Morning Living: 10 Essential Spices for Your Pantry

Some women collect purses. I drop money on spices and hide the receipt from myself. (You spent how much on cardamom?) When I travel, they come home in my luggage in their decorative little tins (New Orleans) or in a zip top bag labeled with masking tape (Belize… but don’t tell the Dept. of Agriculture).

Here, in no particular order are my 10 Essential Spices for any home cooks repertoire:

☐ Aleppo
☐ Cardamom
☐ Celery Seed
☐ Cinnamon
☐ Cloves
☐ Coriander
☐ Cumin
☐ Fennel Seed
☐ Whole Nutmeg
☐ Smoked Paprika (Pimentón)

I gave you those check boxes for a reason. If you have the spice, give yourself a check. If it has been lingering around longer than 6 months, toss what you have and add to your shopping list.

The essential oils in spices are what we seek. They are incredibly volatile and time, heat and light are the enemy. Store your spices in a cool, dark place like a drawer or cupboard to extend their life. But after six months, toss! Only used a 1/4 tsp. for that cookie recipe? Next time invest in a smaller quantity even if its more expensive by weight.

Now what? You’ve got your paints, now its time to create. Here’s two recipes, one for Oven Roasted Spicy Sweet Potato Fries and another for Easy Chai Tea.

Most importantly, use your imagination and take risks. Stick a cinnamon stick in your chili or grate some nutmeg over a cocktail for a sensory trip to the Caribbean. Ok, I’ll give you that recipe too.

Chef Emily’s Super Spice Mix
Makes a lot – store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place

3 T kosher salt
3 T allepo
3 T white pepper
3 T chili powder
2 T ground cumin
2 T dried thyme
2 T dried oregano
2 T garlic powder
2 T onion powder
1 T ground coriander
1 T cayenne (VERY spicy – adjust more or less to your taste)

1. Combine all the ingredients in an airtight container.
2. Put on the cover and shake until evenly combined.
3. Use whenever you need some spice in your life.

Oven Roasted Spicy Sweet Potato Fries

Makes enough as a side dish for two people

1 large sweet potato. cut up into wedges
1 large glug olive oil (I dunno…2 tablespoons?)
2 large pinches of my Super Spice Mix

1. Heat the oven as hot as it will go. (Mine does 500º but I have to take the batteries out of the smoke alarm and remember to put them back in again.)
2. Toss the potato wedges in a large bowl with the olive oil and the spice blend.
3. Dump wedges onto a sheet tray and arrange them skin side down, not worrying if they don’t all balance straight up.
4. Roast until they’ve wrinkled a bit and are cooked through. Depending on your oven, the cooking time will vary. Try a wedge after 10 minutes. If its not done, try another at 15 minutes and so on until they are done to your liking. Also, if the spices burn on the pan, worry not.
5. Serve and enjoy!

Easy Chai Tea
A potable spice fix.

3 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
2 peppercorns
1″ slice fresh ginger
1 black tea bag
Honey, optional

1. Measure 1/2 your favorite mug full with water, then fill with milk. Pour this combination into a small saucepan. Drop in cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorns and ginger. Bring up to steaming over medium heat.

2. Turn off the heat and drop in tea bag. Allow to steep 2-4 minutes, depending on how strong you enjoy your tea.

3. Sweeten with honey, if desired. Curl up in front of fire with blanket, book & cat, optional.

Painkiller, or Drunken Tropical Nutmeg Deliciousness
2 oz  dark rum
1 oz cream of coconut
4 oz pineapple juice
1 oz orange juice
Freshly grated nutmeg

Put the juices, rum and a few grates of nutmeg into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until very cold then pour over fresh ice, preferably crushed, and top with another scratch or two of nutmeg.