Six spice blends to make at home

Clockwise from top left: Five-spice powder; everything spice; garam masala; Italian seasoning; Cajun/Creole seasoning ...
Clockwise from top left: Five-spice powder; everything spice; garam masala; Italian seasoning; Cajun/Creole seasoning and ras el hanout. Photo: Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post

Almost two shelves in my pantry are devoted entirely to spices. Whole, ground, common, obscure, hailing from all over the world. Mixing and matching is easy, to say the least. When I come across a recipe that calls for a specific blend, there's always the temptation to go ahead and buy a pre-made jar. "It would be faster and easier," one little voice in my head says. "But you already have the components, and you'll overpay," says the other.

There are even more reasons to make your own blends. Scaling up and down is easy. If it's a recipe you make a lot, save yourself the work the next time by putting together a larger batch. Or, if you're afraid of the commitment, a small batch will do. You'll preserve flexibility by maintaining a supply of individual spices you can use in other ways.

Perhaps most importantly, a blend you make yourself, especially if you're toasting and grinding the spices, will taste fresher and bolder than what will come out of a jar or package, even if you choose to store extra for later.

I'm using a 20- or 30-year-old coffee grinder to grind my spices, no complaints, but a mortar and pestle and some elbow grease can often work, too.

Here's a round-up of spice blends to consider, along with a few recipe ideas.

Spiced pumpkin with turmeric and tomato pearl barley and harissa yoghurt. Katrina Meynink winter vegetable recipes for Good Food July 2020. Please credit Katrina Meynink.

Ras el hanout roasted pumpkin with turmeric and tomato pearl barley and harissa yoghurt (see recipe below). Photo: Katrina Meynink

Ras el hanout

To make a "quick" ras el hanout blend, use already ground spices (1 teaspoon each) and mix them together.

INGREDIENTS

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  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp white peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp anise seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 tsp green cardamom pods
  • 1 whole nutmeg
  • 1 cinnamon stick (7cm long)
  • 1 tsp dried rose petals (optional)

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C. Place the coriander, cumin, black and white peppercorns, cloves, turmeric, caraway, anise, fennel, star anise and cardamom on a baking tray. Roast the spices in the oven for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Transfer the roasted spices, about 10 gratings of nutmeg, the cinnamon stick and the dried rose petals, if using, in a spice grinder or food processor. Process until the spices are finely ground. Sift the spice blend through a fine sieve and discard what's left in the sieve. Store in a closed jar and keep for up to 3 years.

Makes about ¼ cup

Everything (bagel) spice

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tsp sesame seeds
  • 3 tsp poppy seeds
  • 1½ tsp caraway seeds
  • 1½ tsp sea or kosher salt
  • 1½ tsp dehydrated onion flakes
  • 1½ tsp dehydrated garlic flakes

METHOD

  1. Stir all the ingredients together in a small bowl and transfer to a jar or other lidded container. It will keep indefinitely in your pantry.

Makes about ¼ cup

  • Try it on avocado toast

Garam masala

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • ½ tsp black peppercorns
  • ½ tsp cardamom seeds, preferably from black pods
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (each 7cm long), broken into smaller pieces
  • 3 fresh or dried bay leaves

METHOD

  1. Preheat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add all the spices and the bay leaves, and toast, shaking the skillet every few seconds, until the coriander and cumin turn reddish brown, the cloves, peppercorns and cardamom turn ash-black, the cinnamon and bay leaves appear brittle and crinkly, and the mixture is highly fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Immediately transfer the nutty-smelling spices to a place to cool. (The longer they sit in the hot skillet, the more likely it is that they will burn, making them bitter and unpalatable.) Once they are cool to the touch, place them in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, and grind until the texture resembles that of finely ground black pepper. (If you don't allow the spices to cool, the ground blend will acquire unwanted moisture from the heat, making the final blend slightly "cakey".) The ground blend will be reddish brown, and the aroma will be sweet and complex, very different from that of the pre-toasted and post-toasted whole spices.
  3. Store in a tightly sealed container, away from excess light, heat and humidity, for up to 2 months.

Makes about ¼ cup

Italian seasoning

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tsp dried basil
  • 3 tsp dried oregano
  • 3 tsp dried thyme
  • 1½ tsp crushed dried sage
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary

METHOD

  1. Combine the basil, oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary in a medium bowl.
  2. Place in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in a dark, dry location for up to 6 months.

Makes about ¼ cup

Five-spice powder

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cinnamon stick (7cm long)
  • 1½ tbsp fennel seeds
  • 3 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 4 whole star anise

METHOD

  1. Toast the cinnamon, fennel seeds, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves and star anise in a small, dry skillet over low heat until fragrant. Let cool.
  2. Transfer to a blender or spice grinder, and grind all the spices into a fine powder. Store in a sealed container away from heat or light. Use within 24 months.

Makes about ¼ cup

Cajun/Creole seasoning

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried minced onion, or onion flakes
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic, or garlic powder

METHOD

  1. Combine the salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, oregano, onion, basil, thyme and garlic in a medium bowl.
  2. Place in a small jar, with a tight-fitting lid, and store in a dark, dry location for up to 6 months.

Makes a scant ¼ cup

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