I don’t think there’s any question to my readers that I am a big fan of herbs and spices in cooking. From my article on The Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices to the second bullet on my previous post of Four Ways To Add Some Excitement To Your Diet, I’ve made it well-known that these versatile plants are very important to making your cooking fun. When I wrote my previous post on Ten Staples of A Well-Stocked Kitchen, I didn’t want to put a category for “Herbs and Spices,” feeling that such a broad category was a cop-out. This post is intended to give an in-depth breakdown of the herbs and spices that I use most in my kitchen and a few uses of them. My hope is that you’ll find a new way to use something here.
Yes, it was included on my Ten Staples list and here it is again. It’s that important to my cooking. Garlic is highly versatile, featuring in most cuisines around the world for its pungency. I use garlic in nearly everything I cook, from eggs to big skillets of meat and vegetables, often half a bulb or more at a time. Yes, I like garlic a lot and usually add more to any recipe I’m following that calls for garlic. Luckily, it’s very healthful (see my article above).
Cumin is another of my go-to spices, getting only slightly less use than garlic. I go through jars of the ground stuff fairly quickly, about every 2-3 weeks. I usually add cumin to my eggs, anything with ground beef, and sauteed vegetables. Pretty much anything is fair game as cumin lends a bit of a Mexican flavor to everything. It’s used in other cuisines, from the Mediterranean to India, but the smell always makes me think of a Mexican restaurant.
I don’t do a good deal of Italian cooking. But I still go through basil about as quickly as I go through cumin. My large daily salads are the culprit, getting quite a large dash most everyday. I probably go through 1/2 tbsp to 1 tbsp on each salad. Other uses are in making spaghetti sauce, which goes over top of spaghetti squash, not pasta, and in switching things up with the ground beef that I eat a good deal of.
Cinnamon goes mainly on sweet potatoes and butternut or acorn squashes. I also occasionally add a bit to coffee or tea on the rare occasions I have either at home (my coffee and tea consumption typically happens at work). Cinnamon also adds an interesting dimension to chili or ground beef, as does cocoa (that’s a bonus tip!).
Then there’s ginger, lending a bit of Chinese flair to my meals. One way that I use ginger, though I don’t make this very often anymore, was in a sesame salad dressing that I picked up from Robb Wolf. It is equal parts tahini and olive oil with a dash of ginger and some curry powder, plus a bit of pepper. The tahini gives it a nice stickiness that coats everything and the ginger combines nicely with the curry powder. A dash of tamari with a tablespoon of ginger added to most any meat works wonders. And I have to ask, is there anyone else that goes to a sushi restaurant and enjoys the pickled ginger as much as the sushi?
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a big fan of Mexican cooking. I love the flavors, probably a good reason why cumin and garlic are my main two spices. Cilantro is the third part of the Mexican triumvarite in my kitchen. I’ve been known to make a pesto out of cilantro instead of basil and serve it over top of chicken or steak. I also just cut up the fresh herb and throw it into a salad in place of the basil for something different. Of course, homemade salsas and guacamole are also recipients of a healthy dose of this herb.
Now, if you recall, I don’t eat a great deal of nightshades due to their propensity to promote inflammation. Unfortunately, I love spicy flavors. Enter horseradish. I don’t go through this very quickly because it doesn’t take much to give quite a punch to anything you add it to. The spiciness of horseradish is quite different than that of a jalapeno pepper, too much hitting more in the nose than in the mouth, but when you need a spicy fix, a little bit grated over the top of your food is a decent fill-in. Then again, sometimes you just need some hot peppers.
This last one was easy. I add freshly grated pepper to nearly everything. Salads, steaks, chicken, pork, soups, stews, eggs, the list goes on. A good dose of pepper gives a nice spicy to everything.
Of course, I have more spices than that in my cabinet, but these are the ones that get the most use. Soups and stews get a bay leaf or two, but I don’t make soups and stews that often. If I decide to make a little dessert of grilled apples with honey, they get a dash of nutmeg to go with the cinnamon to give them a bit of crust-less apple pie flavor. Oregano, cloves, and turmeric are also found in my cabinet, but they don’t get used often enough to count. I should probably branch out a bit and use them more often before they go out of date and need to be discarded.
So what are your favorite spices?