With the official autumn solstice still a few weeks away, we have some time before the frenzied holiday cooking begins. It’s the right time to take a long look at your pantry and chalk up what essentials will be featuring this year at your grand dinner dos.
This list better include some incredible spices!
Fall is always reminiscent of childhood days spent guessing dinner by the spice smells that wafted through my home. As the temperatures went down, my mother’s spice game went up. She would begin with gently dry roasting whole spices before laying them out to cool down. There would be flat plates of spices lining one side of the counter and washed, dried, empty jars that waited on the other. In the middle would be the spice grinder. Helping her with the bi-annual (what can I say, we are a spice loving family) task of making spice blends shaped my relationship with whole spices, and as a result, cooking.
I have selected a few cooking spices and herbs from the very assortment that would make a wonderful addition to your fall pantry, along with some ideas for using them. You’ll be surprised at how much you can do with these traditional spices and herbs.
But first, here are some helpful tips to infuse the most flavor and aroma out of your spices. Let’s clear the air on some commonly asked questions about spices:
Cooking with Whole vs Ground Spices
I recommend buying whole spices and grinding them yourself since they retain their aromatic compounds much better than the ground ones. But the reality is that for most of us, this isn’t always practical. So, to be time-efficient and faithful to my mama’s teaching, I grind batches and store them, so I have a blend ready to sprinkle into my cooking pot. You can also use ground spices in applications where you want to disperse a flavour punch, such as baked goods and spice rubs. Whole spices packed in spice infusers go perfectly well in foods where you want to infuse taste without crunching on bits!
You can mellow the taste of whole spices like mustard or cumin seeds by toasting them in a pan until they pop, or fry a mix of different ground spices in butter or ghee.
How to Store Spices
Store spices you often use in opaque glass jars or cans in a dark cupboard. Spices used less frequently can be kept in airtight containers in the freezer. (Bring frozen spices to room temperature before opening to avoid condensation.)
Spices and Herbs to Have on Hand for Cold Weather Cooking
If you have seen allspice, you know it looks kind of like a clove. It is a berry that, when dried, gives it the clove-like appearance and a well-defined flavor that you’ll recognize in festive pumpkin pies, breads, and even warming winter beverages like mulled wine. All-spice is also a key component in making the best homemade preserves. Plan on preparing a nice tangy pickle for the holidays? Read our in-house pickling recipes that use allspice.
Distinct specks of black pepper are found in almost all dishes. From the breading of fried chicken to the final touch in a bowl of mashed potatoes, it always adds a warm, hearty element to food. While I love black pepper, I also feel we tend to overuse the black kind, often neglecting white, green, and Szechuan peppercorns. White peppercorns which are actually just black ones minus the outer covering are ideal in bechamel sauces, and soufflés. Harvested early, they are still green and give us a fresh, fruity tasting peppercorn, perfect for steak sauces and creams. The Szechuan pepper surprisingly doesn’t come from the peppercorn family. It is a berry of the pepper ash tree and features often in Asian cooking. Explore the different types of peppercorns this season and sprinkle some on a favorite side dish, such as twice-baked potatoes.
Typically available as a finely ground powder, cayenne is a hot pepper that can add a clean punch of heat to any recipe. This Mexican cuisine staple is native to South America and starts as a small, thin, bright red pepper before being dried and ground. Cayenne is considered mildly hot, but it does give a definitive spicy taste! You can use cayenne in a chicken seasoning rub or this delicious version of Texas chili. You can even ferment cayenne peppers with this simple homemade hot sauce method that will last you through the festive season.
Paprika is a unique spice that results from combining various kinds of peppers. Despite its fiery red pigment, not all paprikas are hot. Sweet paprika, made from ground red bell peppers, is a more subtle spice used to add a bright reddish hue to food. On the other hand, spicy paprika, made from chili peppers or a combination of chili and bell peppers, packs a nice punch. Try this satisfying One Pan Baked Honey Mustard Chicken featuring paprika or this Stovetop Baked Beans as a nutritious holiday dinner side.
When regular paprika is smoked before being ground, we get the big-bodied flavor of the smoked paprika. They are made from the same pepper, but in terms of taste, they are in two different worlds. Tempting as it may be, do not substitute one for the other.
With 14 to 20 per cent essential oil content, these immature dried flower buds have the highest concentration of aroma of any spice. The antimicrobial compound, eugenol, gives cloves its distinct flavor and helps improve digestion and reduce inflammation. While used in many applications, from acting as a local anaesthetic to helping to soothe irritating coughs, in cooking you can add a teaspoon of whole cloves to add an earthy sweetness to preserved pears. In homemade turkey stocks, cloves lend that uplifting and homely vibe. In some cultures(my culture), cloves are chewed on as a breath freshener after meals.
Cinnamon is a spice that comes from the bark of the Cinnamomum tree. Cinnamon contains several aromatic oils, which give cinnamon its sweet-spicy bite. Two different kinds of cinnamon are commonly available for culinary applications. The Cinnamomum cassia, the most popular variety in the U.S., has dark, thick, coarse quills in a double-spiral shape and a bittersweet, burning-spicy flavor. On the other hand, is the ‘true’ or Ceylon cinnamon, is milder in appearance and taste. Ceylon Cinnamon goes particularly well with sugar, and so you will find it being used plenty in winter desserts.
Well, look no further; we have two fantastic dessert recipes that highlight cinnamon right here! Our very own Utterly Buttery Bread Pudding and Traditional Pecan Pie will prove as beautiful options to serve on one of those large family get-togethers!
Few spices can compare when it comes to the aromatic complexity of cardamom. The “queen of spices”, this little pod elevates food to a whole new dimension. With its sweet, citrusy fragrance, almost like a flower in bloom, cardamom is often found in desserts, chai (milk tea), and baked goods. The seeds lose their essence fairly quickly when crushed, so store the whole cardamom and roughly grind it before use. The green, smaller cardamom is often incorporated in sweet bakes like this Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing recipe.
The other variety, the black cardamom, is a bigger pod and, with its pungency, adds a hint of camphor-y smoke and bark to long-cooked meat stews, bone broths, and chicken curries.
The pandemic brought about a revolution of sorts in terms of healthful nutrition and better immunity. People started going back to the basics; black seed oil, vitamin D, and turmeric. While many Americans became acquainted with turmeric through spiced golden milk and striking turmeric lattes on their Instagram feed, some cultures sprinkle turmeric in their daily cooking. Turmeric is known for giving food that brilliant yellow hue. It adds depth, complexity, and mild heat to food. Some say the health benefits of turmeric are most effective when combined with fat like olive oil or coconut oil/milk.
On its own, turmeric doesn’t have a particularly interesting taste but works well mixed with other spices and ingredients that create a more diverse flavor profile. A little goes a long way when it comes to turmeric; a half teaspoon is usually enough! Sprinkle it onto soups, stir-fry or eggs. A flavorful, succinct dish that incorporates turmeric is the Authentic Butter Chicken. This winter, turmeric is a must-have in your pantry.
The potent, woodsy smell of rosemary is instantly recognizable, and many of us relate rosemary to autumn and winter cooking. But before this culinary herb began to feature in poultry dishes, soups, and beverages, it played a role in many medicinal applications. The evergreen herb has notes of citrus, pine, sage, pepper, mint, and sage. Unlike fragile herbs, which usually go at the end of the cooking process, this sturdy herb holds up exceptionally well to heat and longer cooking times. So go ahead and add it when you start your stock when you try this celebratory Roasted Leg of Lamb with Lamb Gravy. Fancy a rosemary-infused drink? This Cranberry Bourbon Cocktail with Rosemary Syrup is so simple to create and such a joy to look at!
If there is one herb that deserves more space in an American kitchen, it is thyme. I would describe its taste as being somewhat like oregano with a lemony undertone. A teaspoon of dried thyme added to a pot of Veg Lentil Stew will impart a wholesome, citrusy flavor. If you can get your hands on fresh thyme, all the better. Add two sprigs to this nourishing Winter Potato and Leek Soup and hear your soul sing with contentment as you enjoy it. Looking for a quick fix breakfast? Try this Breakfast Sausage recipe that uses thyme.
So, these were some spices and herbs that are pretty popular in my winter pantry. Which spices do you love working with? Please drop a comment and let us know!