Suzi’s Blog

Cookbook Review: The Cardamom Trail by Chetna Makan


Sometimes you can tell a book by its cover. This cover is a signature cake: Pistachio, Cardamom and White Chocolate Cake. The choice of cover shot here could not have been easy. Open the book, flip the pages, and photo after photo stuns you. This is book of visual design for desserts, along of course with the recipes. But then, what else would you expect from someone trained as a fashion designer?

Some people have life journeys that are remarkably diverse. Chetna Makan grew up in central India with a family that was not rich and did even own an oven. Her mom simply cooked everything on a stovetop, include Indian breads and other “baked” goods. Chetna went away to school, learned to be a fashion designer, traveled the world, tasted the foods, married, and settled in Great Britain.

Her eye for design and her sweet tooth have led to double success. First, she was a semi-finalist on the Great British Bake Off television contest. That’s quite an achievement for someone with her quite non-British background. And the other success is this book, The Cardamom Trail. The subtitle tells you more: Chetna Bakes with the Flavors of the East. So, yes, cardamom abounds in this book, hence the cover picture cake of Pistachio, Cardamom and White Chocolate Cake.

But Chetna tries to incorporate all her Indian flavors into Western style treats. So you’ll find recipes here employing saffron, star anise, fennel, clove, coriander, fenugreek, and, of course, cardamom. This post ends with a picture of her Sesame, Pistachio, and Rose Macaron Cake. Your only dilemma with this book is where to start.

There is a very distinct path in the way the chapters in this book lead you from one flavor to the next. Chapters are devoted to:

  • Cakes
  • Pies and Tarts
  • Sweet Things
  • Savory Small Bites
  • Bread
  • Accompaniments

Early on, in the first two chapters, you’ll feel at home looking at the lovely baked goods with names that ring clearly. Although, there is in most of them the introduction of some Indian flavors that you might not expect. As the chapters progress, the geography and cuisine shift. Chetna offers more ideas from her native India. The title will not be familiar, the shapes will be different, but it does all seem so very appetizing.

Here are some ideas, both familiar and new, you’ll find in this book:

Pear and Cardamom Caramel Upside-Down Cake

Rose and Honey Cake

Carrot and Banana Spiced Cake

Chili and Chocolate Mousse Cake

Black Sesame and Lime Cake

Peach, Star Anise and Almond Tart

Curry Onion Tart

After the cakes and pies and tarts, the recipe landscape shifts to her native India with very different ideas:

Saffron Rasgullla [balls of milk, sugar, and spice]

Pomegranate and Apricot Meringue Cakes

Masala Chai Baklava [cashews, almonds, tea, honey, cardamom]

Papaya, Pomegranate and Passion Fruit Pavlova

Mango and Praline Eclairs [okay, this is India meets Paris!]

Pea and Potato Cups [perfect party canapes]

Spinach Pakoras

Pine Nut and Onion Rolls

Lemon Challah with Coconut Paneer [okay, this is India meets Israel!]

There is incredible diversity in this lovely produced book. The paper, typography and layout are inviting. The photos are spectacular. The recipes take one page each and contain a solid amount of writing. These are recipes that weave some complexity to achieve both the visual and flavor sucess you will experience. The ingredient lists are usually a dozen plus. The usual flour and sugar and eggs plus the exotic twists Chetna introduces, not with overpowering flavor but just with tints and hints to generate a grin.

The spectacular visual appeal is achieved by literally dressing each final product. A frosting or whipped cream sprinkled with nuts. A syrup incorporated for flavor. No single step is hard, there is nothing that will give you pause. But you will spend some time and then unveil a dessert of substance and delight.

The Cardamom Trail was published last week in Great Britain and will appear in the US next week. Do find a copy and enjoy every moment as you scan through and decide what to make first.

I showed The Cardamom Trail to my wife Suzi and I think this weekend we are going to double down: the dinner will feature the Curry Onion Tart while dessert has to be the Black Sesame and Lime Cake. Suzi tends to get her way the first time out of a new book. But when next I’m upstate in our test kitchen and on my own, I’m going for that Pistachio, Cardamom and White Chocolate Cake. I’ll be a good husband and save her a piece. Probably.


Brian’s Jalapeno and Cilantro Margartia


There is an upscale burger chain called Hopdoddy that began in Austin and now has over a dozen locations in Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California. If you find yourself near one, treat yourself and go. It’s fun. At the main Austin location, you’ll stand in line for almost an hour, just to get in the front door, where the “cafeteria-like” line snakes for another twenty minutes or so. Great burgers, accelerated with cheese and chiles. Great fries, densely salted. Great shakes, in variations like Caramel & Sea Salt, Oreo Cooking, Stout Chocolate, and Red Velvet Cake. The shakes are smallish, so you may want to order two. Just a suggestion, not a criticism.

Oh, and what great margaritas. Suzi and I saw a special there last month: Jalapeno and Cilantro Margaritas. The bartender was kind enough to share the general outlines of the recipe. Here’s my version, which is close to theirs and decidedly hot.

The heat comes from two things: jalapeno tequila and muddled jalapenos that go into the cocktail shaker.

Let’s start with the vodka. You can buy jalapeno-flavored tequila, though I’m finding it hard to do here in New York City. There is a tequila brand called Tanteo that makes it, but liquor stores here in Manhattan, which are small and go for high volume sales of any spirit, have not found it to be a best seller and have stopped carrying it. And, I’ve discovered, you can make you own jalapeno tequila for about half the price.

How? Take a 750ml bottle of tequila or a full 1 liter bottle, and pour it into a glass jar. Add 2-3 jalapenos that you have sliced. Leave the seeds. Wait for time, strain, and use. How much time? Recipes will tell you everything from a few hours to a few days. That’s where the heat comes in. I used 3 large jalapenos for a 1 liter bottle of tequila and waited for just four hours. It was and remains HOT. So, you may want to experiment just a little here, trying only 1 or 2 jalapenos for only an hour or two. You really have to taste test along the way.

Store-bought or home-made, once you have your jalapeno tequila you are ready to soar.

As usual in my margaritas, I go for equal amounts of tequila, citrus liquor, citrus juice and sweetener. While triple sec is the “standard” citrus liquor, you get a much finer margarita if you go upscale. For example, Patron, the maker of tequila, also has Patron Citronge, an extra fine orange liquor. And there is a lime one, too. Which brings me to the citrus juice. Although lime juice is again the standard ingredient, people rave about my margaritas and I always make them with lemon juice.

For sweetener, using agave will make for a more viscous beverage and you can probably use a little less of it. I like simple syrup, but you can add even more flavor to your drink by adding a handful of mint as you make the syrup.

Jalapeno and Cilantro Margarita

Yield: serves 3-4


  • ½ cup cilantro, leaves and stems are fine
  • 1 medium to large jalapeno, ends removed, sliced, seeds retained [or not!]
  • 4 ounces jalapeno tequila
  • 4 ounces orange liqueur [NOT triple sec]
  • 4 ounces lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 4 ounces of sweetener, either simple sugar syrup or agave
  • Ice


Put the cilantro and jalapeno slices in the bottom of a cocktail shaker and muddle until truly mashed. Add the remaining liquid ingredients and the ice. Shake until quite cold. Strain into you margarita glass filled with crushed ice.

Source: Brian O’Rourke with thanks to Hopdoddy

Photo Information [Top]: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/4.5 for1/50th second at ISO‑500

Photo Information [Bottom]: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/3.5 for1/30th second at ISO‑800




Duck with Chihuacle Negro Sauce, Raisins and Almonds from The Duck Cookbook by James Peterson


When acclaimed author James Peterson wrote The Duck Cookbook he seemed to have a penchant for Mexican recipes. Here he uses his favorite chiles: chihuacle negro. Yes, I had not heard of them before, either. If you cannot find them, then you can use other dried chiles such as guajillos, mulatos, or anchos. Or you can char fresh poblanos.

The sauce here is very authentic, beginning with chiles and cilantro, of course, but then layering in raisins, dried apricots and almonds. You can some or all or none of those extra ingredients but you really want to try the whole boatload. The subtlety of flavors, and the sweetness, is perfect for duck.

Duck with Chihuacle Negro Sauce, Raisins and Almonds

Yield: 6 main course servings


  • 2 dried chihuacle negro chiles, 3 smaller dried chiles, or 2 fresh poblano chiles, charred and peeled
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and chopped fine
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
  • 1 ½ cups brown duck broth, chicken broth, or water
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 6 Pekin (Long Island) duck breasts or 3 mullard breasts (1 ½ to 2 pounds total)
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • ½ cup dried apricots, cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  • Salt


Over medium heat, cook the onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons of the duck fat in a heavy‑bottomed pot large enough to hold the tomatillos. If you’re using fresh tomatillos, peel off the papery skin and cut the tomatillos in quarters. If you’re using canned tomatillos, drain them in a colander and chop them coarse. When the onions and garlic turn translucent and fragrant, about 10 minutes, add the tomatillos to the pot. Pour the broth over the tomatillos, cover the pot, and simmer for 10 minutes to soften the tomatillos. Then remove the lid and cook the tomatillos over medium heat until you have a chunky sauce, about 15 minutes more. Finely chop the cilantro and stir it into the sauce, along with the chopped jalapenos.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. To soften the tortillas, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons duck fat in a sauté pan and gently heat the tortillas, one at a time, in the fat. Pull the skin off the duck legs and discard it, then pull the meat away from the bones, shredding as you go. Roll the shredded duck meat in the tortillas and arrange the tortillas in a baking dish just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Spoon over half the sauce, cover with aluminum foil, and bake the enchiladas for 15 minutes. Take off the foil and bake for 15 minutes more, until the sauce starts to bubble.

Reheat the remaining sauce. Put two enchiladas on each heated plate, spoon the remaining sauce over them, and pass the sour cream at the table.

Source: The Duck Cookbook by James Peterson [Stewart Tabori & Chang, 2003]