HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Your Favorite One-Spice Dishes

I'm intrigued by dishes that highlight--often overwhelmingly--a single spice or herb. Personal favorites are Chicken Methi, which features fenugreek; Tamil Nadu Pepper Chicken, which calls for copious amounts of freshly ground black papper; middle eastern flat breads that require lots of zaatar (thyme); and, of course, basil pesto.

Are there any such dishes that are a regular part of your rotation?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Roasted rosemary potatoes.

    Chopped dill on green beans or new potatoes.

    Torn basil on sliced tomatoes.

    Garlic bread.

    Honey garlic wings/ribs.

    Brown butter with sage and toasted pine nuts/pecans, to top pumpkin/squash filled ravioli.

    1. Interesting topic. On the whole, I'm prone to overdoing it with spices - if one is good, three must be better. I do tend to put only chopped tarragon on steamed green beans because I don't want the tarragon flavor overwhelmed. Along with a little salted butter.

      1. I love thyme. I love butter. I love thyme in butter. Sauté some mushrooms in that butter and put it on toast, or eat it how it is, or scramble some eggs in thyme butter or mushroom thyme butter and I am in heaven. Get crazy and sauté some chanterelle mushrooms with thyme and butter and toss with some freshly cooked pasta and you have the most simple amazing pasta sauce. Throw in some pulled duck confit with the thyme sautéed chanterelles and pasta and I am the happiest camper.

        1. Salt crusted baked fish

          Soy sauce chicken (yes, I know there other spices)

          MaPo Tofu (Sichuan Peppercorns)

          Steak (salt)

          1. Fennel seeds added to the slowly sauteed garlic/butter/olive oil for my pasta and broccoli puts it over the top.....

            8 Replies
            1. re: KSlink

              I am a whore for fennel seeds. Amazing since I dislike licorice.

              1. re: melpy

                Me too--those horrible candies or the liquers send me from the room shrieking! How do you do with fresh fennel bulb?

                1. re: KSlink

                  I prefer it cooked, practically caramelized. Don't really enjoy it raw. I definitely use fennel seed more often than fennel.

                  1. re: melpy

                    Ditto here--great minds think alike. I knew I was on the right track after I devised a fennel stuffing for pork/chicken and then later saw Ina Garten make a nearly identical one on her show.....how'd she bug my kitchen, anyway?

                    1. re: KSlink

                      Fennel stuffing sounds lovely for pork. Care to share?

                      1. re: melpy

                        IIRC (it's been a while)....

                        fennel bulb
                        Italian seasoned bread crumbs
                        parmesan cheese
                        fennel seeds

                        More of an ingredient list than a recipe! This is one time where I didn't find garlic to be of much help, though I think Ina added some to her version. All veg. are fairly finely chopped and sauteed, with the fruits added toward the end to prevent overcooking. Hope you enjoy it!

                        1. re: KSlink

                          oh that sounds delicious! I put garlic in most of my savory dishes, but it seems like it would be superfluous in this recipe... Yum. Thank you.

                          1. re: kubasd

                            You're quite welcome! It's pretty simple and straightforward but always seems to come out as more than the sum of its parts--the first time I served it for Christmas Eve I only had the middle of a pork loin stuffed, and it wasn't nearly enough, so now I make sure to have a back-up pan as well....

            2. I love a dash of nutmeg with butternut squash, and I love lamb with cinnamon.

              1. Spaghetti all'aglio e olio. I admit that I do sometimes put a pinch of red pepper in it, but I'm just as happy to eat the pure garlic version. LOVE garlic. Carbonara is another of my favorites, or cacio e pepe.

                3 Replies
                  1. re: biondanonima

                    I think your spaghetti with red pepper added still qualifies as a "single herb/spice" dish. I don't believe garlic is either an herb or a spice, technically. And, yum.

                    1. re: tcamp

                      Well, no need to be too technical here. For the purposes of this thread, we can count garlic as an herb/spice.

                  2. Kasoori methi chicken, Tamil Nadu pepper chicken and za'atar are not good examples for a one-spice dish since each of those dishes is comprised of a long list of spices (za'atar itself being comprised of at least 4 different items at its simplest).

                    Unless it's a simple dish that is draped with a pre-made sauce (i.e. roast pork with liver sauce, greens with oyster sauce, steamed fish with "seasoned" soy sauce) I'm having a hard time identifying something that truly shows off just one ingredient aside from something like scrambled eggs with chives or lobster with drawn butter.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: JungMann

                      There may be lots of spices in those dishes, but they are minute in comparison to the dominant spice/herb. Certainly they are in my recipes.

                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                        Most za'atar blends that I'm familiar with have a pretty diverse blend of spices in them beyond thyme. However, I kind of think of za'atar as its own "thing", so would still qualify. Personally, I like when a lot of za'atar is added to olive oil with a little honey and then used as a dipping sauce as opposed to being baked on the bread.

                      2. re: JungMann

                        I looked at my recipe for Tamil Nadu pepper chicken last night, and although it does call for five cloves of garlic and three dried, red chiles, it is the black pepper, two tablespoons of it, that is most up front. Clearly, it is the featured spice.

                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                          To be fair, that is not a typical Tamil-style recipe. The cuisine of Tamil Nadu, particularly the region that is famous for pepper chicken, is promiscuously spiced and characterized by the prominent use of whole garam masalas, red chilies, curry leaf, tamarind, mustard seed and other strong flavors. The black pepper plays a prominent role, yes, but a Tamil pepper chicken recipe is still going to have curry leaf, coriander, cumin and red chilies playing serious roles, too.

                          But that said, I think I get the concept you're getting at and am a big fan of pad horapa, which, though it has many ingredients, really highlights the anisey flavor of Thai basil. Occasionally I will also make Taiwanese pork chops which, though it takes less than 30-minutes, tastes boldly of five spice.

                          1. re: JungMann

                            I really love "promiscuously spiced."

                            1. re: tcamp

                              Me too, promiscuously spiced, love it. Sounds so sexy, I just hope the dish isn't precocious.

                              1. re: tcamp

                                I agree. It's a wonderful description :)

                              2. re: JungMann

                                Does five spice count as one spice? ;)

                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                  Only in the ten-items-or-less line at the supermarket...

                          2. Vanilla cake, ice cream, pudding, custard, etc.

                            1. Pad Grapow Neua (Stir Fried Holy Basil and chilies) - chilies are fresh so not a spice :p - love this dish - eat it maybe 3 or 4 times a week for breakfast.

                              Although technically one spice / herb - close - my turkey stuffing is very heavy on sage (but does also have parsley but I would not miss it that much without it).

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: cacruden

                                Cumin-Love it Love it Love it.
                                Red Lentil Soup
                                Carmelized Onions
                                I could go on & on.

                              2. My Easter cabbage kulebiaka, while it does have small amounts of other ingredients (parsley, black pepper), is unabashedly dill-y. I don't even like dill most of the time, but it works for this.

                                I just looked it up -- I never knew that za'atar was both the name for thyme and the spice blend; personally, I find za'atar-the-blend dominated by the sumac rather than thme, but that may be because the sumac is the flavor in there I didn't grow up with.

                                The other thing I always have to remind myself is on fruit crisps -- sometimes, it's better to pick one spice than to throw lots in there -- just cardamom or just nutmeg or just cinnamon.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: antimony

                                  Recently I've been adding a little ginger to many dishes that call for cinnamon, an addition not a replacement. I find they are an appealing combo.

                                  1. re: tcamp

                                    Oh, yeah, they are -- it's just that I end up adding ginger AND cinnamon AND nutmeg AND cardamom just because I love them all (and love the combination) every time and then doing just one can be a revelation.

                                2. I'll consider Old Bay one spice as it's packaged in one container ;) Shrimp sauteed in a little butter, a heavy spirinkling of Old Bay and some lemon. Yum.

                                  1. Spaghetti, with butter, Parmigiano, and lots of lightly-sauteed garlic. I realize it's an allium and therefore not technically a spice, but it's what I've got. :)

                                    1. Sumac on my Persian rice with my kebab koobideh. Need a trip to NY or DC to get me some Persian mmmmmmmm!

                                      1. I like pepper-corn karhai chicken, which is a Northern Pakistani dish that also has a couple of other seasonings but has a copious amount of fried, strained, then coarsely crushed black peppercorns added in the dish towards the end of cooking. I have never tried the Tamil version.

                                        I also love methi dishes, although these typically use fresh methi, which I think of as a green and not a seasoning, unlike the dried version.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: luckyfatima

                                          Unfortunately, aunt Fatima, I cannot get fresh fenugreek. I have to make do with the dried. Even in that form it is one of my most favorite herbs, although the house smells like maple syrup for the next five days after cooking with it.

                                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                            I'd love your recipe for kasoori methi chicken. I made my own version last night and while there was a noticeable difference in the sauce before and after adding the kasoori methi, I couldn't quite pick out the flavor of the leaves from the rest of the seasonings.

                                              1. re: JungMann

                                                1 lb. diced chicken breast
                                                2 T. vegetable oil
                                                1 t. cumin seeds
                                                large pinch asafetida
                                                1 1/2-inch piece ginger
                                                4 cloves garlic
                                                2 serranos minced
                                                2 medium onions chopped
                                                1 cup plain yogurt
                                                4 T. kasoor methi
                                                2 t. ground coriander seed
                                                1 t. turmeric
                                                1 t. cayenne
                                                salt to taste
                                                1/2 t. garam masala

                                                1. In food processor, chop onion, ginger and garlic finely.
                                                2. Heat oil to medium-high heat in large skillet.
                                                3. Add cumin and asafetida to oil. Cook until seeds begin to pop.
                                                4. Reduce heat slightly, add mixture from food processor, and fry until golden brown.
                                                5. Add chicken and stir fry until just brown.
                                                6. Add serranos, coriander, turmeric, cayenne and salt, and cook for two minutes.
                                                7. Add yogurt and methi. Stir well.
                                                8. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook 10 minutes.
                                                9. Remove from heat, sprinkle with garam masala, stir well and serve with the accompaniment of your choice.

                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                  Thanks. I don't have a great track record with yogurt curries, but this seems worth taking a risk for.

                                          2. Not much gets cooked around here with a solo spice or herb...sage, in brown butter to top poached halibut or mushroom ravioli, on Saltimbocca, or on a small pan fried pork chop with a twist of pepper and a splash of white wine.

                                            1. Three of the most popular dishes that I make are

                                              Ginger Beef
                                              Dijon Pasta
                                              Cilantro chicken

                                              They are simplistic ad highlight that one flavor and it surprises me how many people think they are master creations or contain a zillion ingredients.

                                              1. For some years now, marjoram has been the only herb my mother uses in her various vegetable soups. And they're always good.

                                                9 Replies
                                                1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                                  Lately I've been reaching for thyme pretty regularly when it comes to soup.....

                                                  1. re: KSlink

                                                    Me, too. I love thyme in a good "whatever looks good" vegetable soup, usually tomato and vegetable stock based

                                                    1. re: kubasd

                                                      The only spices I use in chicken and dumplings are rosemary and bay leaves. Nothing else is needed.

                                                    2. re: KSlink

                                                      I too use thyme far more frequently- familiar and comfortable, it's really second nature to me.
                                                      In fact, I almost never use marjoram myself. But her soups are tasty enough that I've resolved to explore it further in the future.

                                                      1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                                        Years ago I realized that marjoram OR thyme was great in my pea soup, but never both together. Somewhere along the way I guess I've just gravitated toward it...but you're right, marjoram DOES deserve further investigation....

                                                        Anyone care to jump in with some suggestions?

                                                        1. re: KSlink

                                                          Marjoram is the featured herb in my shrimp & zuke farfalle with cream. Gotta make that again. It's also the perfect herb for chicken dishes.

                                                            1. re: KSlink

                                                              I would, except that I don't really "do" recipes....

                                                              Let's see. While cooking the farfalle, sweat a finely diced onion in a sauté pan, add zucchini (cut lengthwise in half, then sliced into half-moons (?). Add shrimp, white wine, light cream, and fresh marjoram. S&p to taste. Done.

                                                              Hope this helps -- sorry, but I never measure or write things down.

                                                  2. Yeah. Roasted cauliflower, asparagus, chickpeas, and nutmeg. Or stir-fried okra with allspice. Or diced (multi-color) bell peppers with garlic, onion, and fennel seeds.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: lamb_da_calculus

                                                      I understand nutmeg is the go-to spice for mashed potatoes, potato soups and other potato dishes in parts of Germany.

                                                      I've been adding thyme to my scalloped potatoes lately.

                                                    2. Really the only one-spice dish I make is Carrot Coriander Soup. My cabinet FULL of spices each in its own glass jar was the source of a major dispute between husband and I last moving day. The spices together with the flours and grains and sugars amouted to, er, 4 boxes I believe. He was not pleased. So, I tend to use a lot of spices in my dishes, but this Carrot Soup with its lonely coriander really sung. It's so clean and fresh.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: sarahtorres

                                                        Our household is similar. Fortunately, there's no conflict between me and my Khantessa. We're both spice junkies.

                                                      2. Just one,OK
                                                        sumac on flounder or hake
                                                        green peppercorns on steak
                                                        anchovy paste on steak
                                                        salt crust.....lamb or fish

                                                        1. Tarragon tomatoes. Saute cherry tomatoes in olive oil with lots of tarragon (dried and fresh are both good), a little salt and pepper. Cook until some of the tomatoes start to burst, then moosh some of them up just a bit to make it a little saucy.

                                                          1. How can you seriously call Zaatar a single 'spice' that is absurd. Most of these dishes quote are heavily multi-spiced.

                                                            Personally I think of Italian as more generally approaching this idea of 'showcasing' single flavours and the opposite being French Cuisine which tends toward the insane melange of everything under the sun.

                                                            Risottos and Pasta sauces really shouldn't be overly seasoned with too many different flavours. Well based on recipes in The Silver Spoon cookbook that I use mostly.

                                                            Similarly some northern European dishes can be more sparingly seasoned: I generally make Goulash with only Onions and Paprika (although sometimes its Smoked Paprika which is technically).

                                                            I think there is a problem here with what do you consider a "Spice" or significant flavouring element. ie are the carrot and celery in Spagetti Bolognese considered 'spices'? - they do add most of the depth to the dish.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: echoclerk

                                                              Zaatar is both an herb and a spice mixture.


                                                              And no, carrots and celery are not spices. I stipulated "spice," not "significant flavouring element."

                                                              1. re: echoclerk

                                                                thyme in Arabic - زعتر za'atar: means both the herb thyme by itself, as well as mainly thyme based spice mix.