When I talk to my friends about cooking, inevitably they talk about how much work it is to cook for themselves. And then they talk about how they have to follow a recipe to end up with food that tastes good reliably…which then ends with them complaining about how they never have the right spices on hand. I think that by keep a basic inventory of spices, you open up a world of flavor. You’ll be ready to handle just about any recipe and you will have more building blocks for delicious dinners.
Herbs vs. Spices
Even though they are mixed together at the grocery store, herbs and spices are different. Herbs are the leafy parts of the plant (think basil and sage) whereas spices are from just about any other part including roots and seeds. Here, I am focusing on spices – when it comes to herbs, I try to use fresh over dried whenever possible.
I am not usually one who goes for a lot of heat, but I think it is a great way to layer flavor. I like to keep a couple different chili powders on hand, rather than just generic chili powder because each pepper has its own unique flavor.
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Ancho Chili Powder
There are other great spices for savory cooking that I couldn’t live without
- Smoked Paprika
- Ground Mustard
Spices aren’t just for chili and stew – they add flavor in sweet applications as well. Pumpkin spice might be the most common application of these flavors in sweets, but they can power up everything from pie to cake. From pudding to muffins. Try adding a few cardamom pods in with your coffee next time you brew it – you can thank me later.
- Cardamom (pods & powder)
- Star Anise (whole)
- Nutmeg (whole – it is so much better when you grate it yourself)
- Lemon Peel
- Ground Ginger
Mixes / Blends
I don’t keep too many pre-mixed blends around, simply because I like to mix and match depending on my mood and always using the same flavors would get boring to me. That said, there are a few blends that I keep around.
- Curry Powder
- Garam Masala
- Herbes de Provence (Ok, this is technically herbs and not spices, this is the most traditional blend I keep in my pantry).
What are your favorite spices?