My collection of spices is kind of ridiculous. I have a ton of spices from all sorts of various cuisines, from saffron, to za-atar, and herbes de provence to Szechuan pepper. It’s pretty safe to say I love spices. Here are my top ten most used spices!
I’ve been known to say that Indian food and Mexican food have way more in common than most people think. Whether you agree with me or not, those two cuisines share not one, not two, but THREE spices/herbs on this list (see also chili powder and cilantro) and cumin may be the most used. Cumin has a warm, earthy flavor that tastes great as a component in curries or taco seasoning.
While there are a large variety of chili powders on the market, I always try to choose a salt free variety. Unlike ground chiles, chili powder is actually a blend of spices which often includes cumin, garlic and oregano in addition the base of ground chiles. Homemade hash browns without a little chili powder? Not in my house! It’s a necessity in The Hub’s delicious veggie-filled three meat chili.
There are many varieties of paprika, but the most commonly used in our household is generic sweet paprika, and we use a LOT of it. While paprika is most associated with Hungarian cuisine, the chiles used to make it originated in the Americas. It’s so much more than a colorful sprinkle on top of deviled eggs. (In fact, you couldn’t pay me to eat deviled eggs, so I think putting paprika on top is a total waste of good paprika!) It’s often used in Spanish and Portuguese cuisine (one of my favorite spice mixes, Frango Grelhado seasoning uses a lot of paprika and bay leaf) and is used to color foods as well.
Do you know how many of your favorite foods contain oregano? Your favorite pizza joint couldn’t live without it, and Greek cuisine just wouldn’t be the same without its earthy, delicate sweetness. Mexican food? There’s oregano there too, but the more pungent Mexican oregano. The simplest use? A simple salad dressing of oil, vinegar and oregano.
While cinnamon is vital to some of the most delicious baked goods known to man, my preferred usage is in savory dishes like tagines and curries. Lately, I’ve been eating a lot of it on top of cottage cheese and jam. Yum! (Note, most cinnamon we know in the United States is actually cassia, a close botanical relative of true cinnamon. They’re basically interchangeable unless you’re looking for a very specific flavor profile.)
Want the merest hint of spiciness added to a fresh dish for emphasis? Red pepper flakes are great for that! Commonly used in Italian cuisine, I often sprinkle just a tad onto sauteed veggies for a hint of heat without the overwhelming burn of cayenne. Also great added to taco meat!
The key flavor in The Hub’s favorite salad, tabbouleh, parsley adds a fresh burst to almost any cuisine. Throw it in at the last minute for maximum impact.
Like cumin, cilantro is used in a multitude of world cuisines, most notably Indian, North Africa, Mexican, South American and Southeast Asian. Love it or hate it, this pungent herb is divisive, with some finding it tastes soapy. I love it in earth curries, Thai soups, and my favorite Mexican Salsa, Pico de Gallo.
Tzatziki, my creamy, garlicky condiment of choice, wouldn’t be what it is without fresh dill. (Some would argue that mint is the key, but screw that, this my my blog and I like dill-y tzatziki, damn it!) Dill is the perfect accent to cucumbers, hence dill pickles, and sprinkled into fresh mashed potatoes with sour cream? Yes please!
Sweet, spicy and refreshing, fresh ginger is always in my house (even if it’s in frozen cubes in my freezer). I use fresh ginger exclusively in savory foods like stir fries, tagines and satays. Plus, steep some fresh ginger in a cup of hot water to stave off nausea.
So what are your most used herbs and spices? Do you like it bold, or on the tame side? Let me know in the comments!