Even though spices are not as exotic, rare and expensive as they once were thousands of years ago, they are still a considerable investment and one most families would like to get the most from. They are best when at their freshest, and can enhance many of your favorite dishes.
The real question is what cuisines you enjoy. Choosing the most versatile spices will mean you can mix and match them, and enjoy deliciously seasoned recipes from around the world. Here are some suggestions for a well-stocked kitchen, based on general need and particular cuisines.
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. It won’t affect the appearance of a dish.
3. Oregano is the main seasoning, and is used in soups, stews, and sauces.
4. 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 sauce, or use as a spread or the base for a salad dressing.
5. 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.
Oregano is also used a good deal in Mexican recipes, especially those with tomatoes.
6. Coriander can be used in moderation either fresh or dried. It gives a savory taste with a hint of lemon.
7. Cumin is usually used with coriander. It has a deep, earthy taste that is a bit peppery.
Coriander and cumin are also used in Indian food, so they are a good addition to any spice rack. But there are many other wonderful spices to explore.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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 that cook it.
11. 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.
12. 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. Ginger root can be used fresh or dried and powdered. It is a staple of Chinese cuisine as well.
Ginger is found in many recipes, in both its fresh and dried forms. You will also find coriander, fennel and cinnamon in Chinese dishes.
13. 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.
With these spices in your kitchen, you will be able to enhance and vary the taste of all your favorite meals.