A well-stocked pantry is a great way to ensure that you’ll have most of what you’ll need to cook once you get home and are ready to hit the kitchen. I have many favourite staples that our pantry would never be without. I have listed these extensively in Relish Mama ‘Family’ cookbook, but here I would love to focus primarily on spices.
Spices are the flavour bombs of your pantry. They are also healing and have many health and medical benefits.
Myths and misconceptions about spices
There are many misconceptions regarding spices. Here are a couple that have repeatedly come up in my many years of teaching.
- Spices mean spicy – not the case.
- A well-stocked spice pantry is very expensive – not the case.
- Spices are only for exotic cuisines and dishes – not the case. A spiked spice yoghurt works miracles as a sensational marinade both to tenderise and add flavour to the meat as well as to make the meal so much more memorable.
- Ground spices are best – not always the case. Allow me to elaborate.
Tips for buying and storing your spices
You can buy very reasonably priced seeds and spices from markets and spice bazaars. These speciality stores usually have a higher turnover and most spice jars haven’t been sitting on the shelf for too long. I choose not to buy my spices from supermarkets – although convenient, these spices are inferior and, as is often the case, have lost their real magic.
In most cases, heating or warming the spice releases more flavour and helps them become more fragrant. I buy some spices as whole seeds and toast these in a dry frying pan for just a few minutes. You then remove them when aromatic. These babies can burn, so stay close and continually shake or toss your pan. Once they have cooled, I grind the spices in a cheap coffee grinder that I use solely for this purpose. You can pick these up for as little as $15! And they are a game-changer when it comes to spices. A mortar and pestle is another key tool for working with spices and indeed more therapeutic and romantic. You can choose what works for you.
Store your spices in airtight containers or jars in a cool and dry place, away from direct bright light.
Placing spices such as saffron and whole dried chillies in warm water before using can make an incredible difference to taste. Saffron “blooms” and releases flavour into the liquid. Make sure to use both the saffron strands and the soaking liquid. For chillies, these can be pounded or blended with the liquid into a paste or left until they’re soft enough to chop before using.
My Spice Essentials
These are the ingredients that I use time and time again and that I couldn’t live without (well, I guess, technically I could, but things would not be as tasty around here).
Add gradually to your stocks and reap the rewards of having a kitchen resource that makes it easy to enjoy simple food – full of flavour, every day of the week.
Salt and spices
- Chilli – flakes, dried and chilli powder (Aleppo is my latest love. They give an aromatic zing and a mild smoky heat).
- Cinnamon – ground & quills
- Fennel seeds
- Mint flakes
- Mustard seeds
- Nigella seeds
- Paprika – Spanish smoked paprika
- Ras el hanout
- Salt – Murray River salt flakes
- Whole black peppercorns