I actually started to write this post on my favourite dried herbs and spices as part of my spice rub post on Monday. As you can see, it has turned into a bit of a monster though, so I thought I’d post this today as a Wednesday bonus. As we are moving from Singapore to Canberra at the end of this week, I probably won’t be posting properly for a few weeks after this, so consider it an extra to tide you over :)
So let’s talk about the dried herbs and spices that I like to have on hand in my kitchen. This list could serve as a recommendation of spices that you might want to keep yourself, but it is also a stock take for myself, so that I know what to restock with, once we have a new place to live.
My Top, ‘Cannot-Live-Without,’ Dried Herbs and Spices
Oregano – This is a necessity for so many things but especially my Tex-Mex spice mix. Find recipes here.
Vanilla – I personally like to keep a good quality, whole-bean vanilla paste at all times and I buy the whole pods for a special occasion. Find recipes here.
Cumin – Cumin is easily my all time favourite spice. I like to keep both already ground and whole cumin seeds. Cumin is so important to my cooking that I consider it a pantry staple as well as a spice staple. Find recipes here.
Pepper – I like to keep whole black peppercorns for refilling my grinder, as well as using whole occasionally like in this recipe. I also swear by ground white pepper for Asian style dishes, like my banh mi recipe.
Cinnamon – Again I like to keep whole quills and pre-ground versions. It just makes it a more versatile spice. I don’t only like to use cinnamon in sweet dishes, it is also great in savoury dishes like this lamb casserole. Did you know, that in some countries, lesser quality cassia bark is sold as cinnamon, but in Australia it is illegal to do so?
Nutmeg – Usually I like to keep whole and ground versions of my fave spices but nutmeg is the exception. The flavour and intensity that you get from freshly grated nutmeg is far superior to that of pre-ground. The seeds keep for a long time even once you have grated the edge off them. Find recipes here.
Chilli – I like to keep whole dried chillies as well as some dried chilli flakes. I normally don’t bother with ground chilli powder though. If I want a ground texture I’ll use either cayenne or chipotle instead (see below)
Salt – Alright, I know salt is not a spice or a herb, but it is so important to cooking, that I feel I need to include it. I could not cook if I did not have salt. More on my love for salt here.
Other Spices That I Keep
Chinese Five Spice
Cloves – I only ever keep whole cloves. Find recipes here.
Sumac – Oh how I had issues finding sumac when we first arrived in Singapore. I finally found some and have used it multiple times since, mainly for this salad.
Paprika – I keep both sweet and smoky ground paprika. If I have access to it, then I definitely make sure I buy a Spanish tin of smoky (or smoked) paprika. The flavour is exceptional.
Turmeric – I used fresh turmeric once and my hands, bowls and processor were stained bright yellow for ages afterwards. I’d recommend a fresh turmeric if you are making a fresh curry paste, but otherwise, I have no qualms using dried, ground turmeric.
Saffron – I’ve never had the chance to buy some good quality saffron, so I just go with the supermarket version. I think if your dish was heavily saffron-based then I’d invest in some good quality saffron stigmas.
Allspice – Unlike ‘mixed’ spice, allspice is not a mix of spices as is commonly mistaken. Allspice is a spice unto itself and is commonly used in Caribbean and Middle Eastern cooking. I like to keep it in ground form.
Cayenne – I only ever buy the hot cayenne. The smallest pinch gives such a heat and warmth, which I do find slightly different to the flavour of dried chilli flakes.
Star Anise – I only keep whole star anise. Find recipes here.
Chipotle – Ground chipotles are a bit trickier to come by in Singapore and Australia. I bought mine on iHerb but I know that the Australian spice brand Herbie’s sells a great whole, dried chipotle too.
Garam Masala – Garam masala basically translates to a ‘mix of hot spices’. Masala’s will vary depending on the region and even the cook, so if you are going to use one for a curry, I’d recommend buying one from an Indian grocer as opposed to the supermarket.
Cardamom – I like to keep the dried green pods to crack open for their seeds when required. I’m yet to use black cardamom but I would like to try it out soon.
Coriander – I keep both the whole dried seeds and pre-ground versions. I’ve only just come around to fresh coriander leaves and roots, but the seeds are something that I’ve used for years as the flavour is very different to the fresh foliage.
Fennel – I tend to keep only whole fennel seeds instead of ground, because I only use it occasionally. Find recipes here.
Garlic Powder – Using dried garlic powder is only something that I’ve gotten into over the last few years. It’s great in spice rubs and spice mixes.
Dried Onions – Dried onions have a really concentrated onion flavour as they have been dehydrated. They are excellent when used in a wet sauce like a tartare as the moisture rehydtrates them without loosing any of that strong onion flavour. I’ve also used them successfully in that classic spinach and cob loaf dip that relies on a packet of dry soup mix.
Ginger – Dried ginger powder definitely imparts a slightly different flavour to fresh ginger and it’s something that I use often.
Dried Chilli Flakes
Other Dried Herbs That I Keep
Dill – Dried dill tips are a poor substitute for fresh, but can be used as a replacement for them in something like this green couscous salad if you are desperate. Dill seeds are also great in pickles, but I have not been able to find them in Singapore.
Thyme – I never kept dried thyme until I met Key. He uses it often in his cooking in dishes where I would have just used rosemary or oregano. It does have a different depth of flavour to fresh and is fantastic in a slow cooked pasta sauce or this spice rub for ribs.
Rosemary – Fresh rosemary is lovely, but if you are going to cook something low and slow then dried is probably a better option as it will pack more flavour punch when cooked over a long period of time.
These extras are things that I often have, but I don’t necessarily rush out to replace them as soon as they run out.
Dried Bay Leaves – I’ve left this as an optional extra as I really feel like fresh bay leaves are preferable to dried. I don’t have access to fresh here, but I look forward to being able to pick off a bay leaf from my potted bay tree when we are back in Canberra.
Mixed Spice – Mixed spice is just that, a mix of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Not one that I often bother with, as I generally have all of these spices separately. It’s a good one if you feel a bit lazy when making hot cross buns though :)
Celery Salt – By all means keep plain ground celery seeds if you like. I’d only ever use them as celery salt anyway so I figure I just may as well buy them already mixed with the salt. My favourite use for celery salt is in this coleslaw.
Mustard Seeds (various colours)
Pre-Made Curry Powder (like Keen’s) – This is not one I use often. In fact, I’d really only use it for curried egg sandwiches :)
Nigella Seeds – aka Black onion seeds or Kalonji. You can’t make a Turkish loaf without these.
Candlenuts – Used in South East Asian cuisine as a thickener mainly. Macadamias can be substituted, but candlenuts are readily available at Asian grocers these days.
Caraway Seeds – I don’t use these often but I love the flavour of them. They are delicious on these pumpkin dinner rolls.
Fenugreek – Fenugreek seeds are great if you are making an Indian or African-style curry mix.
Sesame Seeds (white and black)
Poppy Seeds – Excellent for sprinkling over bread and bread rolls. Poppy seeds are another mysterious ingredient that I have not been able to find anywhere in Singapore.
Bouquet Garnis – Pre-made bouquet garnis are great for throwing into soups and casseroles. The best I’ve ever used are made by Herbies.
Lavender – Lovely for baking
Rose petals – Also lovely for baking
From Left to Right: Grated Nutmeg, Cinnamon Quill, Cloves
Common Dried Herbs That I Don’t Bother With
It’s purely personal preference, but I don’t bother with the below dried herbs. Honestly, I don’t use them often even fresh (except basil and parsley) and if I do need them, I much prefer to go out and buy a small amount of the fresh versions.
From Left to Right: Cinnamon Quill, Peppercorn, Cloves, Star Anise, Green Cardamom Pods