SPICE MIXTURES

Spice mixtures are the easiest way to add multidimensional flavor with little extra work. Just think of the difference between adding cumin to a dish and adding chili or curry powder: One spice alone is fine; in combination with other seasonings it has the power to distinguish a unique complete dish. If you aren’t already making your own spice mixes, I strongly encourage you to try a couple from this section.

Try spice mixtures as a last-minute dusting of flavor on already cooked foods. Or sauté them with aromatics at the beginning of cooking to provide a foundation before adding more ingredients. They also make terrific rubs to season seafood, poultry, meats, tofu, or vegetables before grilling, broiling, or roasting: Sprinkle on the blend when you season with salt and pepper, adding a little oil if the food is lean, and use your hands to spread it evenly.

With all of these recipes, you can combine ground spices in the same quantities; the measurements will be close and the proportions will be the same. But if you start with whole spices (whenever practical) and toast and grind them yourself, the flavors are sharper.

Chili Powder

Makes: About ¼ cup | Time: 5 minutes

Do yourself and everyone you cook for a favor and toss out any taco seasoning or jarred chili powder tucked away in your spice rack. This mixture will blow anything you can buy out of the water.

2 tablespoons ground ancho, New Mexico, or other dried mild chile

  • ½ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano

Put all the ingredients in a small dry skillet over medium heat. Toast, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mixture is fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes.

Cool, then grind in a spice grinder until powdery. Store in a tightly covered container for up to several weeks.

Curry Powder

Makes: About ¼ cup | Time: 10 minutes

There is a wide and varied world of curry powders— a catchall term for spice blends used in Indian cooking— but this is my go-to. A mild and complex spice mix, perfect when you’re looking for loads of flavor without heat. To crank up the chiles, try a pinch of cayenne for a pleasant tinge and build in more from there. The non-traditional addition of ground chipotle will add hot smokiness, while toasting and grinding one or two Thai chiles along with the other spices will bring nuanced flavors and bright color to the curry.

  • ¼ cup coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 3-inch cinnamon stick Seeds from 5 white cardamom pods
  • 3 whole cloves 1 teaspoon black peppercorns ¼ teaspoon nutmeg pieces
  • 2 dried curry leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek

Put the coriander, cumin, bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom seeds, cloves, peppercorns, nutmeg, and curry leaves if you’re using them in a medium dry skillet over medium heat. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until lightly browned and fragrant, just a few minutes. For the last minute of cooking, add the fenugreek.

Cool, then grind in a spice grinder until powdery. Store in a tightly covered opaque container for up to several weeks.

Garam Masala

Makes: About ¼ cup | Time: 15 minutes

Literally meaning “warm mixture,” this iconic North Indian blend is teak colored and redolent of baking spices, only more savory. Make small batches to use it quickly so it’s as fresh as possible.

  • Seeds from 10 cardamom pods
  • 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg pieces
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

Put all the ingredients in a medium dry skillet over medium heat. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until lightly browned and fragrant, just a few minutes.

Cool, then grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder. Store in a tightly covered opaque container for up to several weeks.

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