By nature, most spices have unique flavors that only lend well to specific styles of cuisine or types of ingredient. Take coffee, for example. When used as a seasoning, it works best with full-flavored meats like beef and pork, and it doesn't play well with vegetables. On the other hand are spices, like pepper, that manage to find their way into every kind of food around the world. These highly versatile spices are few and far between.
Cardamom (particularly the green variety) is known for its strong spicy-sweet flavor and pungent aroma. Because of those intense properties, it would seem like the spice has limited uses, but that couldn't be further from the truth. In Eastern cultures, cardamom is commonly found in curries, where it's blended with a multitude of other spices and also used to flavor teas and coffees. Although it originated as an ancient spice in South India, cardamom since has spread around the world and was used throughout history by the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Vikings. It's the Vikings who introduced the spice to the Scandinavians, and that's why it can be found in the (mostly) Swedish restaurant Beaver Choice.
In the States, cardamom is best recognized in sweets. The two most popular varieties are Dutch windmill and Scandinavian Christmas cookies. But while Americans have happily adopted these popular treats, Scandinavian savory specialties are not easy to find -- outside of Ikea, anyway. Here in the Valley, there's one place to go to try this foreign cuisine: Beaver Choice in Tempe. The restaurant serves poutine from Canada and pierogi from Poland, but most of the menu is proudly Swedish.
One of the Swedish dishes available is Cardamom chicken, strips of juicy white meat chicken covered in a rich cardamom cream sauce. While most other cultures prefer to mix cardamom with a wealth of other flavors, the Swedes let it shine on its own. There's hardly another flavor in this dish, and what little else there is, like the chicken and cream, merely acts as supporting characters for the strong, prominent spice. There's even extra sauce in the middle of the plate to make sure the chicken really soaks up that cardamom flavor.
The Cardamom Chicken itself might be very simple, but it's served with a choice of one side dish and three salads. With all of these things sharing one plate, the cardamom has the ability to mix with a variety of vegetables. Side dishes include pan-fried thyme potatoes, dill mashed potatoes, rösti, and couscous, and side salads include broccoli, tomato-basil, coleslaw, marinated green beans, spinach, beets, and Swedish potato salad.
With a total of 17 side options, it's best to choose flavors that work with the entree. The dill and cardamom seem to compete at first, but both flavors have an earthiness that meshes together, the dill being lighter and the cardamom heavier. Cardamom works particularly well with the spinach salad and broccoli, which both have that touch of bitterness common in dark green plants. The spice doesn't really do any favors for the marinated green beans, but it does add a nice depth to the bright coleslaw, which is pretty incredible all on its own.