The September 2007 issue of Vegetarian Times is turning out to be quite the treasure trove of goodies for me! First I just had to try the Basic Vegan Sugar Cookies, and now I have to throw in my two cents’ worth about the article from whence that recipe came: “Spice Things Up.” It’s a minimalist’s guide on how to equip your spice rack for fully functional cooking. Although my spice collection could hardly be called minimalist, I loved this article for its back-to-basics approach. The author, Tony Hill, suggests the following five spices are the essentials: black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, “herb blend,” and paprika. Personally, I think the “herb blend” answer is cheating because you’re really including multiple herbs in one answer. The point is that you can buy an herb blend at the grocery store for less than it takes to buy the contents of the herb blend individually. And paprika? It’s an odd choice to me, but then again perhaps my paprika is underused. And the article does provide an intriguing recipe for Paprika Cauliflower Pita Pockets. I do enjoy cauliflower and pita, so I might have to try this one myself. Prove your worth, paprika!
But enough digressing! I asked myself what spices I would count among my top five. I declared the use of blends illegal just for the added challenge. I also did not count salt as an herb or a spice, although it is certainly an essential seasoning for good cooking.
What are my essential five herbs or spices? Check it out:
1) Black pepper: Salt’s best friend. Both freshly ground, of course.
2) Cinnamon: I love cinnamon. I use it every day on my cereal, I sprinkle it on ground coffee before brewing to infuse some cinnamon spiciness into my latte, and I use it often in baking. Cinnamon adds a rich spiciness to brownies and other chocolatey baked goods. Cinnamon is fantastic.
3) Basil: Since I have banned the use of herb blends, I have to pick just one green herb. Basil is a classic and it really perks up pasta, which I eat often (hey, I’m a grad student).
4) Cumin: I cook a lot of stews inspired by Mexican or American Southwest cooking. Cumin is an essential flavor to these cuisines, so I go through my cumin stash fairly quickly.
5) Red crushed chile peppers: Several years ago I bought my first jar of these guys for a red lentil dal that I wanted to make. Since then, I have come to realize what a wonderful ingredient this is. Red crushed chile peppers are spicy hot. Just a fraction of a teaspoon adds an undeniable kick to chilis and pastas. I especially like them on macaroni and cheese, which I now find too bland without something spicy to perk it up. I also really like the little rectangular glass jar in which my peppers came.
Notice that some of my essential spices can be used together with good results. For chili, combine the black pepper, cumin, and red crushed chile peppers. For a slightly spicy Italian dish, use the basil with black pepper and perhaps red crushed chile peppers. If only my fridge weren’t ready to burst right now, I would run into the kitchen and whip something up right now!
So what are YOUR essential five?