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What spices should I try?

I like to have a wishlist by Christmastime, which includes inexpensive stuff. I thought, hey, I'll add togarashi and pomegranate molasses. What else should I add? Looking for crossover type ingredients- stuff that's pretty versatile. Any suggestions much appreciated.

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  1. How about sumac (or za'atar, a spice blend that incorporates sumac and sesame seeds and salt). Good for Middle Eastern/North African/Turkish cooking.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nofunlatte

      Sumac is good on anything! I sprinkle some on sliced tomatoes when they could use a little help.

    2. I'll second the za'atar! And the pomegranate molasses...YUM! My favorite salad is baby spinach, feta, toasted walnuts/almonds, craisins - dressed with olive oil, pomegranate molasses, salt, pepper, and sugar/simple syrup and lemon juice if you want. YUM.
      Tabil (Tunisian blend - yummy on roasted tomatoes, veggies)
      Ras El Hanout (Moroccan/North African blend - good with any kind of roasted meats especially chicken in my opinion)

      1 Reply
      1. re: kamper

        Third on the sumac/za'atar. Yum..It's soooo great. I've even started to make a salad dressing of greek yoghurt, a squeeze of lemon and sumac.

      2. Any kind of nuts would be high on my list--pistachios are my latest favorite.

        1. A nice dark sesame oil - the stuff made in Japan in the odd shaped bottle is my fav!

          LOVE pomegranate molasses - also nice for making a glaze on fish or chicken...

          And dried apricots are great - lovely on their own, or simmered with chicken (or pork!).

          1 Reply
          1. re: happybaker

            I second the dried apricots -- the unsulfured ones are especially delicious! Dried figs are a favourite as well.

            Vanilla beans are also wonderful (and inexpensive if you buy them online).

            Or how about crystallized ginger or smoked paprika or saffron.

          2. Aleppo. Delicious stuff. I've only gotten it from Penzey's but haven't looked anywhere else.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ErnieD

              Agreed! You can get a lot of aleppo for a good price at any Middle Eastern market. Mmmm!

            2. Cumin and cilantro seeds... can't live without. Get them at Indian stores, fresh and inexpensive.

              2 Replies
              1. re: nattythecook

                Can't wait to try out pomegranate molasses!

                I agree with the coriander as a good crossover spice. I recently started using it in Western dishes and it adds a really nice spice note that enhances, but is totally compatible with the other flavors, especially red wine dishes. As in Red Wine Mushroom Sauce for Steak http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe...

                Toasted (popped) nigella seeds are a great way to add a delicous layer of sharp, but not bitter, peppery note to a dish before serving as a garnish. See, e.g. "Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite" book for his spicy red lentil soup, where he elevates a bean soup with a combo of toasted mustard & nigella seed garnish.

                Substituting smoked Spanish paprika for some or all of the paprika in everything from raw tomato salsas to Hungarian Goulasch, can be amazing. You can get sweet and spicy pimenton.

                The above spices are distinctive enough that they can add dimension to some dishes in any world cuisine, I think, without transforming the base flavor too much (if that's what you meant by "crossover")

                1. re: AsperGirl

                  I use coriander in my Thai curry pastes, Middle Eastern dukkha, Afghan chapli kabab and Indian dishes....just what I can remember at the moment.

              2. I'm confused. The OP asks about spices - and folk responding with bottled flavourings, dried fruit, nuts and so on.

                As for trying to give some suggestions of my own, may I ask the OP what cuisines s/he enjoys that there might be a crossover between in the use of spices. Certainly the most verstaile I can think of are coriander, cumin & pepper.

                6 Replies
                1. re: Harters

                  Hi. I'm happy for all sorts of suggestions, which people must have inferred from the pomegranate molasses. The suggestions have been right on point, and have even included several things I asked for last Christmas! I'm really wide open to cuisines, but my cooking isn't very authentic. So, I wouldn't want an ingredient that only works in one or two recipes, but something I can throw on grilled chicken or that works in a generic stir fry or noodle dish is perfect. I have a whole foods with a bulk section, so I am blessed with being able to easily buy small amounts of dried fruit and nuts on a whim. I do have most basic dry spices, and my thyme and sage usually survive all winter.

                  1. re: jvanderh

                    OK, a much wider interpretation meaning flavourigs, then.

                    In British English, "spices" have a fairly tight definition - basically seeds - hence my confusion. We would think of thyme and sage as being herbs, not spices and dried fruit and nuts as being,erm, dried fruit and nuts, not spices.

                    1. re: Harters

                      You are correct in any form of English. Spices are seeds--nutmeg, coriander, cardamom--herbs are leaves and stems. I'd call this thread a discussion about flavorings.

                      1. re: Isolda

                        Yep, my phrasing was sloppy. Though I think people sometimes do call herbs spices.

                        1. re: jvanderh

                          I would not feel too bad - by including pomegranate molasses in your list, you truly did show that you wanted spices... and more.

                          It's all good : )

                          And boy, now I want to go out and get some aleppo!

                        2. re: Isolda

                          If spices are only seeds...what what are cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, saffron and cloves?

                  2. Red Boat Nuac Mam
                    Extremadura bittersweet paprika
                    Banyuls vinegar
                    Smoked salt

                    1. jvanderh, have you ever visited world spice merchants? They have some wonderful recipes in their online file that are cross referenced with spices/blends avail thru them or perhaps in your locale. I find their site so informative and inventive. Spices and blends are listed by regions, a description for how they are used or how blends are incorporated in a dish/recipe are detailed. Every year, I shop for gifts thru their site but it's provided countless idea for experimentation. World Spice Merchants.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: HillJ

                        That is totally, totally awesome. I've often wished I could buy spice blends whole and crush them as I needed them.

                        1. re: jvanderh

                          Right?! If I lived in their area, I would be at the store once a week. WSM has been hosting some incredible local spice demonstrations which I would love to see around my area. I've been making my way thru the recipe file for a while, the 4 spice cake is amazing. But, I highly recommend calling or emailing them on fresh product arrival. I buy lbs of cinnamon from them each year....and dozens of spices.

                          1. re: HillJ

                            I definitely added $50 worth of spices to my wishlist. Oops.

                            1. re: jvanderh

                              good for you, jvanderh. If you going to buy whole spice it's worth the $$ to buy it from a supplier that places a premium on quality and freshness.

                      2. Can't go wrong with these spice mixes, they go great on most everything::

                        Lebanese 7-spice mix:
                        Black Pepper
                        Ground Cloves
                        Ground Nutmeg
                        Powdered Ginger

                        In a small pan, medium high heat, dry cook the allspice, peppercorns, cinnamon (broken into pieces), cloves, fenugreek seeds, and the nutmeg. Watch out with the fenugreek, if the seeds burn they become bitter. Place the spices into a grinder and grind into a powder.

                        Arab seasoning mix:
                        2 tablespoons ground black pepper
                        2 tablespoons paprika
                        2 tablespoons ground cumin
                        1 tablespoon ground coriander
                        1 tablespoon ground cloves
                        1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
                        1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
                        1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

                        Mix all ingredients well. Store in an airtight container or in freezer.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: arktos

                          I really liked these mix ideas. Thx!

                          1. re: arktos

                            I don't think I've ever tried baharat with fenugreek. How much do you use in relation to the other spices?

                            1. re: JungMann

                              Those spice mixes sound great! Would you use those spice mixtures for marinating meats, or just cook them after tossing?

                              1. re: peasantpalate

                                I usually add those spices to a marinade or to aromatics when I am cooking them into a sauce.

                            2. re: arktos

                              Another unique spice blend is 'Bengali Five-Spice'. Tastes Indianish but has interesting twists:

                              1 tbsp nigella seeds
                              1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
                              1 tbsp fennel seeds
                              1 tbsp black mustard seeds
                              1 tbsp cumin seeds

                              Combine all spices in a jar, You fry the blend first in oil or ghee as the first stage in whatever youre cooking.

                            3. In addition to the above suggestions, I like ras el hanout - good for Moroccan-style dishes and also for perking up chicken, fish, and veggies. It's really good on roasted potatoes.

                              1. Wanted to say a big THANKS!! I've added 'Capetown Masala,' Dukka, Gomasio, Harissa, Herbes de la Garrigue, Chaat Masala, Piri Piri and Ras El Hanout. I have several little Middle Eastern markets near work with surprisingly good selections, and a big Halal/other Asian grocery 20 minutes from home, so I'm looking forward to dabbling in the other suggestions also. You chowhounders are the best!