Life on the Other Side: Care for Cardamom, Ma’am?

I was so foolish. I was sure the English version of a Hebrew recipe for an exotic cauliflower dish was correct. Why would I doubt it?

It arrived in the morning paper and looked so appetizing that I decided to drop what I was doing and make it. (OK, so I finished my cup of coffee first.) I even had some of the esoteric ingredients: rice noodles from a previous attempt at Asian food, sesame oil from that one shot at sesame noodles. I was on my way!

Turns out the noodles were thin; I needed broad. The sesame oil was old – of the rancid type. And then there were the cardamom seeds (hel in Hebrew – which is a very apt name). Drove to the local supermarket – didn’t have them. Drove to another supermarket – again no. Wouldn’t you think I would have given up by now?

I didn’t want to wing it; I’m not that secure when it comes to exotic recipes. And I was determined to make it as was written – no substitutions. So I called Esther, my source for everything related to the kitchen. Of course she knew where to send me – never mind that it was 30 miles away. I was on it!

I got to the big city – Herzliya! Not the coastal, upscale Herzliya Pituach, but the city itself where the real people shop and live. And my destination was, get this, the main bus terminal! Oy. I know there haven’t been any bombings in bus terminals lately (and hopefully by the time you read this there won’t have been any), but it gave me the creeps anyway.

So what’s a girl to do? I needed that bloody cardamom, so bus terminal here I come!

I found the store – it was the size of a fingernail and already had a line of six people waiting. I heard Russian, Chinese, Hebrew and Arabic, and boy did those customers take their time ordering their coconut juice, garam masala and coriander seeds. Finally it was my turn, and the owner wants to know what kind of cardamom I want. Huh?

Ground spice or pods? Do I know? This recipe called for cardamom seeds – but they don’t sell seeds, they sell only pods, which contain the seeds. Are you still with me? I played it safe and bought the spice and the pods. I’d figure it all out later.

How do you cook with cardamom seeds when all you have are the pods and the ground spice? Well I guess you just crack open the pods and remove the seeds. Oh man is that a job. Reminds me of a guy I knew who was left in charge of cooking for his family one night and didn’t know how to calculate the amount of spaghetti to make. So he did some arithmetic, estimated the number of probable strands per portion and then counted out that number by the number of people he was serving. OK, different situation but still stupid, no?

Here’s how it played out. I steamed the noodles, cooked the cauliflower, gathered all the ingredients and followed the directions. The recipe called for 1/8 cup of cardamom seeds.

I spent at least an hour delicately coaxing the seeds out of their little pods. My hands smelled, the pods were falling on the floor and the seeds were sliding all over the counter. What a picnic!

Do you have any idea what kind of damage 1/8 cup of cardamom seeds can cause unless it’s being added to a pot that serves an entire kibbutz? This dish was the absolute worst I ever made – hands down! It was tossed into the garbage along with the rest of the cardamom seeds.

I contacted the newspaper and let them know that the recipe was wrong. The writer wrote back to me. Basically she said – oops. Sorry about that. But did you really think that amount of cardamom seeds made sense?

(Think teaspoon!) I am no longer a fan of hers. As for cardamom seeds? Never again!

Anne Kleinberg, author of Menopause in Manhattan and several cookbooks, left a cushy life in Manhattan to begin a new one in Israel. Now she’s opened a boutique bed and breakfast in her home on the golf course in Caesarea. For details, visit annekleinberg.com and casacaesarea.com.

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