16 Essential Spices to Jazz up Your Cooking

Even though most spices are not as exotic, rare, or expensive as they were hundreds of years ago, they are still a considerable investment and one most home cooks want to get the most from. They are best when at their freshest and can enhance many of your favorite dishes.

Choosing the most versatile spices will mean that by mixing and matching them, you can enjoy deliciously seasoned recipes from around the world.

Here are some suggestions for a well-stocked kitchen, based on general uses and particular cuisines.

The Basics

  1. Sea salt – A little salt enhances the flavor of most savory dishes and is sometimes required to get the right rise and texture for baked goods.
  2. Black and white pepper – These also enhance almost any dish. White pepper is milder and finer, and due to its lighter color, won’t affect the appearance of a dish.

Italian Food

  1. Oregano is the main seasoning, and is used in soups, stews, and sauces.
  2. Basil is more aromatic, and can be used along with oregano. Use fresh basil with some olive oil and pine nuts. Place in a blender and process until smooth, then add to your favorite pasta as a quick pesto sauce, or use as a spread or the base for a salad dressing.
  3. Fennel seeds give sweet Italian sausage its unique taste, so you can get the flavor in your red sauce even if you are vegetarian. Fresh fennel makes a delicious salad.

Mexican Food

Oregano is also used a good deal in Mexican recipes, especially those with tomatoes.

  1. Coriander, also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, can be used in moderation, either fresh or dried. It gives a savory taste with a hint of lemon.
  2. Cumin is usually used with coriander. It has a deep, earthy taste that is a bit peppery.

Indian Food

Coriander and cumin are also used in Indian food, so they are a good addition to any spice rack. But there are also many other wonderful spices to explore.

  1. Cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon are often used in savory dishes, especially in ones with tomato-based sauces. Cinnamon is of course also incredibly useful for your favorite baked goods.
  2. Curry powder is a blend of a range of spices, and is an easy shortcut if you want to get an authentic taste of India without buying a lot of different items. You can also make your own blend.
  3. Garam masala is also a standard Indian blend you can buy to take the guesswork out of your seasoning. It is a “finishing spice” that you add just before you serve, rather than cooking with it.
  4. Turmeric is a root related to ginger root. It is bright yellow, with a mild flavor. It gives curry powder its color. It’s useful as a natural dye for foods and will enhance any rice dish.
  5. Ginger root is used in both sweet and savory dishes. It’s also used for candy and tea. It is a bit pungent, but goes well with chicken and shrimp. It can be used fresh or dried, and is a staple of Chinese cuisine as well.

Chinese Food

Ginger is found in many recipes, in both its fresh and dried forms. You will also find coriander, fennel, and cinnamon in Chinese dishes.

  1. Star anise is very popular. This dried flower with seeds is used whole or ground into powder. It is one of the five spices in Chinese 5-spice powder, along with coriander, fennel, cloves, and Szechuan peppercorns.

Southwestern Food

  1. Red Chile powder is made with pure dried New Mexico chiles (as opposed to standard “chili powder,” which is actually a mix of ground chiles with several spices like oregano, garlic powder, and cumin). It has a moderate heat level with earthy and fruity undertones.
  2. Green Chile powder is made from authentic New Mexico green chiles. Used as a rub, in soups, or as a seasoning, green chile imparts a sweet, roasted quality which enhances your gastronomic experience with a mild heat.
  3. Chipotle powder, like red and green chile powders, is made solely with dried and ground chipotle chiles (as opposed to standard “chili powder,” which is actually a mix of ground chiles with several spices like oregano, garlic powder, and cumin). … Its smoky heat makes it great in grilling rubs, barbecue sauces, and soups and stews.

With these spices in your kitchen, you will be able to enhance and vary the taste of all your favorite meals.

Be sure to visit MountainManGourmet.com often for your favorite exotic and organic herbs & spices, as well as hand-crafted spice blends and dry rubs.

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