“Spice is life. It depends upon what you like… have fun with it.” Emeril Lagasse
Winter is here and back into the kitchen we go. This time around I’m hoping to expand my culinary experience by trying new cuisines. For that I will probably need spices I do not currently possess. Here are some tips about spices, and the spice sources I will go to.
Spices are derived from seeds, bark, fruit, buds, roots and stems. Herbs, on the other hand, come from plant leaves. When procuring spices there is a significant difference between spices in plastic jars from the supermarket and the ones available online and at specialty stores that have been responsibly sourced, are extremely fragrant, fresh and tasty.
Whole spices stay fresh longer than ground spices. Whole spices do require toasting and a spice grinder, however, and add an extra step to cooking. Ground spices, from a reputable source, are fantastic, so don’t fret if you’re not up to dealing with whole spices. Many spices are only available ground.
Be ruthless about cleaning out your spice drawer. If the color has changed or they are tasteless, pitch them. Spices have short shelf lives so buy in small quantities. A good rule of thumb is to toss what you don’t remember buying.
Spice blends can contain up to 50 ingredients, so they are great time savers when you want to add complex flavors to your cooking.
Spice blends to have in your pantry:
Chef Ottolenghi divides spices for vegetables into “Earthy” and “Sweet”. The earthy blend is Cumin, Coriander and Turmeric. The sweet blend is Anise, Smoked Cinnamon, Allspice and Nutmeg.
Chefs Solomonov and Sortun recommend these three blends:
2 parts turmeric, 2 parts cumin and 1 part black pepper. Use in soup stocks (several tbsp at end of cooking), or as a rub on chicken. Also use with roasted winter vegetables with olive oil and salt before roasting.
4 parts Cumin, 2 parts ground coriander, 1 part ground cardamon. Use in chili, braised short ribs, roasted mushrooms.
3 parts sumac, 1 part dried mint, 1 part dried orange zest is a finishing blend. Do not cook it or it will be tasteless. Mix into Greek yogurt and use as a crudité dip, or a spread in a sandwich or with lamb.
Moroccan Ras el Hanout: Contains ginger, turmeric, rose and is good with baked halibut. $12.99.
Middle Eastern Za’atar: Contains sumac, thyme and sesame and is good with baked pita bread with olive oil and crumbled cheese. Also good sprinkled on meatballs or kebabs. $7.49 for a ½ cup jar.
Japanese Seven Spice: Contains red pepper flakes, seaweed and sesame and adds color, heat and flavor. It is good with scrambled eggs, mixing with mayo or yogurt for dips or sandwich spreads, add to soba noodles. ½ cup jar is $7.99.
Jamaican Jerk Blend: Contains allspice, paprika, thyme and is good in marinades, BBQ sauces and as a rub on poultry, ribs and shrimp. A 2 oz jar is $6.65.
Individual spices to have in your pantry:
Coriander – Good for marinades and goes well with citrus.
Cinnamon – Great in savory stews.
Nutmeg – Best bought whole and grated when needed. It is good in sweet potato recipes and quiches.
Cumin – Good in chilis and many Mexican recipes.
Paprika – Has a sweet taste and is good with poultry and tomato-based recipes.
Fennel – Tastes like licorice and goes well with fish.
Chili Powder – Increases the temperature in any recipe. Good in vegetarian recipes and with meat.
Ever since ASE subscriber Kathy A. introduced me to Kalustyan’s on Lexington Ave. in NYC, it has been the spice store of choice for me. Where else do you have a choice of 30 chili powders? It is easy to order online (once you navigate thousands of choices) and have it shipped. www.kalustyans.com
Curio Spice Co. is woman-owned, in Cambridge, MA, and all products are ethically sourced. Due to the pandemic, their store is currently closed, and they are selling exclusively online. https://www.curiospice.com/
Burlap & Barrell specializes in single origin products directly from small, independent farms. It is a Public Benefit Corporation. Epicurious produced a video of owner Ethan Frisch‘s spice skills and it is a joy to watch and very informative. It is 18 minutes long and well worth a view. https://www.burlapandbarrel.com
The Spice House is a Chicago-based company that has been selling small-batch spices for over 60 years. They also have a great reputation for wonderful gift sets and starter kits. https://www.thespicehouse.com/
New York Shuk is a Middle Eastern pantry. The word ‘shuk’ means market in Hebrew. They carry handcrafted pantry staples, and they have recipes for their products. https://www.nyshuk.com/shop
Dragunara Spice Bazaar is located in the Farmers Market in Los Angeles. They sell spices, spice blends and spice sets. They have an online shop and will ship. https://www.dragunara.com/
The owner of the La Boite Spices in NYC, Lior Sercarz, has traveled around the globe and worked with some of the most famous chefs in the world including spice master Olivier Roellinger. For his store he chooses the best spices with the most aromatic and strong flavors. In addition to his single spices, he has created over 40 blends that are amazing. La Boite Spices has a store in NYC that is currently open only for order pick up due to the pandemic, or customers can order online.
If you want to grind your whole spices, this grinder comes highly recommended –
This KitchenAid Blade Coffee and Spice Grinder Combo Pack has a clear top which allows the user to see the consistency of the grinds. It comes highly recommended by Bon Appetit magazine and has a one-year warranty. From $65.00.
If you like to try new spices, read this ASE article: