Tip of the Week: Get Spicy!

This week, my tip is all about spicing up everyday meals. I don’t necessarily mean heat wise. My intention behind this tip is to show that it isn’t hard to use different spices and herbs in everyday cooking, without a recipe.

Before I went to culinary school, I had no idea how to use spices and herbs. I knew that if I put salt, pepper, and garlic in almost anything savory, then it would taste good. To be honest, I’m not really sure if I knew how to use them afterwards either. I knew how to use them if I followed a recipe, but I still struggled trying to put flavors together myself. I really learned how to use them when I was doing my culinary internship at a vegan cafe. I had the opportunity to create daily specials and there was a whole spice rack at my disposal. As a result, I experimented a lot with different spices. After about a month, I realized that it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it was! I learned which spices when well together, which ones complimented each other, and which ones didn’t mix well at all! There wasn’t a specific guide I used, I just trusted my taste buds.

After a time, I just knew that each dish required certain elements to make it come together. In other words, I knew that something that had heat needed something sweeter, or earthy to balance it out. The simplest example would be for a Mexican seasoning, chili powder has a subtle heat, so the combination of cumin (for an earthy mellow flavor), onion powder (for sweetness), and paprika (also for sweetness) mellow that out. That particular combination creates layers of flavor, while still being incredibly simple. A more complex example would be with curry. The curry powder itself is made up from a variety of spices. A lot of curry powders will contain blends of  turmeric (for color and bitterness), cumin (for an earthy flavor), ginger (for warmth), cayenne (for heat), fenugreek (for sweetness), or cardamom (for floral/perfuming flavors). There is a lot going on, but each spice compliments each other to create a deep flavor and enticing aroma.  Of course, there are a lot of other spices and herbs that I use on a regular basis.

Over the years, I have found what works and what doesn’t by simply testing each spice or herb simply on roasted vegetables. That way, I get to taste each spice or herb individually, and can eventually form an idea of what will work together and what won’t.

Using spices and herbs was one of the major things I wanted to learn when I first began cooking. It has taken years for me to figure it out, and I am still learning. Now I have a good enough idea that I am able to create different flavors on a daily basis, and I rarely get bored with what I am eating. I hope this tip inspires, and encourages creativity in the kitchen! I know it was something that I needed to hear when I was sick of average flavors and wanting to experiment!

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