Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Sep 25, 2006 09:50 PM

Spice up my life

I have a confession to make. I have a drawer full of herbs and spices and I barely use them.

I am an avid home cook, and I collect recipes all the time. I pore over cookbooks and cooking magazines and spend my free time perusing kitchen stores and every type of grocery and market. But when I cook, for no good reason other than I guess to save time and avoid the formality of it, I don't often cook with recipes. Just off the top of my head. And the only seasoning I use regularly is salt and pepper. I have started feeling like I am missing out on all sorts of complexity and interest I could add to my cooking, but I need to figure out how to incorporate spice into my life.

Are there others out there like me, and how did you finally brave the spice rack? Are there any good cookbooks that focus on spices, perhaps with a section or chapter devoted to individual herbs/spices where all the recipes contain it?

Thanks in advance :)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The more I've learend about food, the more I appreciate each ingredient prepared simply.

    That said, I felt guilty ignoring my spices. Pick up a Morroccan cook book, or a Persian one, or go hell-bent-for leather and pick up an Indian one- the recipes will reinvigorate your desire to use every little jar in your entire kitchen.

    Of course, I don't have any specific suggestions, but may have more when my roommate (who loves Indian food) gets home from work.

    I remember has some great Morrocan recipes.

    2 Replies
    1. re: lunchbox

      I second the Indian cookbook suggestion, if you like Indian food. But the same applies for any cuisine: although you prefer to cook without recipes, you've got to start somewhere! Once you make a couple of dishes, you'll get the hang of how the spices fit together and how and when to use them, and before you know it you'll be able to improvise on your own.

      And, as others have suggested, you don't have to buy a book. You can look online or use your library. By the way, I'd definitely recommend Madhur Jaffrey or Julie Sahni for Indian dishes.

      1. re: lunchbox

        Yes, Epi has a terrific Moroccan Chicken with Eggplant, Tomatoes and Almonds recipe that uses a bunch of spices and many of us who love that recipe double the spices as you'll read in the reviews. Have fun exploring!

      2. You need Spice by Ana Sortun. Each chapter is devoted to recipes centered around a spice, or rather a group of spices. Her cooking is Middle Eastern/Turkish. I don't know if that cuisine appeals to you. I ate at Oleana, Sortun's restaurant in Cambridge MA and was blown away by the wonderful flavors so I got her book as soon as it was published and have been enjoying it these past months.

        3 Replies
        1. re: cheryl_h

          I recently picked this book up. So far all I've made is the Caramel Popcorn, which I liked, and the Fried Squid w/Avocado Hummus, which was a fabulous combination. Any recommendations?

          1. re: mirage

            Oh yes! I've made the carrot salad, dates with halloumi, chicken breasts with basturma and kasseri, the yogurt soup - get the manti from Sevan, they're wonderful, skirt steak with buttered tomato sauce. The only dish that wasn't wonderful was the yogurt soup. It tasted too much of yogurt but not much else to me. I don't know if I did something wrong in my execution of the recipe.

            I'm planning to make the short ribs with tamarind this weekend for a dinner party. I have planned the trout spanakopita and spinach falafel both of which I had at Oleana and absolutely loved. And I want to make the chicken under a brick - I love lemon and zataar and I'm sure the combination of both with crispy chicken will be good. I haven't tried the fried squid dish yet, but I'll look at that soon based on your recommendation.

            The carrot salad and dates with halloumi changed my opinions of carrots and dates which were not favorites of mine. Try them, neither is difficult and the combinations of flavors are amazing.

            1. re: cheryl_h

              Thank you so much! It's such an exciting cookbook, I'm really looking forward to using it.

        2. I don't know if this is still in print, but Burt Greene's Kitchen Bouquet has chapeters devoted to various spices, etc. Almond, anise, basil, brandy, cinnamon, cloves, curry, dill, gigner, mint, mustard, nutmeg, pepper, poppy seeds, etc. Maybe you could find it on ebay or on-line at Amazon where somebody's selling it used.

          I just checked and you can get it for about 4 bucks on Amazon. It's a truly wonderful cookbook by the guy who Rose L.Birnbaum says gave her the name for her book The Cake Bible.

          Ntozake Shange's Cinnamon Chicken alone is worth the price. Chicken, garlic, butter, cinnamon, soy sauce, chablis, sugar.
          Also roast chicken with pesto rice and broiled chicken diable and Bolzano plum cake.

          1. Right now I am using up a bottle of cheap Seasoned Salt that our son left behind. I use it almost daily to season my scrambled eggs. I also use Lemon Pepper frequently when I make a low fat salad dressing. I love different flavors so I usually buy my herbs and spices at the food coop or health food store where I can measure out what I think I will use. I need lots of celery seed in the summer because I make weekly batches of cole slaw for the church suppers but I only get a small amount of unusual things that I need for a specific recipe I want to try. The cookbook(s) that impressed my taste buds are the Moosewood Daily Specials and Moosewood Low Fat. A lot of the recipes are ethnic and include a short story behind the recipe. I love their soup recipes. Making soup on Sunday afternoon is an enjoyable task for me. Soup is an easy supper and provides something for brown bag lunches. Cooking Light Magazine also provides some interesting recipes that depend on herbs and spices. I grew up on 50s meat and potato cooking. I don't think my mother had anything besides poultry seasoning, cinnamon and nutmeg in her cupboard. I remember starting to crave different tastes as I grew older. I still enjoy discovering new tastes and new ingredients. Turkey salad is too simple, I add dried cranberries, chopped apples and onion and a bit of curry powder to the mayonnaise. It's possible your herbs are too old and tasteless at this point and need to be thrown out although I have some ancient sage and rosemary on my shelf.
            I think it's hard to use all of them all the time. I have periods of focusing on certain recipes. This summer it has been fresh salads and couscous but for convenience we've been using store bought marinades for meat. Good luck!

            1 Reply
            1. re: dfrostnh

              That's a good point about old spices. We noticed when we went to the local Penzy's that everything is available in several sizes, including small. Of course, that's a problem with the really large sizes at Costco.

            2. Start with chili and cumin for Mexican-like dishes. Then get the individual spices used in curries. Make your own curries by experimenting. For each curry start with grinding and sauteeing the spices prior to adding other ingredients.

              1 Reply