DIY Spice Blends, Dinner Recipes, and Cooking Tips That Make Spices the Star of the Show
Call them transformers: Spices can take a meal from good to mind-blowing by adding richness, depth, and complexity. And they’re packed with antioxidants, so they deliver potent health perks. Here's how you can use spice blends to create intensely delicious dishes.
How to Use Spices in Your Cooking
When it comes to your day-to-day cooking, you might throw a sprinkling of salt here, and a dash of black pepper there, but to Lior Lev Sercarz, the author of Mastering Spice and the owner of La Boîte spice shop in New York, seasonings aren't just an afterthought to your dish.
“Spices bring foods to life,” says Lev Sercarz. In fact, you probably aren't using spice blends to their full advantage. Here are some of his top innovative techniques for using them in your everyday routine. (Related: Healthy Spices and Herbs You Need in Your Kitchen)
3 Creative Ways to Use Spices
1. Blend flavored water.
Bring several cups of water to a boil. Put star anise, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and cardamom (or a combination of any spices you like) in a French press; let steep for 10 to 20 minutes, then press. Pour the water into a bottle, and refrigerate overnight. “The next day you’ll have an amazingly flavorful water you can take to work and drink all day,” Lev Sercarz says. (If spices aren't your thing, consider infusing fresh fruits and herbs into your H2O.)
2. Go whole.
“Coriander seeds, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, cumin seeds—all these can be sprinkled into a dish to give you great texture and flavor,” says Lev Sercarz. “Texture makes your food more interesting, creating flavor profiles, and forces you to chew longer, which aids your digestion.”
3. Meet nigella seeds.
These are one of the most underrated spices, Lev Sercarz says. “They give you great crunch, like sesame, but also deliver notes of onion, garlic, and oregano,” he says. Sprinkle nigella seeds on yogurt, salad, cheese, fish, and meat.
DIY Spice Blends for Everyday Use
Just like salt and pepper, you’ll use these the three spice blends time and again, says Lev Sercarz. Try them as he suggests, or sprinkle them on whatever you’re cooking. “I want people to experiment,” he says.
For simmering with tomato sauce:
Finely grind together 1 tablespoon dried garlic slices, 1 tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon dried onion slices, 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds. (This sauce will pair perfectly with veggie- or legume-based pasta.)
For adding to olive oil:
Finely grind together 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, and 2 tablespoons dried rosemary, and immediately mix with 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sumac and 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper.
For stirring into salt:
Finely grind together 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons dried rosemary, 1 1/4 teaspoons black peppercorns (preferably Tellicherry,) and 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds, and immediately mix with 3/4 teaspoon sumac.
Now that you've got the basics down, it's time to whip up a spice-blend-starring meal that will enliven your tastebuds. When you can't stand having bland chicken for one more night, turn to these recipes.
Caramelized Fennel Salad with Pecorino, Green Olives, and Almonds
In this appetizer, fennel seeds heighten the flavor of the fresh fennel wedges, while the celery and caraway seeds give it a savory edge that complements the sweet orange and raisins. (If you're a fennel fanatic, you'll definitely want to whip up these recipes.)
Lemon-and-Artichoke Paella with Pumpkin
This hearty paella is a must when your hunger is verging on ravenous. The artichokes soak up the spice blend of coriander and fennel seeds, turmeric, saffron, and Aleppo pepper, while the pumpkin puree adds a warm and earthy richness. And thanks to the chickpeas, this meal is entirely vegetarian.
Smoky Cumin and Chipotle Carrot Pasta with Poppy Seeds
Mac 'n cheese, meet your healthy-ish match. This pasta dish is covered in a dairy-free, carrot-based sauce, which is balanced with a smoky spice blend of cumin seeds, pink pepper, chipotle chile powder, and smoked paprika. If you'd like a lighter meal, ditch the pasta entirely and enjoy the creamy sauce as a soup.