If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ve seen this picture before. It’s one of the best features of my small kitchen – a spice drawer!
If you have a shallow drawer in your kitchen, I must advocate for using it for your spices… you can lay them down and see them all.
I can find what I need in the blink of an eye!
If you don’t have a drawer – heck, if you don’t have spices beyond Salt & Pepper (or, in my case, Sea Salt and Peppercorns in a Grinder) – I figured I’d empty out my entire spice drawer (ok – the both of ’em) – and group them into Absolute-must-have, Must-have, Really-Nice-to-Have, and Nice to have.
This way, if you’re investing in spices, you’ll have a prioritized list of what to have around!
Of course- there is no wrong way to stock your spice drawer. I invite comments from those of you that have an opinion about this list and would advocate a different order.
It is very dependent on what you cook most often as well. If you cook a lot of Asian or Indian dishes, your spice rack will look very different!
As for me, I’m a big fan of cooking a wide variety of things… from French to Spanish to Greek to Mexican to Indian to Thai to Chinese to Japanese to Grilling to American to…..
As a result I have a pretty well-balanced set of spices.
Absolute-must-have – My Top 5
- Ground Cumin – a staple in most Middle Eastern/Indian/Mediterranean dishes.
- Paprika – gorgeous rich red color. I love Hungarian sweet.
- Cayenne Pepper – a small amount adds a kick to anything from chili to lime butter for corn.
- Nutmeg – the secret ingredient in the Scandinavian recipes handed down from my grandparents.
- Thyme – used in recipes from around most of the world, especially great in slow cooked stews or sauces (like spaghetti!)
- Oregano leaves – like Thyme in its universal application. Leaves can be ground for recipes that call for ground oregano.
- Dill weed – often found in soups and pickles, though my favorite application is my mom’s garlic-dill bread!
- Dried Parsley – less flavorful than fresh, but great to have the dried in the spice drawer if my Parsley plant isn’t blooming.
- Bay Leaves – in most soup and stew recipes.
- Fennel seeds – My favorite to toast and add to homemade bread, savory tarts, salads- if I don’t have Caraway or Anise, I use Fennel as a substitute.
- Cinnamon – need I say more?
- Basil – I much prefer fresh but in the middle of winter when I’m making soups or sauces this is the thing.
- Ground ginger, Curry powder, Allspice – for my Asian, Middle Eastern or Indian cooking days
- Chili powder – I could use Cayenne pepper with a bit of cumin and oregano as a sub, but why?
- Dried Sage and Rosemary – Great in Italian food, Roasted Poultry, with veggies…
- Celery Seed – Found in pickling, soups, and Cajun food
- Whole Cloves and Cinnamon Sticks – for addition to beverages, infused in Indian cooking… and homemade chai.
Nice to have
- Mustard Seed/Ground Mustard – You can use prepared mustard (yellow, dijon) to impart this flavor when this is called for.
- Ground Oregano or Cloves – If you don’t have room for this in your spice rack, choose leaves/whole cloves instead and use a grinder when a recipe calls for it.
- Cardamom, Coriander, Marjoram, Tarragon – there just aren’t too many recipes I cook that call for these spices.
- Anise, Caraway – I use fennel if I’m out of these.
- Dried Chives/Garlic Chives – have a nice, fresh spring-like onion flavor. Use onion as a substitute.
- Dried, crushed mint – so easy to grow in the backyard. I use this in winter when a mint flavor is called for – which is not often.
- Curry Powder – I use canned yellow or red curry when I make one, so the dried spice doesn’t come into play much.
- Saffron – so expensive, brings a very subtle flavor and beautiful color but I consider it optional.
- Tumeric, Wasabi, Ground White Pepper, Crystallized Ginger, Summer Savory, Herbes de Provence and Cream of Tartar round out the list.
No, I didn’t mention Minced or powdered garlic and onion. I much prefer using the abundant and cheap fresh versions.
I didn’t put down Lemon Pepper, Garlic Salt/Pepper either. Lemon pepper = zest of lemon, black pepper, cumin, cayenne, oregano, thyme, garlic, paprika. Garlic Salt/Pepper often includes, in addition to the garlic and salt or pepper- onion, parsley, dried bell pepper. I’m an advocate of getting the base spices and mixing them yourself before you buy a bunch of compilations.
Speaking of…. If you have the basics, you can make your own:
- Pickling Spice (Mustard Seed, Coriander, Bay Leaves, Dill Seed, Allspice)
- Italian Seasoning (Basil, Marjoram, Oregano, Bay Leaves, Rosemary)
- Mexican Seasoning (Chili powder, Cumin, Coriander, Oregano, Basil, Thyme, Garlic and Cayenne pepper)
- Chinese Five Spice (Ground peppercorns, Anise, Fennel, Cloves, Cinnamon, Salt)
- Dry Spice Rub (often include pepper, salt, paprika, chili powder, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper with brown sugar)