author