Cooking Help: Spices/Seasonings

I recently ordered a nifty spice rack from (actually, it was on Wine Woot!), and it’s basically a stainless steel rack with 30 tubes of spices in it. Many of the spices, I know pretty much how I’ll use them. There are a couple, though, that I have little to no experience with, and would very much like suggestions on what to do with them. Exact recipes are nice, of course, but certainly not necessary. Just some suggestions about what combines well with what.

The two I’m most curious about are the garam masala and the curry powder. So let’s start with those. What would you suggest I add them to? How spicy are they? How hot are they? Anything you think I would find interesting about these things, I’d probably find interesting! :slight_smile:

Worst choices imaginable. Both Garam Masala and Curry Powder are spice mixtures that can vary along a large scale of effects.

Oh, OK. One tip that I read on the message board at Woot, the day this deal was being discussed, was to make some croutons with a seasoning you’re not sure about. That way, you can get a good feel for what it tastes like, and what it may go well with.

I’m sure that some of the stuff I’m going to end up not using. But hey, I paid a total of $30.00 (incl. shipping) for an awesome rack, pretty cook spice tubes (they look like test tubes with flat bottoms!), and at least 20 spices I know I’ll use. So I figured this was a good opportunity to experiment with some stuff I’d hesitate to buy at the store, because spices are expensive and if I spend $6.00-$8.00 on a new one, and don’t like it, I’m out that money. :frowning:

You spent your best money on the rack and tubes. You can get a good idea of the spices you like, and then refill them with good quality replacements, which don’t cost all that much. You can get 2 oz. of most common spices at Penzey’s, for example, for a couple of bucks. Just doing a few random searches, 1/4 cup of ground nutmeg is $2.89, 1/4 cup of tarragon is $1.49, 1/4 cup of anise seeds is $2.55, 1/4 cup of dill weed is $1.69. So check what you’ve got and if you like it, buy the good stuff; if you like it, don’t waste money on coriander if you hate it.

I like the garam masala mix I have with things that have a natural sweetness, like carrots and butternut squash. I sometimes add it to stews containing carrots and/or parsnips. Any savory dish that takes nutmeg or cloves (but doesn’t rely on those for their signature taste, the way chili relies on cumin) would be a candidate for garam masala. For example, I wouldn’t put it in Swedish meatballs, but I would add some to the custard mixture for quiche.

Not necessarily. Give us a list of what you got. It’s just that the first two you mentioned aren’t spices, they are really variable blends of spices. Some go with vegetables, some with red meats, some with white meats, some with seafood.

Both spices you mention are mixtures of other spices. They’re predominantly used in Indian-ish cooking.

From what I gather, curry powder is not really common in India, but is more of a culinary shorthand used for Indian-ish dishes (like curries) elsewhere in the world. I believe Indian cooks tend to homebrew their spice mixtures for the dish at hand, instead of using standardized mixtures. The mixtures seem to be fairly standard, although each maker uses a different blend.

Garam masala is another spice mixture, although this one is actually used in India in some form or another. It’s Hindi for “Hot mixture”, and is composed of similar spices as curry powders, but in different proportions, and with some different spices. Again, it varies as much as there are producers.

Curry powder can range from mild to holy shit, but I would suspect that what comes with a spice rack will be on the mild side. It’s very versatile, and you should be able to find many recipes on a site like for both curry powder and garam. I like to make curried turkey with leftovers. Curry powder mixed with mayo is a very simple dip for fried foods.

Garam masala is most often cinnamon-based, and generally is added towards the end of the dish, with the emphasis being on its aroma as much as the taste. This contrasts with the frying of spices at the beginning of a recipe, which breaks open whole spices and releases their oils into the liquid of the dish.

I found a chocolate gingerbread recipe that uses garam masala from Aarti Sequeira, the new Indian chef on Food Network.

I don’t have any uses for garam masala myself, unless I’m using a recipe that calls for it… if I’m going to use a recipe for Indian food, I use one from Madhur Jaffrey. Unfortunately, she almost never takes shortcuts like that :smiley:

Curry powder, though, I use a lot of. I make a quick cheaty curry with chickpeas, diced tomatoes, peas, chilis, and onions-ginger-garlic. A good-quality curry powder really elevates something like this; a cheap curry powder makes it “meh”.

I also put curry powder in egg salad and chicken salad. And pumpkin soup.

I’ve got a recipe for chicken wild rice soup that uses curry powder - it adds a nice savory note that the soup would really miss if left out. It’s the traditional MN cream based wild rice soup. Takes 3/4 tsp. (The recipe call for 1/2 tsp in a big ass pot, I’ve upped it. A full tsp is almost too much, but 3/4 is good.)

If you’d like, I’ll try to post the recipe when I get home.

Yes. Because, you realize, norinew, that many of those spices are only ever used because they they get put in spices racks, and they’ve got to be used for something?

If you have a Whole Foods near you, go to their herbs and supplements aisle - not their big baking and spices section - and find their jars with bulk herbs. You can refill most of your spice jars for a buck or so. Alternately, a local bulk food (in bins) store or hippie-ish health food store might offer the same thing. If you don’t have those options, Penzey’s is great.

IIRC, the OP lives in the back of beyond. So the best bet for fresh spices is Penzeys or Pendereys or the like.

The spices in the rack are likely past their “Best By” date. A good sniff will tell you.

Yeah, I couldn’t remember how boonie-fied she was, so I thought I’d throw out those options just in case.

Okay, here’s a complete list of what’s in the rack:
Onion (dehydrated); obviously, I know what to use this for.
Herb Mix (onion flakes, green onion flakes, red chili flakes, minced garlic, black peppercorns); it’s pretty easy to see where and when this would be useful.
Sage; mostly, I use this with poultry and/or stuffing for poultry.
Rosemary; pairs beautifully with poultry and pork.
Basil; I’m not so sure about this; I’ve used basil as an element in seasoning blends, but can’t recall ever buying it by itself.
Sichuan Peppercorns; not sure about these, but I’m guessing they’re pretty spicy, so I would use them sparingly.
Celery Salt (dried minced celery, coarse salt); I use this kind of thing in pasta and potato salads, tuna or chicken salad, etc.
Italian Herb Mix (oregano, thyme, basil, parsley, black pepper, powdered bay leaves, sage); this is a no-brainer. After all, it’s Italian Herb Mix, duh. :slight_smile:
Black peppercorns; these will go in my pepper mill next time it’s empty.
Paprika; I know what to do with paprika.
Roasted Sesame Seeds; I haven’t used these a lot, but would sprinkle them over Asian-style dishes or steamed veggies.
Cayenne; I know how to use it.
Curry powder; need ideas.
Cinnamon powder; no-brainer.
Minced Garlic; easy.
Chinese Five Spice; I only have one recipe in my repertoire that uses this, but I bet I could think of other uses for it. I like the hit of licorice!
Ginger; I’m very familiar with it.
Garam Masala; not a clue.
Garlic Salt; easy.
Ground Mustard; never much used it, because I don’t tend to keep it, but I encounter it in a lot of mac and cheese recipes, and we love mac and cheese!
Coarse Sea Salt; easy.
Vegetable Mix (fine salt, fine granulated sugar, paprika, garlic powder, crushed black pepper, chili powder); I’ll have to play with this one.
Ground Cumin; I know.
Crushed Red Pepper; easy.
Thyme; easy.
Oregano; easy.
Cinnamon Stick; I’ve not really cooked much with whole cinnamon, but won’t have any trouble figuring it out; I’m thinking about mulling some wine this weekend.
Chives; easy.
Parsley; easy.
Bay Leaves; easy.

So there you go, toss out any suggestions you have.

IIRC, Sichuan peppercorns can provide a slight tingling sensation when used in a dish, so don’t be alarmed about that. I don’t think it’s really hot per se - looking it up I see a mention of a lemon or citrus taste. Use it in spicy Chinese dishes.

Yeah, I already figured for refilling, I’m going to have to rely on the 'net. Thank goodness for the 'net, huh?? :wink:
The largest grocery store I have near me within a 40-minute drive is a Kroger; even that, though, is so back-woods that when I made a slow-cooked ham with tropical fruit sauce a few nights ago, I had to make some substitutions because I couldn’t find canned mango or pineapple preserves. I subbed canned tropical fruit salad for the mango, and apricot preserves for the pineapple.

Both are good for perking up tomato soup.