Whether cooking is an unwinding activity or simply something you engage in to maintain a sense of calm, passionate cooks could do with a little sprucing up of their spice cabinets. Here are a few additional spices and seasonings to add a touch of magic to your meals.
If you enjoy cooking and cooking often, it is apparent to you that cooking and putting together a recipe really in the finer details that add to how food tastes. A little squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of chaat masala or a drizzle of olive oil are all delicious ways to add a special touch to a dish. This is also true of spices and seasonings – be it in the case of garam masala or a sprinkling of finishing salt flakes on your French fries. Spices and seasonings have an important role to play in the way we enhance flavours of existing ingredients and showcase its best flavours.
While having a few basic spices like red chilli powder and turmeric powder are necessary for novice cooks and to get through most everyday recipes, having a small but versatile collection of seasonings and spices that bring an extra layer of flavour to food is always a great idea. Often times, we might buy specific blends or whole spices for a limited amount of recipes that we may not make as often as we’d like, but stocking on a variety that allows as broad a purpose as possible, is a great way to cook well.
Ceylon Cinnamon Sticks
Although slightly expensive on the pocket than cinnamon powder or regular cinnamon sticks, buying good quality cinnamon really is a blessing in disguise for your kitchen. Whether you want to scent your milk and cream before turning it into a silky custard, add it whole to your spice potli while making mutton stock or even grinding to a fine powder to mix with butter – Ceylon cinnamon can be favourable in sweet and savoury dishes, adding an earthy sweet aroma and flavour.
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A warm Indian spice blend used as a finishing seasoning for most curries, sabzis, dals and stews – the garam masala is a myriad blend of toasted and ground whole spices such as bay leaves, black cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, star anise and mace. Along with being an essential seasoning in most Indian kitchen, garam masala can also be used for marinating meat, fish and vegetables.
A classic mixture of dried herbs like oregano, basil, granulated garlic and thyme, the Italian seasoning can be used in dressings, sauces, as a topping over flatbreads or pizzas, to season chicken, fish and also sprinkle generously over roasted vegetables. Combine with melted butter and brush over garlic bread for a herby, grassy depth of flavour.
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An underrated spice, poppy seeds have a nutty flavour and light crunch – both of which work well when used to add texture to bread, cakes, salads and add graininess in sauces. These oily seeds can also add richness and body to most liquids, being a perfect ingredient to use to thicken sauces. Add it to milk or even toast in some ghee with sugar and dry fruits to make a delicious halwa, when the sugar cravings strike.
A rich, floral aroma of these orange-red strands can add a deliciously rich flavour to rice dishes like pulao, biryani, risotto and paellas, savoury recipes like stews and most Indian desserts. Add a pinch of saffron to the glass of milk you have before bedtime, for good sleep and glowing skin. Powder a few strands and enhance the flavour of simple pulaos or sauces with a mild bitter-sweetness.
Less pungent and milder than whole black peppercorns, white pepper can be crushed and used in dishes that need nothing more than a mild warm heat. Think a bechamel sauce for mac and cheese or a mushroom sauce to eat with grilled chicken and mashed potatoes. White pepper also complements eggs in just about any form – omelettes, curries and regular fried ones for breakfast.