When fall comes around, my spice drawer is still in utter disarray from the previous year’s frenzied holiday cooking. Before we dive into another busy season, I like to give my drawer a refresh. We all have those dusty jars that we’ve been using for years, but ground spices only have a shelf life of about a year. In this video I will share a few tips for buying spices and give you my 12 essentials that I always have on hand for cold weather cooking. Bonus: we also have an easy, elegant Red Wine Poached Pear recipe for you to put these spices to work. Watch HERE.
Cinnamon is a warm spice that can go either sweet or savory. It is the backbone of so much of my holiday cooking. I will use it in my Thanksgiving apple pie, as well as a spiced beef chili that can feed all of my hungry house guests.
Nutmeg is another classic sweet spice that is often paired with cinnamon, clove and all-spice. It also pairs nicely with squash, sweet potatoes and dark meats like lamb.
I love the peppery brightness of ginger. When making an apple or pumpkin pie, I always add a bit of ground ginger to contrast the sweetness.
Cardamom is citrusy, minty and super fragrant. It pairs especially well with ginger – the two are commonly used together in Indian cooking. Add it to a spiced loaf cake or sprinkle on a milky latte.
Clove is bitter, herbal and a little goes a long way, but it makes a fantastic contrast to milder spices like cinnamon. Simmer the whole spice in spiked apple cider or use the ground version in an apple pie or gingerbread cookies.
I like the complexity of Chinese 5-spice, a blend that originated in Chinese and Taiwanese cooking. It’s a mixture of cinnamon, fennel seed, anise seed, clove and a slight kick from pepper. If you’re making braised short ribs, sprinkle a bit of this on the outside with kosher salt before searing and braising.
This fruity, rich spice is the base of so many rich, savory soups, stews and braises. You want one that is mild, with a bit of sweetness. Most recipes call for a lot of it.
Cumin is earthy, nutty, with hints of citrus. It is particularly delicious in conjunction with chile powder and a bit of cinnamon.
Do not confuse chile powder with cayenne pepper. This one has more heat and you don’t need a lot of it. I like to make Mexican hot chocolate and finish it with a light sprinkling of cayenne.
Smoked paprika is made from chiles that are smoke-dried and then crushed. It adds a lovely earthy, toasty warmth to foods like chicken paprikash or a root vegetable-and-beef stew. It comes in both hot and sweet, so be sure to use the correct one for your recipe.
Turmeric tastes of orange and ginger and has a plethora of health benefits – it is detoxifying and has anti-inflammatory properties. It also gives your food a lovely golden tint. Try it out in this creamy coconut lentil soup.
Whole Black Peppercorns
Black pepper might seem like an obvious pick because it is so common in a home kitchen, but here is my plea for you to buy this spice whole and grind as needed! The bright, citrusy flavor is so much more impactful. I like a quality variety such as Tellicherry.