The Prepared Spice Rack: Adding Spice to Life
I love to cook, better yet I like to experiment in the kitchen. Most people cook with recipes and carefully measured ingredients, I on the other hand, cook like my great grandmother. The “a little of this, a pinch of that, these look like they’d go well together” culinary style. Considering this technique I have a pretty good success rate.
Recipes are only guidelines. Once the basic mechanics of cooking are understood you have opened a whole new world of flavor and food possibilities. Outside of the science and chemistry of cooking how to, the most important thing you can add is spices. Changing the spices you use is the easiest way to improve your menu and take your cooking to the next level.
I collect and stock up on spices! They are carefully stored above my stove where they can be easily reached while I’m “dabbling” (which is technically a no-no since the heat slowly deteriorates their flavors, but I have a small house so its not really an option).
My personal spice philosophy is this:
1) Season to taste and smell
2) Go bold or go home
3) Know what goes together
Your nose and your taste “buddies” (that’s what our family calls them) are the dynamic duo! They are an instrument, one you may need to tune and fine tune to maximize their effectiveness. Science has proven that neither works well on their own, proven by the simple experiment of plugging your nose to eat. My husband always chuckles when he asks me if “it needs something more” and I shove my head over the pot and take several deep breaths before reaching into the cabinet and dumping stuff in.
Take the time to smell and taste together as you add seasonings. Learn what’s missing and how things change with different ingredients. You won’t regret it.
Not every one is into bold flavors and spicy food. If you have a picky eater or a texture sensitive foody than this could help solve a few food wars. Our mouths need effective stimuli to function properly and a jolt of flavor may be the ticket to solving some of your food wars. Bland food is monotonous, boldness in flavor is adventure! Take your family to another time or place simply by changing the spices in your cooking.
Know What Goes Together
This is a priority! This is the key for iron chefs, it should be for you too. Each spice has certain qualities that distinguish it from all others. Know which ones are savory, sweet, spicy, sour, and salty.
There are also spice families – a combination of different spices that work together to create a distinct flavor. Often we associate these with ethnic cooking.
Italian – balsamic viniger, basil, citrus zest, fennel, garlic, lemon, mint, oregano, red pepper flakes, rosemary, broccoli rabe, olives, artichoke, radicchio, prosciutto, cheese, capers, anchovies, sugar, carmalized veggies, dried fruit and rasins, tomato, cheese, black pepper, cliles, cherry peppers
Latin America – chilies, cilantro, citrus, cumin, scallions, soy, chocolate (unsweetened), cheeses, olives, tamarind, lime, sugar cane, tomato, jalapeno, hot peppers
Japanese – ginger, mirin, mushrooms, scallions, soy, tea, miso, seaweed, rice vinegar, shitake mushrroms, dashi, wasabi, chiles
Indian – cardamom seed, cayene, coriander, cumin, ghee, ginger, mustard, turmeric, asafetida, fenugreek, bitter melon, kala namak (black salt), lemon, lime, amchur, tamarind, jaggery, sugar, tomato, black pepper, chilies, cayenne, black mustard seed, garlic, cloves
Greek – garlic, lemon, oregano, parsley, pine nuts, dandelion greens, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, feta cheese, honey, tomato, black pepper
French – butter, garlic, parsley, tarragon, frisee, radish, endive, olives, capers, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, tomato, mushrooms, Dijon mustard, black/white/green peppercorns
Chinese – soy sauce, oyster sauce, plum sauce, rice vinegar, jujubes, hoisinn sauce, dried mushrooms, mustard, szechwan peppers, ginger root, garlic, sesame oil, sugar, chilies
Southeast Asia – cayenne, coconut, fish sauce, kaffir leaves, lemon grass, lime, thai pepper, dried tangerine, pomelo, dried shrimp paste, coconut milk, chili
Still feeling a bit “shaky” in the seasonings department, click here for some helpful information.
I purchase my spices at several reliable online retailers, who give a discount for bulk buying. See if you can find your favorites at a discount on their websites.