I was always fascinated with the diversity of spices and its ability to change simple dishes. I am greatly influenced by my dad who was always buying a bunch of unfamiliar fragrant packets and mixed crazy concoctions to marinate meats, add to soups, stews etc. Spices smell like adventure and can transfer us to exotic places. No wonder in Medieval times Spices were worth like gold and many geographic discoveries were made during expeditions for spices. Aromatic essences of various plants tell us the story of the plant, the weather, the landscape it grows in or just remind of specific places. When I travel I always try to buy some spice related to the place or local dish to take the fragrant souvenir home – ground cardamom from Stockholm reminds me of Swedish cardamom rolls, zaatar, sumac and hawaij from Tel-Aviv bring me back to amazing markets and hummus bars, kebab mix reminds me of delicious vegan doner in Berlin.
Spices can make your dishes brighter, bolder and more interesting. Don’t settle for boring food!
If you are a beginner cook you might be intimidated by the variety of spices. You can always go with supermarket mixes marked as – barbeque spice, for roasted potatoes, for salads etc, but why not make your own.
My spice box currently has around 50 kinds but you don’t need that much to create some spicy alchemy in your cooking. Below you will find my top 10 spices, handy for beginners if you are stocking up for a trip or cooking with limited resources:
- Black pepper
I love pepper with anything, loads of it in salads, soups, sauces, roasted veggies. I use black or 4coloured peppercorn mix for a greater variety of flavour. Freshly ground peppercorns taste a lot better than preground one, considering you use this everyday pepper grinder is a great investment. Touch of pepper is amazing to enhance a taste of sweet fruit like strawberry or peach – try it!
- Garlic granules/powder
Sometimes I feel lazy to peel/crush fresh garlic (which tastes better ofc) or want to avoid raw garlic taste in dressing for example, here garlic gets super handy. I use it a lot in marinades/sauces for tofu/seitan, soups, pasta sauces and rawmezan (mix of ground cashew, nutritional yeast and garlic powder to sprinkle over pasta and other dishes as parmesan substitute).
- Nutritional Yeast
If your food tastes bland and boring add some Nootch. Sprinkle it or anything, but be mindful with salt, it is quite salty already. Cheesy umami boost (eg mentioned previously rawmezan) and good nutrients from this magic powder make it a must-have in my kitchen.
- Chilli flakes/ cayenne
A hint of spice is a recipe against boredom. To enhance the flavour and make your dish shine, sprinkle a pinch of cayenne or chilli flakes on your avocado toast, roasted veggies, noodles or even brownies or ripe sweet mango.
- Oregano/Provence herbs
I am a big fan of fresh herbs, but mix oregano/Provence herbs in any tomato-based sauce even if using fresh herbs. Those fragrant dried herbs are handy for pasta, couscous,savoury baking, roasted veggies, mushrooms, soups or sprinkled over some good olive oil to dip your favourite bread in.
Bittersweet bakery-vibe spice of cinnamon is a must in a bowl of oatmeal or fruit pie filling. Any sweet breakfast (smoothie, yoghurt, apple slices) will benefit from its warm touch. But don’t be afraid to use it in curries, lentil dishes and spicy Indian-style sauces. Cinnamon is humble but very diverse. If you are trying to stop adding sugar/sweeteners to your coffee or tea (though I suggest giving up caffeine and sugar altogether if you can), adding a dash of cinnamon will help to add spicy sweetness.
I absolutely adore this Middle Eastern blend. It can vary depending from origin but is a great topping for your hummus, salad, over roasted veggies or savoury baked goods. Quick and humble couscous or canned chickpea meal will gat a completely new flavour dimension generously seasoned with zaatar.
- Garam Masala
Another universal and very diverse blend. If Indian recipes intimidate you with the amount of unfamiliar spices, start with garam masala and some good curry powder. I frequently use Garam Masala for marinades for seitan and tofu, dal and curry dishes, spicy soups or even ginger tea.
Some people hate it. Cumin can be strong and pungent, but a little sprinkle over roasted carrots or beets will enhance their taste amazingly. This spice is a great addition to hummus or similar bean dips as well as rice-based dishes. Use sparingly but don’t be afraid of this beautiful spice.
I use ground coriander similar to Garam Masala (it is actually part of the blend), mainly for marinating meaty stuff like seitan. Coriander is amazing with bean and tomato dishes and obviously curries. Basically, if your dish is India or Mexico inspired, coriander is a must.