On the odd occasion when someone has forced my hand at a spice blend or I’ve been left a sample – I am never pleased with the taste. I’m not sure what manufacturers put in to these spice mixes, some sort of enhanced, fake, freshness boost chemical compound – but it always leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.
O.k – I’m lucky I know how to mix and have over 20 spices on my magnetic tubs on my kitchen wall, let alone the odd ones in my pull out draw – all ready to be thrown in to yumminess.
But spices are just so cheap – you can pick large packets up for less than a pound in Asian supermarkets, or the continental shelf in your local. You can buy the seeds and whack them when needed – they last for years that way.
Plus it’s usually the popular few that will get you through any recipe.
The staple spices to have are –
Paprika – bought in power form, perfect with everything adding colour, mild but rich flavour. I often use it as a seasoning – anything from roast potatoes to BBQ marinades, I even use it in Asian stir-frys.
Cumin – ground or buy seeds and crush, there also nice lightly dry fried to bring out the taste. A great edition to all marinades and essential for curry powder. I used to make a dish of pan-fried chicken breast, cumin, coconut milk and unripe banana – – sounds weird but delicious and award winning.
Coriander – again in ground or seed, not to be mixed up with the plant coriander leaf which you can also use the stem an the root. Ground coriander is the seed from the plant. Again essential in curry powder – great in vegetarian foods, like burgers, fritters, pancakes and stews.
Turmeric – the colour behind curry powder, perfect for adding mainly colour but a little taste to rice etc. Ton’s of health benefits too. Ever wondered why Indians, Bangladeshi and Pakistanis have lower rates of Cancers in their country’s – look no further than chilli, ginger, garlic and turmeric – don’t mention the high levels of heart disease – Salt!!!
Chilli Powder – You can easily do without chilli powder by replacing with fresh, plus you can freeze left over chillis, they chop really easily from frozen and still pack a punch. But if making your own chilli powder and other spices blends – get some in – it just gets hotter and hotter before it goes stale and gets cooler!
Ginger – Again you can replace with fresh, different taste but a fresher substitute. Plus you can freeze whole ginger and grate from frozen – the skins good too. But ground ginger works well in baking.
Cinnamon – Cinnamon bark can be ground to make the powder – or buy ground. I couldn’t live without cinnamon on the rack. Essential for middle eastern marinades. Great in baking and some curry’s.
So even if you have these hidden in the back of a dark cool cupboard then you can spice up almost everything.
I also like –
Cayenne – to really spice up food.
Smoked Paprika – to add a hint of smokiness to marinades and stews, especially tex-mex dishes.
Cloves – for the ham at Christmas, the odd middle eastern dish and a few good Asian pastes.
Nutmeg – I buy the nuts which can be grated straight in to egg custards, savoury and sweet treats. They keep for yonks. (Make sure you get to the nut inside the shell, if your lucky the mace will still be webbed on the outside.)
Fennel Seeds – you can always omit fennel from a recipe, but the seed keep for years – just eventfully lose their aroma. Dry fry to bring out the flavour – they give dishes a lovely aniseed taste. Also good on bread and they marry well with lamb.
Cardamom Pods – throw in curry’s and marinades, they also work well in sweets like rice pudding. Go for the traditional green ones but also try the black ones for a real smoky flavour to rich curry’s and casseroles, you only need one.
Allspice – the dried aromatic fruit of the Caribbean Myrtle tree. With allspice you can make mixed spice*, you can also shove them in pickles, marinades, chutneys, game casseroles and rich stews or think all things old and English.
Szechwan pepper – replace with ½ the amount of crushed black peppercorns or omit. These a more aromatic and not so harsh as black peppercorns and they are not even related, not even cousins.
Some ones you can mix your self –
*Mixed Spice – 1 part allspice / cinnamon / nutmeg – ½ park mace, cloves, coriander / ginger – – blend together – – but you can omit any of the above but allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg which make up the main taste for mixed spice.
Garam Masala – the raw spice used to top many Indian dishes inc. dhal. Make your own by grinding – 10 cloves, 8 cardamom seeds, 1 cinnamon stick and tip teaspoon grated nutmeg.
Five Spice – I blend mine using ½ cinnamon stick, ½ tablespoon fennel seeds, star anise, cloves and Szechwan pepper. Lovely with duck but I mainly use mine in sesame seed toasties and wontons.
Of course there is many more spices you will come across in recipes like fenugreek but if you haven’t got it no one will notice.
Other spice blends –
Zahtar – a middle eastern spice blend used in marinades and baking. Mix in oil to make a dip.
Equal quantities of sumac, sesame seeds (roasted) and chopped fresh thyme.
Ras AL Hanout – simply blend – 1 part cumin cardamom pods, coriander seeds, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron, ginger powder, fennel seeds, salt and pepper along with ½ part nutmeg, allspice and cloves
Optional – add ½ part cayenne if you want some heat.
Basic Curry Powder – 1 part chilli powder, coriander, cumin & turmeric (you can stop here or add) – 1/3 part mustard seeds, ground ginger & black peppercorns, 1/6 part fenugreek seeds – simply grind and store.
Creole spice Blend – 1 part paprika, dried basil, thyme to ½ part cayenne & ¼ part chilli powder.
Cajun spice blend – 2 parts paprika, 1 part salt, black pepper, cayenne, chilli powder, onion powder and ½ part thyme, basil, oregano, cumin, mustard powder and 1/8 park cloves – grind all the ingredients together and store.
Harrissa – 2 parts cayenne & vegetable oil, 1 part fresh chilli, caraway seeds, cumin, crushed garlic, ½ part salt – grind together and keep refrigerated.
Dry Jerk Seasoning – 1 part allspice, thyme, onion powder, black peppercorns and ½ part cayenne, cinnamon, ¼ part caster sugar and 1/8 part nutmeg – blend and store.
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