Bari elaichi -an important ingredient of garam masala, which in turn is a key spice mix in many curries – is another of those spices that evokes many memories of my parents’ home. I associate this spice with the quintessentially Punjabi rajma; the karha (a concoction of tea and various spices all boiled together) that my mother gave us to drink when any of us had a cold or cough; winter meals of hot paranthas with the most delicious gobhi ki subzi cooked with potatoes or peas or both, to which my mother always added whole pods of badi elaichi ; and the very flavorful and aromatic mutton curry that was my father’s signature dish and which I loved to watch him make, in which the first spice to go in to the oil was always bari elaichi.
Indira seems to have absorbed my fondness for this spice, because she loves to pick out the pods from any curry or subzi I put them in, to suck on. She says she loves the taste !
I make a karha-style tea sometimes, in the winter, when Shri or I have a cold, that involves boiling the water with a couple of cracked black cardamom pods, 3-4 black peppercorns, and some grated ginger. It does wonders to clear the woozy and heavy-headed feeling that can come with a stuffy nose, and sends the most warming sensation coursing down the throat.
Here is some information on the spice, from the sources listed below.
Black cardamom belongs to the Amomum genus of the Zingiberaceae family of plants, with different species that grow across India, China and the other parts of the Himalayan region. The name in Hindi – elaichi – derives from the Sanskrit ela.
Though a very expensive spice, it is a common ingredient in Indian cuisine. Sometimes erroneously described as inferior to green cardamom, it has its own special place in Indian cuisine, as it is used to flavor many curries, vegetables,pulaos and biryanis where it cannot be substituted by the green variety. In fact unlike the latter which is used to flavor many sweet dishes, black cardamom is rarely used in sweet preparations.
Black cardamom is used in Vietnam and by the Chinese too, especially in the cuisine of the Sichuan region.
While native to Asia, these days most of it is grown in Central America with Guatemala the largest exporter in 2007.
Black cardamom has been used in traditional Indian medicine as a cure for obesity, as a digestive, and as a remedy for respiratory problems such as coughs and bronchitis. The variety grown in China,Laos, and Vietnam is also used in traditional medicinal systems of those areas as an antidote for digestive ailments, as a treatment for nausea and vomiting, tooth aches, etc.
This spice is best stored as pods, since the powdered form – though widely available – loses its aroma quite soon once the package is opened.