So you might have noticed I have a few ingredients that I practically use in EVERYTHING I cook… maybe a little too often. There’s a good reason behind it all, and here is my post to explain, even though I don’t have to.
Herbs, spices and the right proportions make things taste better, this much is obvious to most. Knowing when and how to use them though is an art and, while I’m still learning, I know a few people out there who have perfected the art of flavour combinations, and it is truly amazing how perfectly they can correct a flavour mismatch.
And a quick disclaimer before it all begins: I have NO preference in brand, and am certainly not promoting any particular brand, when the photo was taken, this is what I had in my pantry/fridge/freezer. The bottles are great, but I tend to fill them separately instead of buying a new bottle every time. Also this is going to be a long post, so grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea/strap yourself in for a while 😛
Enough of my ramblings, these are a few of my favourite (cooking) things….
Fresh Herbs are great, but if you don’t grow them yourself, or they are still growing (which is what’s happening in my case) they can get fairly expensive. Dried herbs also have potency of flavour, so adding less in comparison to fresh gives the same flavour hit. These herbs are also highly versatile. They’re called “Italian” but I use the mix for a lot of different types of cuisines and it tends to work really well. Most mixes constitute some mix of oregano, basil, parsley, marjoram, thyme and rosemary. Which means you’ve got a pretty wide flavour profile and it works in most things. I love it in most sauces, in cous cous and in soups.
Ground Chilli or Red Chilli Powder
Looking to add a bit of heat, and you forgot to add the fresh chilli at the start? Or you don’t want little bits of chilli. Red Chilli Powder is your solution. Its spicy and an easy addition. I also like to use a little as seasoning for chips. A bit of salt, pepper and chilli powder makes for a pretty delicious seasoning.
Ground Coriander Seeds.
A great way to add flavour to curries, soups and many other things. Extremely commonly used in Indian cooking, ground coriander seeds add a hominess to most of my dishes that makes me really happy with the final product. There are few health benefits to coriander seeds as well, but more importantly I just like it way they round out a curry or soup or other type of dish.
Ever wanted to add sweetness to something without straight up adding sugar? Cardamom will do that for you! It accentuates the sweetness of anything you put in, as well as adding a sweetness that even sugar can’t bring to the table. Adding sugar tends to add calories (if you’re concerned with that kind of thing) but also tends to be too sweet in savoury dishes. Cardamom on the other hand adds sweetness without it being in your face or way too obvious. I love it in cous cous, when cooking quinoa, a lot of Indian dishes tend to use it, it’s great in cookies and also, somewhat surprisingly to some, in soup
Before I go on to describe this lovely ingredient I want to make a little note about the pronunciation of it. The majority of people say TUUMERIC i.e., the “u” sound is pronounced like vacuum. NOTE, there is an R at the start of the word, and to me, the word is pronounced TURMERIC, the way its spelt, with the pronunciation at the start being similar to the world turn. Ramble over, let’s begin…
Turmeric has been used in Indian cooking since, well, forever. The turmeric craze that has and continues to hit various coffee shops and health food stores is nothing new to me. You will find, at least in most south Indian cooking, that a pinch of turmeric is added into practically every dish, and for the most part it is because of the health benefits. But it also adds a little flavour and colour to the dish. If your pumpkin soup isn’t looking, well, pumpkin-y enough add a little turmeric and the colour comes back. I also find that it adds a flavour that I can’t quite pinpoint, but what I can pinpoint is that it makes me feel at home, and is great in winter. Add it to curries, cous cous, soups….and anything else you see fit.
Highly versatile spice that just adds a touch of middle eastern/Indian flavour into any dish. I love adding ground cumin to quinoa and cous cous, it makes the seed/grain much more flavourful, to the point where you can eat it without any accompanying salad or dish, and that is always a good sign, right?
Ground Black pepper
Pepper, is something that’s generally put in recipes as “to taste”. I personally nearly always add pepper to things, because it adds heat without being chilli hot and warmth, and taste. Seriously try seasoning your chips with salt AND pepper, it’s great! You can add pepper to nearly anything, it works in nearly every cuisine (except dessert).
If you have yet to not my absolute love of chilli flakes, you haven’t been reading my blog right. They aren’t just a topping for pizzas and pastas, but an ingredient in most things I cook. If you don’t have dried red chillies then these are a very viable option to substitute, because in essence, they are dried red chillies, just in very, very small bits.
Ahh garam masala… a mix of spices that you can probably make from some of the spices above, and others but having the mix ready in your pantry is extremely helpful. Especially because it makes such a handy addition to most Indian cooking and makes a handy addition to Middle Eastern and other cuisines. I love adding in a bit just to experiment and see what it may add this time around to a dish. Again a very versatile spice mix that I enjoy adding to quinoa, cous cous and soups.
Garlic is well, AWESOME. Except, when you have to chop it, and also when it’s raw (it gives me headaches). It leaves that icky smell on your hands, and sometimes, when you finely chop something, it’s just not as finely chopped as you’d like. Solution: Minced Garlic, easier and generally cheaper in the jar than fresh (for obvious reasons).
Ginger adds an amazing amount of flavour to a lot of cooking and the aroma you get when you cook it off? That is the stuff of dreams. Again crushed ginger in the bottle is the cheaper and lazier option for me. Fresh ginger is amazing, but a bit of a luxury when you’re on a budget. Ginger has a very strong flavour, which some don’t necessarily like, but it makes a great base for Indian and Asian cooking and is truly amazing for flavour.
I don’t use pesto as commonly as the other ingredients but its lovely to add to a pizza or cous cous or even a little in some salad dressing. It’s very versatile, and when added to a little cream or ricotta you have a pasta sauce ready to go!
Tomatoes aint cheap. Not these days anyway. Canned tomatoes are great, don’t get me wrong, but you don’t always want tomato bits in the things you cook. Sometimes you need tomato paste but its too thick and concentrated. In other words sometimes you just want a thin tomato solution type thing with no additives that you can add to everything. Passata is your answer. The best thing about passata is that you can use it to make pasta sauce, you can use it as the tomato base in indian curries and in so many other ways. The versatility and variety of sues make it a staple in my pantry. It’s a little too brilliant not to have.
This is for those of you with a taste for chilli, and those of you who can handle your heat in food. These chillies tend to be pretty damn spicy and taste amazing when used right. My base for most things is minced onion, ginger, garlic and chilli. By adding a little spice at the start, you can control how much you add later, which I think is very important for those who can’t handle the heat. Being frozen they are also a lot easier to chop without spicing up your hands and therefore accidentally touching your lips or eyes and feeling like things are on fire. In saying that, always wash your hands after you cut a chilli.