Some would say “How to cook” is a more appropriate title. I believe that cooking with spices is that important. It’s nearly impossible to make a good dish without them. Peppers, chilies, all manner of herbs, are almost guaranteed to be present in all your meals. It’s even found in ice cream: Vanilla is a spice. Yet people are still cautious about cooking with spices.
By learning to cook with spices, you can improve the quality of any dish. Compared to fresh meat and vegetables, spices are cheap. They’re also painlessly easy to use in cooking, so there’s no reason not to use spices when you cook.
“A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetable substance used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food.”
Spices have many uses in the kitchen, and they can even be used to mask other flavours. Ever cooked some greens which turned out excessively bitter? With the help of this guide, it won’t happen again.
Common reasons people give when they don’t cook with spices
“But I don’t like spicy food!” Not everyone does. And not all spices are spicy. Spices such as cinnamon can be used to add sweetness. Others such as cardamom, mace and cloves can be used to add more complex floral, citrus and herbal flavours.
“It’s too much of a headache.” Adding spices can be as simple as lightly frying garlic at the start of your cooking. Which, by the way, is also a spice! Spices are a way to make ordinary dishes into great ones.
This series of spice-tips will teach you how to use spices like never before until you’re cooking with them like a pro. All spices have their own unique flavours, and methods of incorporating, but below are some simple catch-all rules you can follow.
Easy rules for cooking with any spice
- With powdered spices, half a teaspoon (2g) is enough to make the difference.
- Whole spices need more time to release their flavour than powdered spices, but the results are miles better.
- Spices need to be heated or cooked in some way to release their flavour within.
- If cooking with whole spices, lightly toast them (no oil necessary) first before using.
- Whole spices don’t need to be powdered before use. In “wet” food such as soups, stews and curries, they can be added whole and then removed after cooking.
- When recipes call for “a pinch” they literally mean just that: a pinch. For those of you who are metric-system-lovers, it’s about 1/2 a gram.
Here is a teaser recipe so you can see how easy it is to cook with spices:
Recipe: Masala Tea (also known as Chai Tea)
Masala Tea is an Indian household favourite. It starts with ordinary black tea. Then by infusing a balance of commonly used spices, it turns the drink into something of wonder.
- 2 tsp of Chai Masala
- 2 tbsp Black Tea Leaves
- 2 cups of Milk
- 4 cups Water
- Sugar (optional)
Serves 6. Total time: 12 minutes
Boil water with cloves, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black peppercorns and tea leaves until well infused. This takes about 8-10 minutes. Then add milk and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Add sugar, stir and then strain out the spices. Serve hot.