The Real Reason Samin Nosrat Cooks With So Much Cardamom - Exclusive

Mashed recently spoke with American chef and author Samin Nosrat about her role in the new Netflix show, Waffles + Mochi. While the heartfelt and educational kids cooking show is building childhood memories centered around food for many of its viewers, we wanted to talk to Nosrat about her own favorite food memories. What she revealed is that watching her family cook while growing up made one spice in particular, cardamom, one of her most used ingredients.

"My mom is a great cook and food was such an important part of my childhood," Nosrat said. "My aunts and my uncles all variously lived with us at different points of my childhood, and so my aunt was really talented at making baklava." In her family, baklava made a noteworthy appearance during the spring. Nosrat explained that each Persian New Year, on a special table, seven ceremonial items are set out that start with the Persian letter S. She continued, "Then also to celebrate the new year, you have a bunch of sweets to sweeten the holiday and begin the new year on a sweet note. Traditionally, one of the sweets is baklava." But it wasn't just the baklava that made cardamom special to her.

Nosrat's family brought ingredients from Iran

"Persian baklava is not made with honey, it's made with simple syrup and there's lots of cardamom and pistachios, and my aunt made the most delicious baklava," Nosrat shared. "So I just remember watching her make it and soak the baklava with this incredibly rich simple syrup that was so fragrant with cardamom and cutting the pieces of baklava into diamonds. And just impatiently waiting for our chance to eat a piece, and just how incredibly sweet and soaked with this syrup it would be," she said. That feeling of waiting as your mouth waters for a sweet treat is one most people can understand well. But before the baklava could be made, some of the ingredients had to make a long journey to San Diego from Iran in the suitcases of her family.

"Usually, our grandmother or another family member coming from Iran would bring all of these nuts from different nut shops for us, and so all the pistachios were from Iran. So another very clear memory was the moment after we'd pick somebody up from the airport," the chef said. It was the long journey and many steps that it took to put together her aunt's baklava for Persian New Year that brings back such fond memories of the spice for Nosrat.

For Samin Nosrat, cardamom is tied to her childhood

After picking up her family at the Los Angeles airport and driving back home to San Diego, Nosrat and her family would be so excited to see what treats and ingredients their family had brought with them. "Then we're like, 'What did you bring us? What did you bring us?' They would open up these suitcases, which were usually like decades old and smelled really musty, and then we just couldn't wait to see what they brought us and all the different nuts and saffron and fruits and dried fruits," she said. Another treat she often looked forward to was cheek-puckering sour plum fruit leathers her grandmother would make.

Those family suitcases, and all the treasures they held, still influence Nosrat's cooking. "So that smell ... to me cardamom, I definitely overuse cardamom in my cooking, I would say it's probably my most used spice, definitely my most used sweet spice. I think probably my next cookbook, people are going to be like, 'What is wrong with this lady? She puts cardamom in everything.' But it's super nostalgic, it's super emotional for me, and it really is connected to that baklava, to my childhood." With such fond memories, it's no wonder she enjoys cooking with the spice so much.

You can see chef and author Samin Nosrat (along with former First Lady Michelle Obama and other talented guests) on Waffles + Mochi, streaming now on Netflix.