Inspired by a recipe in the beautiful Tassajara Cookbook, this fragrant soda bread combines lemon zest with freshly ground cardamom and a touch of rosewater.
Two years ago, I had to deal with heartbreak. The story isn’t important, and in fact it had a happy ending anyway (we got back together, life is good). But at the time, things got dark. I was being kind of publicly sad about it on a small forum where I’ve been posting for years, and another user reached out to me to say that he was in almost the exact same situation as me: long term relationship hit some bad rocks, future uncertain, feeling abandoned and upended. We talked a little about coping methods, and I said that one thing I do to make myself feel better is cook. He was interested in this since he used to work in catering, and his response was more or less, “How does that work?”
I’m not really a big expert in cooking. I set little goals for myself like learning how to bake bread reliably without losing loaves to the Yeasty Gods, or finding an obscure ingredient and figuring out things to do with it. I set aside Fridays to do a really nice meal. I’m into learning about Middle Eastern and North African cooking, so that’s another learning process that takes up time and eventually rewards you with delicious successes.
I guess I’d say to think of some dishes that you always thought were intimidating, or learn about a type of cuisine that’s totally new to you, or challenge yourself with a dietary restriction like vegan or paleo or kosher/halal cooking. Buy the most beautiful, fresh herbs and spices you can get—I love when I open a spice jar and the fragrance just wafts out like a perfume. Then the kitchen seems luxurious and exciting, and it’s harder to be sad when you’re making good, joy-bringing stuff. Get your friends to eat the results of your experiments. Profit. […] Anyway, I hope you’re doing okay too. Keep your head up.
Spices really do make me happy. And my favourite mood-altering spice, bar none, is cardamom. The strong, astringent scent of it picks me up and soothes me at the same time. (And black cardamoms, holy shit. Dark, camphorous, smoky. I get weak in the knees when that scent hits me.) I use a small coffee-grinder for my whole spices, and yes, I also use it for coffee. Sue me. Wash it out well, and so long as the innards are made of metal rather than plastic, flavour absorption isn’t that big a deal.
So if you’ve got some January blues happening, maybe eat some cardamom?
This recipe for soda bread from the Tassajara Cookbook (slap my wrist every time I type “Tassaraja” instead) uses lots of delicious cardamom with lemon; I’ve added rosewater to make it even more fragrant. The flavour is delicate but the texture is hearty, thanks to the whole wheat flour, kind of like a cornbread without corn. The sugar is optional, but even if you do use it, the flavour is balanced neatly between the savoury and the sweet: you could eat it like a dessert with a cup of tea, or you could serve it beside a light meal like a big salad or a lentil soup. It’s also easy to make this vegan, and I’ve included the substitutions.
- 1 cup white flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp sugar (optional)
- 1 tsp freshly ground cardamom seeds
- 6 tbsp vegetable shortening or butter
- 1 egg or vegan egg replacer
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ½ cup milk or plant milk
- 1 tbsp rosewater
- 1 tbsp melted butter or plant milk
- Grease an 8" cast iron skillet with shortening or butter, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. (For bonus points, sift the flour; my mom says this is only worth doing for baked goods like this. But you don't have to.)
- Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter or shortening until the mixture is in pieces the size of small peas.
- In a separate dish, mix the egg (or egg replacer), lemon zest, lemon juice, milk, and rosewater. Slowly add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and stir just enough to form a dough.
- On a floured surface, knead the dough a little bit until it's smooth (max 1 minute, don't go too hard).
- Shape it into a round, put it in the skillet, and cut a deep X on top. This protects your bread from malicious fairies, as I was always taught, and also helps it rise better. Brush with melted butter or plant milk.
- Put the whole skillet in the oven for 35 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and nicely firm when you tap it.