Cardamom Bread Pudding

original recipe

When John and I were first married, we lived in a small apartment on a quiet street just up the road from the historic district in our town. The place was brand new and we could only afford it because we qualified for “low income housing”: a factor of graduating college with no job and a history of income from working in coffee shops.

Shortly after we moved in, we got new neighbors; a lovely Indian couple whose children were grown and gone and who took us under their wing as if we were their own. Mostly they fed us: cauliflower with turmeric and brown mustard seeds, tikka masala, daal, and buttery naan. It was a revelation.

In particular, the woman, Ira, tended to invite me over for afternoon chai. She would sit me at her kitchen table with a cup of steaming black tea and ask me about my day while she putted around the kitchen and gathered spoons, tiny cookies, and a small jar from the topmost shelf of the cabinet next to the fridge. A fancy jar it was not. You could probably barely call it a jar save for the fact that it was cylindrical with a bottom and a lid. No, it was not a jar; it was, in fact, an old film canister.

But what it lacked in aesthetics it made up for in aroma when she popped the top. Black pepper, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and cardamom mingled together in a kaleidoscope of fragrance. The second the mixture hit the hot tea, it was as if a tiny, spiced atom bomb went off in the room. There was no going back to plain black tea or pre-packaged chai after that.

Our neighbors eventually moved, but upon their departure, Ira made sure to leave me with my own film canister of spices and a list of ingredients so that I could replenish my stash when it ran dry.

I’ve since misplaced the film canister, but to this day, when I open a container of ground cardamom, I think of that kitchen table thirteen years ago and the kindness of a woman who barely knew me, but was willing to open her door and share her secrets anyway.

I chose this recipe to kick off the series because of a single ingredient that sparked a powerful memory in me: cardamom. This bread pudding is everything I ever want: carbs, sweet milk, and spices.

Illustrated ingredients: heavy cream, sugar, cardamom, vegetable oil, white bread, pistachios.