My spice cabinet is like my precioussssssssssssssss.
Yah, I’m a Lord of the Rings geek. Not a super geek, but enough of a geek to sit down and watch all 3 extended LOTR movies, in one sitting. That’s pretty much 12 hours of non-stop Middle Earth quest to destroy the one ring geeky. Every New Year’s Day, it’s LOTR movie marathon day. While some are nursing hangovers, I’m indulging my inner geek. That’s what I call an awesome way to ring in the New Year! *Ring* in the New Year…I made a funny 😛
Spice is pretty much my kitchen life. I love them. I love filing my spice cabinet full of them. But I really loveeeeeeeeee cooking with them. Dry spices. Wet Spices. I love them all.
I do a lot of Southeast Asian, Asian, East Indian and Mexican cuisines. The interesting thing, beyond the fact that they’re all amazing, is that they often share similar spices. A lot of the spices I use in my East Indian cooking, I also use in my Mexican. It’s really nice and super convenient to have cross-over like that. It’s not like I’m buying a spice that I’ll only use once in a blue moon. 99% of the spices I buy are ones that I pretty much use daily. They’re my staples, the ones I’m never without, well almost never, because when I know they’re in there, I know that the recipe potential is high and just about anything is possible.
I decided to split this topic into different posts, one for my 10 must have dry spices, one for my wet spices and maybe some to cover the ridiculous number of salts I use. They’re my spice cabinet must have. My spice cabinet is full of far more than these 10, but these are what I consider my absolute must haves.
I go for whole spices. I prefer to toast and grind my own spices as needed. Ground spices tend to quickly lose their flavour and since I often use these 10 must have dry spices in different forms, whole, ground or crushed, having them whole is best.
There are some dry spices that I do buy ground, such as turmeric and occasionally curry powder. I certainly do make my own curry blends from time to time, but I also enjoy having some pre-blended curry powder on hand for those moments where I just want to get in and out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. There are some great ones out there, when I do buy curry powder, it usually comes from little “mom and pop” type Indian sundries shops.
The reason I buy my turmeric ground is that it’s not all that easy to find whole dried turmeric root and the one time I did, I ended up taking a chunk out of my processor blade trying to grind it up. Just buy it ground, in small quantities and store in a container with a tight-fitting lid, so you’ll be able to use it up without leaving it to sit around long-term.
I have a KitchenAid coffee mill that I use exclusively to grind all my spices. I use it for nothing else but spices. I’ve probably had mine for well over 15 years, maybe longer. It’s been that long that I can’t even remember. I love it, it has a stainless steel grinding container that detaches from the main motor unit making it super easy to clean up. I do collect stone mortar and pestles, but I usually go straight to my KitchenAid grinder. I highly recommend them.
Here we go, my 10 must have dry spices…
1. Whole Cumin
I love this spice. I use it whole and ground. A bonus is that not only do I use it in my East Indian cuisine, but also in my Mexican. So it really does double duty. I often like to toast my whole cumin before grinding, I really love the nutty scent it gives off. I use it in spice rubs, I add it to other spice blends, I really love cooking with it whole, as well as adding it ground to my cucumber raita. Check out my recipe for Savoury Indian Cumin bites or Easy Soft Beef Tacos for some ways to add cumin to your kitchen adventures.
2. Whole Coriander
Another one of my must have favs, coriander seeds have a lemon like citrus flavour and really shines when ground fresh to order. It’s the seed of the cilantro herb, cilantro can be a love it or hate it kind of herb, it’s a total LOVE for me and it also crosses over into many other cuisines that I love to make. Notably, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese. I use the coriander seeds mainly in my East Indian, Southeast Asian and Mexican cuisines. It’s another double duty hitter in my spice cabinet.
3. Ground Turmeric
Having a very distinctive yellow colour and earthy scent, it’s part of the Ginger family. I use it mainly in my East Indian cuisine, a little goes a long way. Be careful when handling turmeric as it stains everything it touches, from food, to fingers and clothing. It’s a great way to ruin a nice top if you’re not careful when handling it. If I make a wet paste to rub on meats to marinate, I wear plastic gloves to protect my hands, it stains my hands and nails like crazy.
4. Whole Brown Mustard Seeds
I love these little guys, when fried in oil, they pop and release this nutty scent that I adore. I sometimes use them in spice blends, but more often than not, I just fry them up before I ate any of my other spices and ingredients, once they’re pretty much done popping, I know it’s time to start adding my other ingredients.
5. Whole Nutmeg
Though not one of my more often used dry spices, I love having this on hand, I grate to order and a little goes a long way. I most often add this to my whipped mashed potatoes. It adds something special, that people often ask me what is in your potatoes. Secrets out. It’s nutmeg.
6. Ground Chili Powder
More often that not, this goes into my Mexican cuisine. I like to make my seasoning blends for easy soft beef tacos, fajita or whatever I may need. I always have some chili powder on hand.
7. Ground Cayenne
Another spice cabinet staple for me, has uses in many cuisines, from Mexican to East Indian and beyond.
8. Curry Powder
I do blend my own curry powder to order, but I’m also OK with using a good pre-mixed blend. There are all sorts out there, from mild to HOT. I’m a chilehead so just pass me the hot with an extra dash of hot to go with it 🙂 Lately, I’ve been using store-bought, from little Indian Sundries shops to supply me with my curry powder. Curry powder can be found in my Curried Rice Noodles or Curried Kale and Chickpeas with Couscous. I like it and it’s fast, which I love. But don’t knock making your own sometime. You may find its better than anything you can find at the store, especially if store-bought curry powder has sat around awhile. It probably tastes like saw dust at that point, maybe not as good as sawdust. Who knows, I’ve never eaten sawdust, but I imagine it’s not all that great :).
9. Crushed Red Chili
I’m seriously not happy if this isn’t in my spice cabinet, which is why I rarely allow it to run out. This sucker gets used in just about everything and if it’s not in the recipe, I’m probably adding it, even if that means just sprinkling some on top of my plate of food. Chileheads like their burn. I use it in a lot of my cooking, but love it in Tangy Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce. There are probably tons of cuisines out there that have no use or need for such a great spice, but that’s OK, depending on what it is, I’m probably going to try to add some anyway. I’m a chilehead and that’s how I roll 🙂
10. Whole Cloves
Another great must have. I use it in East Indian dishes, I use it to bake with, I throw it in pots of water to simmer away on my stove top and make my house smell all xmasyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, ok the cinnamon helps too :P. You can even stick it in some oranges and call it ART. You could, it’s all in the eye of the beholder right 🙂 Though not a spice I use as regularly as my others, it’s still a staple and has a place in my spice cabinet. I like to add it to Easy Rhubarb Compote.
So. There you have it, what I call my 10 must have dry spices. Everyone has their spice cabinet staples and these are just a few of mine. They make experimenting in the kitchen awesome and I would be lost without them.
What are some of your favourite spices and how do you like to use them? I would love to hear about what makes your list of 10 must have dry spices!