Super Easy Ways to Cook with Spices
Here are eight easy-peasy ways to introduce spices into everyday foods and condiments. Your palate will thank you.
For the spice-adverse or for those whose experience with spices is limited to the little shakers collecting dust in the back of the pantry, here’s a quick primer to acquaint you with the magic inherent in every spice.
We’re big fans of cooking with spices in our recipes, in simple and complex combinations because they quickly orient us to a place and culture. We may not have traveled to certain places yet, but just a taste of an indigenous spice floods our hearts and minds with curiosity for more.
It gives us clues to the energy of place – the heat of ancho chili mimics the warmth and hospitality of the Mexican people, while the fragrant floral scent of cardamon seeds invokes Indian gardens in the spring and whirls of rainbow saris.
So throw out those dusty shakers and let’s dig in…
A compound butter is simply butter mixed with flavor enhancing ingredients, mostly aromatics. For a simple version, we’re going to use ground cinnamon and little sugar. Ideally, you should blend three parts cinnamon, two parts sugar to one part water to make a thick paste. This ensures that the cinnamon breaks down smoothly and you don’t end up with pocket of powder in your butter.
Next, take a stick of room temperature butter and incorporate the cinnamon paste until fully blended. Your butter will be incredibly soft at this point, so you can spoon it out into a shallow dish or place it onto the edge of a square of parchment and roll into a tube shape. Refrigerate until solid.
The butter works beautifully on pancakes, waffles or biscuits. For Sunday brunch, slice the roll of butter into discs and fan onto a serving plate. You’re so fancy!
Most commercially prepared salad dressings are doctored with common herbs, but rarely spices. But we’re going to take Eddie’s favorite herb, tarragon and blend it with coriander. The two combine to make a nutty and sweet anise flavor profile. It will certainly compliment citrusy spring and summer salads. Ratios are critical when it comes to making salad dressings, so pull out those measuring cups and spoons.
Take one part grapeseed oil and two parts vinegar and pour into a container you can shake vigorously. Get some fresh tarragon, about 10 leaves and chop them as fine as you can. For the coriander seeds, we recommend a light toasting on the stove. A few minutes at medium to high heat will be enough. You’ll know when they’re done by the aroma filling your kitchen.
Crush the warm seeds with a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder. If you don’t have either, you can use whole seeds. Add the tarragon leaves and coriander to your blended oil and vinegar. Shake hard. Now gently lift the top and take a whiff. Nice, huh?
So smoothies tend to be on the sweet side, but we’re going to buck the trend and go with a vegetable-based smoothie that kicks with a bit of heat. If you’ve ever had Gazpacho, the tingle will be familiar. Staring with your base, let’s gather some soft tomatoes (bottled tomato juice works in a pinch, but watch the salt), watercress, a lemon, a cucumber and cayenne.
Woah, nelly! Did I write cayenne? Yes, indeed.
Peel the cucumber and juice the lemon. If you really want to wake your tastebuds, gather about 1/2 teaspoon of zest from the lemon. Three tomatoes will do, along with two handfuls of watercress. Toss everything into a blender, along with a teaspoon of cayenne powder.
Optionally, you can roll toss in a few crushed mint leaves. Blend until fully incorporated. If you want a thinner or juice-like smoothie, add water until you get the consistency you like.
This is a great weight loss smoothie. I’ve battled with way too many pounds after my kids were born and I make this smoothie a few times a week as I battle to drop the weight.
Fine, a pumpkin-spiced latte is sort of like a spiced coffee, but you know in your heart it’s not the real deal. And why should you wait until Thanksgiving? Do you still have that cardamon from the salad dressing. Yeah? We’re going to use it again. Take about a teaspoon of cardamon seeds and grind them with your coffee.
If you don’t use a grinder and prepare your coffee with ground coffee, add the cardamom to the whichever pot you’re using. We used this combination in one of our Thai desserts – Lemongrass Pound Cake with Thai Coffee Caramel , as Thai coffee is basically milky sweet coffee with cardamom. Sorry, that was distracting. That pound cake was a dream, though. But let’s carry on.
A spritzer is not only a great way to cut the sugar found in juices, but they lend themselves well to flavor combinations. This one shouldn’t take you more than five minutes until ready to serve. We’re going to take the common orange juice spritzer and elevate it with a clove.
To serve four, mix four cups of orange juice (get the good pulpy kind) and four cups of seltzer water, then stir in a teaspoon of ground cloves. Taste. Too mild? Add another teaspoon. Serve over ice.
We’re particularly fond of teas because they have the same effect on us as spices, in that they’re infused with the vibrancy of their home regions. So imagine our great delight when we mix teas and spices together. However, it would take years for us to explore all the variations, so we’ll introduce you to one of our favorite traditional teas – Masala Chai.
There are as many variations of this tea, as there are regions in India and we have a preference for the lighter, milder Kashmir version, but we have an easier variation that introduces you to the classic spiced black tea.
Start by purchasing ready-made Chai and a quality black tea. The tea calls for one part water to one part milk, brought to a gentle simmer. Add two tablespoons of the black tea, one tablespoon of the ready-made Chai and a pinch of black pepper. Stir before removing from heat.
Let it steep for about 10 minutes. Strain. You can sweeten with any sugar, but a dollop of condensed milk will bring you closer to tradition.
Rubs are as old and widely used as spices themselves. The combination of spices and herbs can really transform any protein from ordinary to extraordinary. The real secret to a great rub is all in your ratio and that’s determined by what type of protein you’re cooking.
In this case, as an introduction to a spicy rub, a sugar-based mix will be the most forgiving. And cumin loves some sugar. It’s an Indian spice with a slight peppery undertone with a strong and deep earthy aroma. Take a quarter of light brown sugar and blend with 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper and 1/2 tablespoon of garlic. The sugar will caramelize beautifully and impart a golden brown color.
Notice we did not include salt in the mix. Salt seasoning or dry brining should be done before applying the rub so the salt has time to penatrate the protein. A hour should do for a thin cut.
Brush a very light layer of grapeseed oil on the protein, then apply your rub. Get your hand dirty and massage away. If you intend to save some of the rub for another day, make sure not to contaminate it with the hand you used on the raw protein. Now you’re cooking spices!
Marinades, like rubs, add lots of flavor to your protein but the difference is marinades have some sort of acid – lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, even orange juice. A simple and quick marinade that is common throughout the Caribbean is a mojo. Unsurprisingly, everyone we grew up with has the ‘best’ mojo recipe, so variations and oddities abound. In this case, we’ll give you our best mojo or as Eddie calls it “the right mojo”.
Take a cup of olive or grapeseed oil, a handful of crushed garlic cloves, a quarter cup of sour orange juice, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, teaspoon of oregano and blend well. Using a large sealable plastic bag add your protein and the marinade, then manipulate the marinade until it coats all your protein. When ready, cook as you normally would. A separate batch of the marinade can also serve as a dipping sauce.
See, that wasn’t too bad? Cooking spices doesn’t need to be some grand, complicated affair fitting for a swanky restaurant. It can be just a subtle addition to your regular meals – a new, unexpected bright spot in your day or the beginning of an epic culinary exploration.
Let us know how our suggestions turned out for you below.