For the last few months I have been re-discovering interesting spice mixes and making them an integral part of every other recipe I have been cooking. Currently, a limited amount of seasonal herbs and vegetables are locally available, hence it makes particular sense to dive into the spice jars. It certainly adds an interesting component to fall and winter dishes.
Spices are essential to many cuisines around the world. Until recently I used to be a firm believer in making my own spice mixes. I have changed my opinion since I discovered a local spice shop that I had forgotten about. That spice store does an excellent job in grounding and mixing vibrant spices to order on request. Bringing spice blends into your own kitchen can lend authenticity to international dishes and provide creative inspiration for your everyday cooking. It's a little like traveling the globe but no passport required!
You'll be amazed at the selection of spice blends available. Additionally, the same spice mixtures may differ from store to store since many use their own recipes. I highly suggest shopping for small amounts of spices as they are the most pungent and say goodbye to that spice box of curry you might have had in the kitchen cabinet for the last three years—its flavor will most likely be flat and the potency of it long gone.
The following are some spice mixes that I have been applying to recipes:
Ras el Hanout - A blend of spices used in northern African cooking, especially Morocco: lavender, rose hips....
Use for roasted squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and heart-warming beef stews.
African Berbere spice - A heady combination of spicy, bitter, and sweet spices commonly used in Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Ethiopia.
Use for goat and game meats such as deer, and to spice up grain and seed dishes, e.g. rice, beans and quinoa.
Dukkah - An Egyptian mix of toasted nuts and seeds like sesame seeds, coriander, cumin and nuts like hazelnuts.
Use for braised cabbage, sautéed Brussels sprouts and rice dishes.
Harissa - Made from smoked red peppers and often featured in Tunisian and other North African cuisines.
Serve on the side of cous cous dishes such as tagines prepared with vegetables, lamb or beef.
Chinese Five Spice - A pungent mix that gives dishes a balanced hit of savory, bitter, sweet and sour.
Use for duck, sea scallops, shrimp, and to spice up liver dishes.
Japanese Gomasio - A basic spice mix of toasted sesame seeds tossed with coarse salt. Serve it as a table condiment. It's tasty to use in rice dishes and I love to use it on quick sautéed dishes such as bok choy, kale, Swiss chard or mustard greens.
Togarashi - A Japanese condiment similar to gomasio but more flavorful. Commonly made out of a mixture of seven spices including citrus peel, sesame seeds, chili peppers and seaweed.
Khmeli Suneli - A Georgian mix of heartwarming nutty and bitter spices often made with fenugreek, coriander, savory, and black peppercorns.
Quatre Epices - The French expression for "four spices." The base for it is ground pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. I use it for sautéed scallops and back in the day when it was popular for duck and goose liver preparations.
Indian Chaat Masala - A tangy spice mix made with dried mango. Try with fried or mashed potatoes.
Curry Powder - Apparently Indian-inspired, but actually invented by British folks. Often the base includes turmeric, coriander, cumin, ginger, and pepper.
Garam Masala - Garam means warm or hot, and the mix usually contains exotic spices like cinnamon and cardamom.
Panch Phoron - A Bengali five-spice blend of mustard (black), whole fenugreek, nigella, cumin, and fennel seeds.
Jamaican Jerk Spice - A spicy Caribbean mixture including pepper (red and black), allspice, cinnamon, and thyme.
Adobo - An all-purpose seasoning that contains garlic, oregano, pepper, and other spices. Used in Mexican and other Latin American cuisines.
Za'atar - A fragrant concoction of thyme, sesame seeds, and exotic sumac from the Middle East.
Advieh - A Persian mix of dried rose petals and spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and cumin. It is often used in rice and hearty meat stews.
Baharat - A passionately used Middle Eastern, all-purpose seasoning. It commonly includes black pepper, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon.
...and last but not least we have our own spice mixes in the US...
Dry Rub - From Kansas City, a sweet and smoky tasting barbecue rub. A mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, paprika, and other spices.
Pickling Spice - It lends complex flavor to preserved fruits and vegetables and at its simplest contains bay leaves, mustard seeds, and peppercorns.
Apple Cider Spice or Pumpkin Pie Spice - Made with warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. An eye opener with roasted fall squashes, or sprinkle a pinch into hearty root vegetable soups as a finishing step.