What are your absolute must-have spices?
- avgolemona Jan 8, 2009 01:27 PM
I asked in the Bittman thread, and someone observed that it deserves a whole new topic. I agree.
I just cleared out a ton of old spices, some of which I've been hauling around for years. Now I have space and several nice empty glass spice jars, and I want to restock. I bought turmeric, cream of tartar, lemon pepper, ground cloves and allspice from Whole Foods bulk jars.
What spices can you absolutely not do without, that you will rush out and buy when you run out? In addition to staples like cinnamon, sage, thyme, paprika, nutmeg, cumin and bay leaves, how about the more "exotic" ones, like lemon grass, cardamom, and turmeric (I have all three of these).
For me personally, aleppo pepper flakes, allspice (whole and ground), bay leaves, cardamom (whole), cloves (whole), coriander, cumin (whole and ground), curry powder, nutmeg (whole), paprika (sweet, smoked and half-sharp), peppercorns (whole), saffron. But it really depends what you cook. I have no sweet tooth so no baking spices. And I hate dried herbs so buying fresh is one of my luxuries. Lots of people feel otherwise. I think this is really a matter of taste -- bet you don't find any two people whose spice cupboards are the same!
I know, that's why I'm curious. Maybe I'll find a new way to use spices.
There are lots of staples missing from my spice cabinet because I grow my own in summer and dry them for winter. I leave them hanging in the mudroom and use as needed.
Another thing I wonder about, which may merit yet another new thread: why does no one make a spice rack that a serious cook would actually use? My idea of the perfect spice rack would be a lazy susan with 8 oz, 4 oz and 2 oz glass jars. At least 40 of them. The jars would be empty and the set would include blank labels.
There are several spice racks on the market that offer empty bottles with blank labels, but I don't know of any that have more than about a dozen containers in each set. IMHO there are too many of us who purchase a spice on a whim or for a "one time" recipe and end up tossing the spice out after they've lost their punch over time. If I'm trying a new recipe I make an effort to find the spices in full seed form, rather than ground, to avoid spending money on something I might never again use. I'm trying Alton Brown's method for storing herbs and spices using those lidded small metal cans that attach with magnets to a plate inside the cupboard door. Easier for me than spinning a lazy susan around trying to find what I need. Although my daughter uses a lazy susan arrangement rather successfully with all the spices in alphabetical order; I'm not that organized. My spice collection includes all those on GretchenS's list along with carraway, dill seed, fennel seed, varieties of cinnamon and salts and I wouldn't be without my selection of mustard seeds.
I would not recommend any of the spice racks. Spices shoud be in a dark place and not in racks on the cupboard. I have three cupboards with spices, herbs, etc. and use rotating trays so I can find them. I order from Penzy's and love the spices I get.
My must have spices is a very long list:
pepper (tellecherrry extra-bold) - order 1 lb (or more) at a time
ancho chili powder
cumin (whole and ground)
red pepper flakes
szechuan pepper corns
and If went into my spice cupboards, there would be many more.
RE: Storing spices: When I re-did my kitchen I put in two wide (27") drawers and got an insert for storing spices (for example: http://www.stacksandstacks.com/drawer...). This is excellent--they are all laid out in plain view--easy to keep them alphabetized. I have quite a collection of spices--they are enough of a curiosity that guests have even asked: "Can I see your spices?"
Yours is a system that seems to work for me. I do the same.
I use small jars, like the wide mouthed glass jars from Penzeys or emply French Jam Jars... the Bon Maman ones with the Gingham tops. I put the label on the TOP, and have them in a deep kitchen draw on slanted step like things.
I also have the trays in drawers, and yet I still have an overflow in a cabinet. I keep the tray ones alphabetized (really, only a pain to do the first time, so upkeep is easy). Love the trays. I tend to buy whole spices to grind fresh for each recipe. I also refill my old "tins" from as far back as the 70s/80s. I have all of Peppercorn's, plus a slew of other Indian spices. Not counting extracts, herbs, or the peppers that I grow and dry.
Because my main interest lately has been Chinese cooking, my spices are limited. I have the usual...cardamom, pepper, sea salt, cumin, etc., but two I could not live without are star anise and szechuan peppercorn.
Hector Blumenthal taught me the wonders of star anise and carmalized onions...Magic
I accidentally ran out of cinnamon sticks during this last Fall. In a pinch, I used star anise, as a substitute for cinnamon sticks in hot spiced cider. WOW! Taste buds were very happy, indeed! :) Don't go overboard, just use one or two stars for 2-4 servings with all the other spices you would normally put in apple cider.
Sumaq, Korean red pepper flakes, turkish red pepper flakes (if I can find as it's more rare)
Not a spice but mushroom stock cubes, put them in everything and they're in my spice cupboard.
Granulated garlic and then everything else you mentioned above. along with cloves, whole and ground.
Peppercorns too, I love them whole in rice and soup.
Perhaps due to OCD I need a beginning and an end. Presently I have allspice and my rack used to extend to zatar but my newest addition is zhug.
GretchenS, peppers are individually alphabetized as are oreganos. (Greek/Mexican)
I moved a few months ago, and took the opportunity to chuck any spice I didn't remember buying recently. I've actually been surprised at how few I've repurchased. I think all I have is:
5 spice powder
Salts and peppers
This is what I got in my pantry, I forgot to mention fenugreek earlier and some other things..
Herbs and Spices:
Curry (indian and west indian)
sweet chili flakes
Korean chili flakes
Turkish chili flakes
lemon (citric acid)
Veggie stock cubes
Celery seeds/Celery salt
sage ( for cooking and tea)
** I don't really use rosemary so I don't buy it, some herbs I prefer fresh so I don't keep dry ones on hand.
I simply can't live without my Hungarian sweet paprika from The Spice House. It's the best I've found in the US. I will break out in hives if I come too close to the end of my stash and haven't got a new order on the way.
Others I always have on hand and use more than anything else:
Hungarian hot paprika
Spanish smoked paprika
Turkish bay leaves
Dried dill - usually I can't stand dried herbs but for some reason I love dried dill almost but not quite as much as fresh. It definitely has it's place.
These are all great replies. Now I want to buy some star anise, sumaq, fenugreek, and five spice and start using them. In the past I've just avoided recipes that included them.
I am so guilty of buying spices and using them once. Years ago I made a recipe that called for juniper berries. I bought them and stored the remaining tablespoon or so in a miniature jelly jar - the kind you get with room service breakfasts - and moved that jar along with the rest of my kitchen for years. Why? Because it reminded me of that dinner and the friends who ate it with me. Last night I threw them out, but not before calculating how long I'd had them - 20 years.
Well, if we're going for embarrassing examples of how long we've held on to old spices-
When I moved away from home my mom gave me spices from her stash. One of them was a small metal canister of cream of tartar, Kroger brand. I know it was one of Mom's because I haven't lived near or shopped at a Kroger store since I moved away from home. That was one of the things I threw out yesterday.
She gave me the spices in (are you ready?) 1974. So - at <i>least</i> 35 years, because it wasn't new when she gave it to me.
I should have kept it just for the novelty of owning antique cream of tartar.
Stop me from digging in the trash to get it, please.
(Edit) Never mind.
What I can remember right now:
Basil, Oregano, Spearmint, Sage, Thyme - dried (from the garden)
Garlic Powder, Onion Powder
Ground Cumin, Cumin seeds
Corriander, Corriander seeds
Turmeric, Garam Masala, Maharaja Curry Powder, Saffron
Whole Cloves, Ground Cloves
Allspice, Cassia Cinnamon Chunks, Cinnamon Sticks, Ground Nutmeg
Ground Ginger (fresh ginger in the fridge)
Fenugreek, Fennel Seeds, Dill Seed, Herbes De Provence
Whole Cardamom, Five Spice Powder
Mustard seeds, Mustard Powder
Whole Ancho Chili Peppers , Whole Arbol Chili Peppers, Whole Guajillo Peppers
Smoked Spanish Paprika, Hungarian Paprika
Medium Hot Chili Powder, Cayenne, Chinese blend black pepper, Aleppo Pepper, Red Pepper Flakes
White Pepper Fine,Whole Tellicherry Indian Black Peppercorns
Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle, Kosher salt, Sea Salt
Bayleaf,Epazote, Juniper Berries
Vanilla Extract, Vanilla Beans
I'm finding myself becoming something of a Penzey's addict. As a result I have a giant assortment of spices all alphabetized and in a very handy tall and skinny cabinet drawer that I would want to figure out how to take with me if I ever moved. The ones I find myself reaching for on a weekly basis would include:
Vietnamese cassia cinnamon
India extra bold peppercorns
Herbes de Provance
double strength vanilla
I recently bought dried lemongrass because I rarely have fresh lemongrass on hand except I didn't have a particular recipe in mind. Anyone want to make a suggestion?
I was surprised dillweed wasn't mentioned more. It is essential in my favorite turkey soup (along with bay and thyme). I have maple pepper which I like on salmon. I have Picnic Blend from a local garlic farm which is great instead of salt and pepper. I put Zatarain's Creole blend on my scrambled egg sandwich. I use Tony Cachero's blend to spice up recipes that contain tomatoes.
I kept my old spice tins dating back to 1970 and refill them. It appears they are now collectors items. When we remodeled our kitchen, a spice cabinet was a high priority. There is a plexiglass rack on the back of the cabinet door so the shelves inside the cabinet aren't as deep as normal. I put baking spices together underneath the shelf that holds liquid flavorings. Favorite things are on the bottom shelf.
Now I have to look up aleppo pepper flakes. I've never used them and obviously I'm missing out.
I think this is very personal to the kind of cooking you do. I cook a lot of Indian, caribbean, middle eastern, chinese and other world cuisines - a traditional american or eurocentric cupboard would need much less.
Without doing an inventory of a full cabinet (and partial closet) of spices, this is what I have . Ive bracketed items I could do without in a pinch.
NECESSARY, USED FREQUENTLY:
Black pepper, whole
whole and ground cloves
cinnamon - ground vietnamese and sticks, cassia and [true (which I will grind for some uses)]
[cassia leaves (so called indian bay, for indian cooking)}
allspice, whole and ground
whole nutmegs (grate my own)
[whole mace pieces (grind my own)]
black mustard seeds
cardamon, whole green - [sometimes buy decortinated seeds for grinding, never ground it loses its fragrance too fast]
cardamon, whole black
cumin, whole and ground [I also keep a bottle of homemade roasted ground cumin]
coriander seed, whole and ground
fennel seed, whole
kalonji (black onion seed or nigella), whole
fenugreek seed, whole [and ground]
unroasted sesame seeds
whole chiles, chinese and italian
hungarian sweet [and spanish] paprika, [ground ancho pepper, ground kashmiri pepper, for color in indian dishes]
mideast (syrian or turkish) pepper - lives in the refrigerator)
[poppy seed, white (for indian cooking) and blue]
madras curry powder (mainly for WI cooking)
garam masala - storebought and homemade
five spice (most recently homemade)
[sambhar spice blend - most recently homemade and in freezer]
baking powder, soda, cream of tarter and fine grained salt in jar, for baking
extracts - various vanillas [vanilla powder, vanilla beans], almond [various other]
dried herbs (in addition to bay) - rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano (branches, from italian or greek store), summer savory, turkish mint,[dominican oregano, roman mint][sage - but normally picked from garden]
celery seeds [and celery salt ]
adobo (Goya or other)
in the closet but rarely or ever used:
grains of paradise - a big desire but what to use this for???
gum arabic and mahlab
dill seed, two bottles
dried tarragon (why, when fresh is so much nicer??)
cassia buds (to make "black" maharastrian curry powder)
alum, baker's ammonia, citric acid, Eno's fruit salt
daun salaam leaves
yellow mustard seed, pickling spice mix (in the McCormick tin)
white and green peppercorns
ground dried lemons (for middle east cooking
many others, im sure
IN ADDITION, AWAY FROM SPICE CABINET
ground sumac, lemon grass, galangal and "rhizome" in the freezer
herbs in frig - parsley and cilantro, always, dill most weeks, basil, tarragon or thyme, frequently
herbs grown all year - rosemary, bay and kaffir lime
re: jen kalb
Cool--I love having odd spices...
Some other oddities in my collection:
White and black cardamom
Laos (powdered galangal)
Black sesame seeds
White poppy seeds
Screwpine flower extract
Various powdered chilis (chipotle, ancho, guajillo)
Both cassia and true cinnamon sticks
Black mustard seeds
Anyone else have some interesting oddities to share?
re: jen kalb
Alton Brown has an Apple pie that uses Grains of Paradise and it is awesome. Took a lot of work but I made it 3 times in one week and then every week for get togethers as it was requested for a whole season. I have been trying to find other uses but not much luck yet so when I am bored with my norma seasoning method for meats I try it. The attempts are ok but I know I am missing its true flavor profile so I must do more research
Edit -Oops meant to reply to jen kalb
All the basics plus some curry powder from Malaysia that is amazing and I'm almost out of it. A friend gave me some of her mother's who was in the states visiting.
Aside from the basics, I have corriander powder, star anise, mace powder and extra hot chili powder from the local Indian market. My favorite spice is probably garam masala. It's so exotic to me and great in both savory and sweet dishes. Just try it sprinkled on some sweet potato pie - oh ma gawd.
Must have Old Bay in the pantry at all times. Not my fav, but too many friends and family from Baltimore who eat at my house to go without it for long.
My must haves for the spice cabinet.
Dried mustard, cumin, white pepper, summer savory, herbes de provence, dried basil (love fresh but use it Italian sauces) sesame seed oil, whole nutmeg, sweet and hot paprkia, California red chili powder,garam masala, fenugreek, dried shitakes, 5 spice powder, of course kosher salt, and cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes..... oh and garlic powder, just to name a few. I could manage with those.
I am one of the many spice persons. I think if I had to list my most essential spices (not herbs, salt of pepper) they would be cumin, ancho chili powder ... and coriander, mustard, cinnamon, nutmeg, spanish paprika. Lately I have been using these the most. The Indian spices are essentialy for authentic cooking. Other things that I think of as essential are more herbs--the ones I will use dry (although I try to grow the fresh) oregano, thyme, rosemary.
It is easy to make and better if you make your own since roasted sesame gets rancid fast - just roast some raw sesame seeds - white or black- with some kosher salt until they smell good and darken a bit - crush (dont grind finely) using a mortar and pestle, spice grinder or other means and you are there.
So you're counting herbs in there, too? OK, when I stocked my kitchen for the first time, I bought (on top of the stables mentioned above, and salt/pepper):
Cumin seeds, as opposed to the powder
Cardamom pods (all three are required for one of my fave recipes)
Hot pepper flakes
Garlic powder (helps in a pinch)
Ginger (for baking)
I did, however, skip the nutmeg, which I find completely non-essential for my purposes.
At a friend's now and not at home with my spices so I can't give the full list -- but immediately I will cast a vote for Aleppo chile for something unusual and cool (and new to me about a year ago, discovered through chowhound). I go to a cool Middle Eastern shop just for Aleppo :)
I keep all of my Indian spices (cardamom, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek, turmeric, cloves, coriander, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, asofoteida) in a crate with my mini spice-grinder. I FAR prefer to toast, grind, and mix my own spices for garam masala and any curry dish.
I really like paprika :) as well.
As with most everything, you get what you pay for. Buying from a realr Spice purveyor like Kalyustan or even Penzeys guarantees higher quality and freshness. There are many, many, different grades of spices, and purveyors who sell a lot have a stock that is a lot fresher than any market, where stuff can lie on the shelves for years.
I store my spices in dark glass jars and keep them in a drawer in the cooler part of the kitchen.
As for indespensable, I woulkd say
Whole Black Peppercorns.
Herbes de Provence w. Lavender
I buy Spices, preferably whole from Kalyustan and Sahandi's. I am likeing Penzey less and less. Their blends are awful. I don't buy large quantities, and don't buy stuff I will not really use.
I go through and throw out unused dry spices every six months. The whole ones like Peppercorns, Allspice, cloves. etc keep for much much longer.
I use a little electric coffee grinder, that I reserve just for this purpose, to grind spices.
I use fresh herbs whenever available, except for dried Oregano which is always better.
In my spice cupboard, I have Fennel, Cumin, Fenugreek, Aniseed, Mustard Seeds, Clove, Nutmeg, Corriander Seeds (& Ground Corriander), Bay Leaves, Curry Leaves, Kaffir Lime leaves. Not sure, if you would count stuff like Poppy Seeds, Onion Seeds etc
My basic set
Basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, dill, sage, bay leaves, tumeric, garam masala, saffron, ginger, paprika, granulated garlic, cayenne pepper, chilli powder, five spice powder,
The following in both powdered and whole form: Cumin, coriander, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, mustard, black pepper,
Plus dried chiles of several types, chili flakes, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves (the previous two are impossible to find fresh), sesame seeds.
On the second pass, I add stuff that I don't use as often but like to have around; nutmeg, allspice, celery seed, fennel seed, caraway seed, pepper salt, Japanese 7 spice mix, Chinese 5 spice powder, star anise, white peppercorns
Four I never buy dried are parsley, cilantro, mint and tarragon, because the dry versions are so tasteless - I use fresh or substitute. This is a major sacrifice, while I can get cilantro fresh, parsely, mint and tarragon are impossible to find fresh, and the former two die from the heat when I try to grow them.
My top favourites, all round, are basil, oregano, dill, thyme, and cumin.
I store them on a closed shelf in the kitchen, in big plastic tubs - one for herbs, one for spices, and one for peppers and spice mixes.
Have posted this before? Hot peppers, chiles, peperoncini, and whatever other name one has for incendiary heat emitting capsicums...