How to use spices

Feb 17, 2019

Back to the basics today – consider this post a “spices 101” course. I’ll be covering what spices I always keep on hand, how to get started experimenting with seasonings you might have been intimidated by before, and some templates of combinations I like to use on different foods! Plus, *bonus content* — Marc’s seasoning blend (that he uses on everything), which he’d rather sell but I’m going to give to y’all here! 😉

The impetus for this is that it’s come to my attention that a great majority of people are either intimidated by or don’t know how to use a variety of spices beyond salt & pepper, garlic powder, and maybe Lowry’s seasoning salt (🤦🏼‍♀️). Which is sad for many reasons — first of all being that if you are sensitive to FODMAPs, garlic and onion are out. And secondly and maybe most importantly being that spices make your food EXCITING and NOT BLAND! Properly seasoned food is the difference between eating to survive an eating for enjoyment. (Well, you have to cook the food properly too, but that’s what the rest of this blog is about…)

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Before we get to the actual spices, I will say that the first step to delicious tasting food is to buy the highest quality and freshest food whenever possible. This is totally up to you and what you can afford — maybe that means buying organic meat and produce, but even just buying produce that’s in season will make a world of difference, as it’ll taste so much better to start! Plus, in-season stuff is often on sale so: win.

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Spices

Basic spice list

These are the spices you should absolutely own!

  • Cayenne
  • Chili powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Curry powder (check that it doesn’t have onion & garlic)
  • Oregano
  • Paprika (Pro tip: smoked paprika is so much more flavorful! We buy ours at Trader Joe’s.)
  • Vanilla

Extra spices

After you’ve mastered the basics

  • Chili flakes (we like chipotle chili flakes)
  • Cloves
  • Ginger
  • Nutmeg
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Turmeric

Spice combinations

These aren’t exactly recipes with measurements or anything, because it’ll depend on how much you’re making, and because I rarely measure spices anyway. Things are generally listed in order from the greatest to the least amount.

I’ll usually do a pretty even coating for basic spices like paprika, chili powder, cumin, and curry (if I definitely want it to be curry flavored). More specialty seasonings or things that have a powerful flavor like nutmeg, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, and dried spices get just a sprinkle (sometimes I use curry powder in this category for just an extra flavor).

And always evaluate how things taste after you’ve cooked them! Too much of one thing? Didn’t taste the one flavor you wanted to? Make a mental note and adjust for next time.

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And last but not least:

My most important rule of seasonings

If something tastes bland, meh, or just off and you can’t tell what it needs more of… ADD MORE SALT! Salt brings out all the other flavors, and the right amount will make them all play nicely with each other. Most often when I feel like something is missing… it’s salt.

Basic sweet potato seasoning

I use this on a weekly basis in the winter. If you have access to garnet sweet potatoes (we get ours from Whole Foods obviously), buy them — they get really nice and caramelized/crispy!

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  • Paprika
  • Chili powder
  • Nutmeg
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon (just a dash, I add this at the very end)
  • Salt & pepper

Curry sweet potato seasoning

  • Curry powder
  • Paprika
  • Cinnamon (again just a dash!)
  • Salt & pepper
See my recipe for roasted sweet potatoes and curry sauce!

Ground turkey or chicken seasoning (for burgers or meatballs)

Turkey & chicken basically taste like nothing on their own, so don’t be afraid to be a little heavy-handed here!

  • Chili powder
  • Paprika
  • Curry powder
  • Cinnamon and/or nutmeg (usually nutmeg)
  • Salt & pepper
See my recipes for turkey burgers with cornbread pancake “buns” and meatballs with brava sauce!

Marc’s seasoning

Use on steaks or basically anything! If using the cinnamon, put it on last — this will give the meat, especially steaks, a nice crispy outside!

  • Paprika
  • Chili powder
  • Cayenne
  • Cinnamon or nutmeg (nutmeg for white meats and cinnamon for red)
  • Salt & pepper

Taco seasoning

Use on ground or shredded meat, or anything you want to have that classic taco flavoring!

  • Cumin
  • Paprika
  • Chili powder
  • Oregano
  • Cayenne
  • Salt & pepper (lots of salt)

Fresh veggie seasoning

Green beans, zucchini, and the like. No need to be too heavy with the seasonings here, you don’t want to overpower the delicate veggie flavors!

  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Maybe a little cumin or curry powder
  • Chili flakes
Use this on the zucchini in my easy weekday Mahi + grilled squash recipe!

 

And there you have it! Any of your favorites I missed?

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