6 spice blends to make at home

Clockwise from top left: five-spice powder, everything spice, garam masala, Italian seasoning, Cajun/Creole seasoning and ras el hanout. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Tom McCorkle

Almost two shelves in my pantry are devoted entirely to spices. Whole, ground, common, obscure, hailing from all over the world. Mixing and matching is easy, to say the least. When I come across a recipe that calls for a specific blend, there’s always the temptation to go ahead and buy a premade jar. “It would be faster and easier,” one little voice in my head says. “But you already have the components, and you’ll overpay,” says the other.

There are even more reasons to make your own blends. Scaling up and down is easy. If it’s a recipe you make a lot, save yourself the work the next time by putting together a larger batch. Or, if you’re afraid of the commitment, a small batch will do. You’ll preserve flexibility by maintaining a supply of individual spices you can use in other ways. Perhaps most importantly, a blend you make yourself, especially if you’re toasting and grinding the spices, will taste fresher and bolder than what will come out of a jar or package, even if you choose to store extra for later. I’m using a 20- or 30-year-old coffee grinder to grind my spices, no complaints, but a mortar and pestle and some elbow grease can often work, too.

Here’s a roundup of spice blends to consider, along with a few recipe ideas.

GARAM MASALA

Makes about 1/4 cup

Ingredients

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds, preferably from black pods

3 cinnamon sticks (each 3 inches long), broken into smaller pieces

3 fresh or dried bay leaves

Steps:

Preheat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add all the spices and the bay leaves, and toast, shaking the skillet every few seconds, until the coriander and cumin turn reddish brown, the cloves, peppercorns and cardamom turn ash-black, the cinnamon and bay leaves appear brittle and crinkly, and the mixture is highly fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.

Immediately transfer the nutty-smelling spices to a place to cool. (The longer they sit in the hot skillet, the more likely it is that they will burn, making them bitter and unpalatable.) Once they are cool to the touch, place them in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, and grind until the texture resembles that of finely ground black pepper. (If you don’t allow the spices to cool, the ground blend will acquire unwanted moisture from the heat, making the final blend slightly “caky.”) The ground blend will be reddish brown, and the aroma will be sweet and complex, very different from that of the pre-toasted and post-toasted whole spices.

Store in a tightly sealed container, away from excess light, heat and humidity, for up to 2 months.

(Recipe adapted from “660 Curries,” by Raghavan Iyer (Workman, 2008).)

EVERYTHING SPICE

Makes about 1/4 cup

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons dehydrated onion flakes

1 1/2 teaspoons dehydrated garlic flakes

Steps:

Stir all the ingredients together in a small bowl and transfer to a jar or other lidded container. It will keep indefinitely in your pantry.

(Recipe adapted from “America’s Test Kitchen.”)

ITALIAN SEASONING

Makes about 1/4 cup

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed dried sage

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

Steps:

Combine the basil, oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary in a medium bowl. Place in a small jar with a tightfitting lid and store in a dark, dry location for up to 6 months.

(Recipe adapted from Sonja Overhiser via EatingWell.com.)

CAJUN/CREOLE SEASONING

Makes a scant 1/4 cup

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried minced onion, or onion flakes

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon granulated garlic, or garlic powder

Steps:

Combine the salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, oregano, onion, basil, thyme and garlic in a medium bowl. Place in a small jar, with a tightfitting lid, and store in a dark, dry location for up to 6 months.

(Recipe adapted from archives at washingtpost.com/recipes.)

FIVE-SPICE POWDER

Makes about 1/4 cup

Ingredients:

1 cinnamon stick (3 inches long)

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns

1 teaspoon whole cloves

4 whole star anise

Steps:

Toast the cinnamon, fennel seeds, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves and star anise in a small, dry skillet over low heat until fragrant. Let cool.

Transfer to a blender or spice grinder, and grind all the spices into a fine powder. Store in a sealed container away from heat or light. Use within 24 months.

(Recipe adapted from the Woks of Life website.)

RAS EL HANOUT

Makes about 1/4 cup

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon white peppercorns

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon anise seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 whole star anise

1 teaspoon green cardamom pods

1 whole nutmeg

1 cinnamon stick (3 inches long)

1 teaspoon dried rose petals (optional)

Steps:

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the coriander, cumin, black and white peppercorns, cloves, turmeric, caraway, anise, fennel, star anise and cardamom on a baking sheet. Roast the spices in the oven for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Transfer the roasted spices, about 10 gratings of nutmeg, the cinnamon stick and the dried rose petals, if using, in a spice grinder or food processor. Process until the spices are finely ground. Sift the spice blend through a fine sieve and discard what’s left in the sieve. Store in a closed jar and keep for up to 3 years.

Note: To make a “quick” ras el hanout blend, use already ground spices (1 teaspoon each) and mix them together.

(Recipe adapted from Nargisse Benkabbou, author of “Casablanca: My Moroccan Food” (Firefly Books, 2018).)

 

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