If you walk into the spice section of your local supermarket, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the variety of spices that are available there. The sheer numbers can be intimidating, not to mention the price may put many of them out of reach. Here’s a handy guide to get the best flavor for your spicy dollars:
Black Peppercorns – Buy whole peppercorns and acquire a good peppermill. Fresh ground pepper is better than ground pepper from a can any day! Whole peppercorns can also be used in soups and stews (just make sure to take them out at serving time). Cracked peppercorns make excellent seasoning for steaks and other grilled items.
Cinnamon – Ground cinnamon can be used in both baking sweet dishes and for savory dishes. Often Mediterranean dishes call for the use of cinnamon in main dish meals. A dash of cinnamon can spice up oatmeal or batter for French toast.
Chili Powder – There are numbers of good chili powders available. Choose one based on the amount of heat that you want in your dish. Chili powder is also used to spice up Mexican and African dishes. It adds flavor to desserts like brownies or hot chocolate.
Cumin – Used in a number of Indian and Mexican dishes, cumin is quite strong. Use only a little bit until you are sure that they dish requires additional spice. Cumin brings out the sweetness of foods. It is also included as an ingredient in curry powder.
Ginger – This is obtained in either root or powdered form. Ginger grated or cut from the root is milder than ginger in powdered form. Either can be used in baking to add a warm, spicy flavor to cookies or cake. It is also used in Indian and Asian dishes for the spicy bite!
Rosemary – Rosemary has a cool, woody flavor but a warm, peppery smell. It is frequently used when roasting chicken and lamb as a rub over the surface of the meat. It’s also a great flavoring for eggs and vegetable dishes.
Basil – There are multiple varieties of basil available, both dried and fresh. Basil is used in Italian cooking as both flavoring and garnish. It is also used in French cooking as part of Herbs de Provence. Use fresh basil to make your own fresh pesto!
Bay Leaves – These dried leaves add flavor to soups or stews. The steaming or boiling of the liquid releases the flavor. It’s an herby, sweet flavor, a bit like grass. Make sure to remove them before serving since they will be bitter and chewy.
Red Pepper Flakes – These dried pieces of chilies are familiar to people from being on the table at pizza and Italian restaurants. They can be added to a number of Mediterranean and Mexican dishes for their subtle spice. They give a little heat to every dish without being overwhelming.
Chinese Five Spice Powder – This one is a little more exotic but totally worth it! This spice blend combines the five basic flavors of Chinese cooking – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory. It works as a rub for chicken, duck and pork. It’s also good for stewing vegetables and a variety of meats.
What spices do you cook with regularly? Let me in on your spice secrets!