Do you love cooking with herbs and spices? Or is the mysterious world of pantry spices a bit daunting?
I was looking at my spice rack the other day (hand-built for me by Chris!) and I realised that it’s been a long time since I’ve found myself needing to purchase a new type of herb or spice. The spice jars we have on hand seem to cover pretty much every meal that I cook. And while there are some that I don’t find myself reaching for very often (I’m looking at you, jar of whole cloves that I basically use once a year when I’m cooking a Christmas ham), there are others that get a heavy work-out in my kitchen.
So I thought I would share my favourite herbs and spices, with ideas on how to use them. By the end of this article, you’ll be a seasoned pro. (Pun definitely intended. Please don’t tell my kids how uncool I am.)
Why cook with herbs and spices?
1. Using spices is easy and fun!
It’s extremely rare that adding herbs and spices to a meal will ruin it. There’s always room for a little experimentation when it comes to cooking with spices. So challenge yourself to use your pantry spices each and every time you cook!
2. Herbs and spices help you cook better
Once you have a knowledge of how the flavours of your herbs and spices work, you begin to feel much more confident in your cooking skills.
3. Cooking with spices will enhance EVERY meal
I would boldly suggest that there isn’t a meal in the world that can’t be enhanced – or even fixed – with a good shake of the spice jar. I particularly have found that when I’m trying to lose weight, and I pull out all my low-calorie recipes, they’re really not that inspiring. However, if I get creative with my herbs and spices, the meals become a LOT more palatable!
So without further ado, here are my absolute favourite herbs and spices… and how you can use them!
Herbs And Spices That Will Level-Up Your Cooking
Salt and Pepper
How many times has a recipe told you to “season with salt and pepper”? It may be the single-most used phrase in recipes, and yet many of us don’t give it the credit it deserves. A simple crack of freshly ground pepper and a sprinkle of salt can totally elevate an otherwise bland meal. Salt is actually a flavour-enhancer. It doesn’t just serve to make your meal taste saltier – it actually emphasises the flavours that already exist in the dish.
Chris is a cinnamon NUT, so this is one of our family’s most-used spices. Sprinkle it in your morning coffee or hot chocolate (especially at Christmas time!). Add a shake of it to home-baked treats such as banana bread or choc chip muffins. It tastes great with sweet potato at dinner time. And for breakfast, you can’t go past a bowl of steaming hot oatmeal with stewed apples and cinnamon.
There’s a reason our grocery store sells this spice in an extra-large jar! If you’re just starting out with using herbs and spices, Italian Seasoning is a great way to start. Smother a chicken breast with this delicious spice before cooking it (like in this glorious recipe – one of our family favourites!). Add a shake to savoury muffins. And shhh – this is actually the secret ingredient I add to mac’n’cheese to make it extra yummy.
Pizza topper spice is similar to Italian Herbs, but I still keep both on hand. I add pizza topper to frozen pizzas (yes, I do occasionally serve my family a frozen pizza for dinner!) and it’s a game-changer. It’s also super yummy on grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. And any salad that has tomato in it. Heck, just sprinkle it on some tomato slices if you want. It’s all delicious.
Chili flakes will (obviously) add a spicy kick to anything – but sometimes I use this particular spice unexpectedly. I sprinkle a tiny bit in my spaghetti bolognaise, not to make it spicy, but just to give it the teeniest bit of warmth. Try it! A tiny sprinkle of chili flakes on your avocado toast, with a squeeze of lemon, will change your life. And have you ever added a pinch of chili to a hot chocolate? No? Do that.
All Purpose Seasoning
All Purpose would have to be one of the least intimidating herbs and spices out there. It’s basically salt, right? But like… extra tasty salt. Shake it on your potatoes before roasting them, or after mashing them. In fact, any roast vegetables will love you for dousing them with a bit of all purpose seasoning. Rub it into steak or a whole chicken before cooking. Season your flour with it before breading chicken breast. It’s super versatile, and super yummy.
I’m one of those people who thinks paprika tastes like basically nothing, so I often use it more for the vibrant red colour it adds to otherwise boring-looking foods. Mix it into anything you like, and don’t be shy – a little does NOT go a long way.
This spice packs a punch in the flavour department! It adds an amazing smoky flavour to your dish, and has a tiny spicy kick to it, so be careful if you’re using it for the kids. I love it on sweet potato, added to any Mexican dish I happen to be cooking, grilled corn on the cob, or mixed into plain yogurt for a simple smoky dressing on your tacos, wraps or salads.
This is one of our family favourites, because it tastes amazing, has a nice little spicy kick to it, and is super versatile. It’s a complete blend, so you don’t need to use any other spices with it (though you can if you want!) I usually use it on chicken, but we also love it on steak, mixed into sauteed veggies, sprinkled on baked potatoes, and even mixed into scrambled eggs for breakfast burritos.
This little firecracker can literally be used in any dish that calls for garlic. You can use it instead of fresh garlic, or you can add it alongside the fresh garlic. It really enhances that garlicky flavour. Don’t use too liberally though, as it’s powerful stuff.
I am so heavy-handed with this stuff, it’s a bit crazy. But oregano is such a yummy, comforting spice! I put three times the recommended amount when I make chili con care. I add it to stews and tomato-based pasta sauces. It goes beautifully with lamb, so I’ve mixed it into lamb patties before. It pairs beautifully with ground cumin, too. I actually love the dried version of this spice more than the fresh oregano that grows in my garden… don’t tell Jamie Oliver.
What are your favourite pantry herbs and spices to cook with?
Everyone’s spice cabinets are going to differ, and I’m always searching for new spices to work with, as well as new ways to use the spices I currently have. So let me in on your spicy secrets in the comments below!