Cardamom and Tea: How Kathryn Pauline is Reinventing Assyrian Cooking

Updated: Nov 15, 2018



Kathryn Pauline, the woman behind popular Assyrian-inspired food blog Cardamom and Tea, is a long way from home. The Chicago native is now blogging out of Hong Kong, China—bringing traditional Assyrian dishes to dinner tables around the world. How exactly does an Assyrian end up in Hong Kong? We’ll get to that.


A year and half since the launch of her award-winning blog, it’s fair to say that Kathryn has helped to usher in a new—and hugely popular—era of Assyrian cooking. Her blog draws inspiration from traditional Assyrian dishes, techniques, and ingredients.


In Cardamom and Tea’s first year, she posted 111 new recipes and menus, including beloved family recipes and unique desserts, which earned her the award for “Best New Voice” from Saveur magazine, one of the most respected publications in the food world which annually ranks the year’s best food blogs.


Some of her recipes were passed down through her family, while others are her own creations. Kathryn’s family hails from Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Her mother moved to the U.S. as a child, and Kathryn says she learned how to cook by watching her mother and grandmother in the kitchen.


In an interview with Hook and Blade Magazine, Kathryn said, “A lot of my posts are dishes I grew up eating and have been making forever. But when I’m coming up with something new, I have a particular way I like to brainstorm, where I have a big list of possible types of dishes and a few lists of ingredients, dishes, techniques, and concepts I’ve been interested in lately, and I just try to think about how things could work together from each of the lists, until something clicks.”


Photo by Kathryn Pauline.

But her blog goes beyond merely posting recipes.


Before Cardamom and Tea, Kathryn planned on becoming an English professor. She loved teaching poetry and composition, but after returning to school, realized that academic research was not the best fit for her. She left with a master’s degree in English literature to pursue a career in food media.


She’s also a photographer. She first grew to love the art of photography by way of her great-grandfather, grandfather, and uncles.


Kathryn’s educational background and her photography skills are merged with her affinity with food in Cardamom and Tea. Every recipe is embedded into a lyrical blog post where she shares her thoughts and inspirations, and sometimes tells endearing family stories. Her stunning photos makes every dish look mouthwatering. From prakheh to kadeh—Assyrian food has simply never looked so good.


Speaking of prakheh (also known as dolma), she says her favorite recipe is her grandmother’s vegan version—prakheh d’soma—which swaps beef for walnuts and mushrooms, and are stuffed with “lots and lots” of herbs, tomato, rice, and chili pepper.


So where exactly does Hong Kong fit in to this picture? Well, Kathryn married her high school sweetheart soon after they both graduated from university. He’s a philosophy professor, and that recently led them to a new city. Kathryn admits that living in Hong Kong has made her work more challenging, as Middle Eastern ingredients aren’t always as accessible, but she loves the experience.


Looking back now, Kathryn says it seems strange that she didn’t end up going to culinary school. “My mom gave me a lot of freedom in the kitchen at a very young age, and I just loved the magic of putting ingredients together and ending up with something greater than the sum of its parts. It made me feel independent and grown up, like I could accomplish something real.”


Kathryn has already found ways to use Cardamom and Tea to give back to the community. Earlier this summer, she contributed an original recipe to a charity initiative called Bake for Syria benefiting UNICEF’s Children of Syria appeal.


As for her readers, Kathryn hopes they walk away understanding that Middle Eastern food is incredibly complex and varied, and that they develop an appreciation for Assyrian cuisine. “I hope that people understand that cooking traditions with ancient roots are not relics of the past.”


Kathryn views food as a way to connect with and honor her heritage. She has created a space to fuel her passion for food, and perhaps without realizing it has created an incredible resource for future generations of Assyrians. “I think food was more important to me growing up than I realized at the time, because it always felt like such a given. I wasn’t really aware of how important it was to my identity,” she says.


For more information, visit cardamomandtea.com and be sure to follow her on Instagram at @cardamom.and.tea and Facebook at @cardamomandtea.



© 2018 The Assyrian Star, Official Publication of the Assyrian American National Federation