Let's talk kitchen staples...
While salt & pepper rule the school in most pantries, there are an endless number of herbs & spices that make a great addition to any pantry collection. Every home will have their own unique blend of flavors that appeal to their taste, and of course the occasional impulse buy that you can’t quite figure out what to do with.
My taste tends to fall in the savory, salty, spicy, tart range. So in my kitchen, you’ll find a lot of citrus flavors, crushed and ground red pepper, course kosher salt, whole peppercorns and hot sauce….lots and lots of hot sauce! But aside from the most popular spices, there are a handful I always keep around. The list of amazing taste enhancers can quickly become overwhelming, but here are a few of my favorite, must have herbs & spices:
Kosher Salt, while technically not an herb or spice, is number one on this list (and my heart)! The magical mineral has the ability to subtly enhance anything it touches. Personally, I love the texture of Kosher salt, the way it feels between your fingers as you sprinkle it's salty goodness onto whatever bounty is beneath it. To me, it's perfect for any stage of the cooking process, before, during or as a finisher. Though we usually have the finer textured table salt and some form of sea salt in the pantry, the kosher stuff stays front and center and is the one we usually reach.
If you haven't invested in a pepper mill, I suggest grabbing one asap! You know when you're at a restaurant and the server comes around with a larger than life pepper mill and asks if you would care for any "fresh cracked black pepper"?? The answer is yes, always yes. There is just something about fresh cracked peppercorns that is so much more palette pleasing than the store bought, ground pepper to me. It's pretty easy to find whole peppercorns in your grocery store and you won't regret it!
Crushed Red Pepper
This stuff is hands down my favorite way to easily add a little spice to a dish. Don't get me wrong, I have a not so secret love affair with jalapeños, garlic chili sauce, and some good old hot sauce (Tapatio, I'm looking at you!), but crushed red pepper always is my go to. Probably most well known for sitting in a shaker on the table at your favorite pizza joint (it IS amazing on some Za), I have found that a couple sprinkles add the perfect amount of heat to any dish, without dominating the flavor.
I don't know about you, but when I was younger, I assumed the only use for paprika was for sprinkling on top of deviled eggs. Seriously, I never thought of it being added to anything else in our house. I was way off! These days, I can't get enough of the stuff. Not only does it add a subtle, savory, smoky flavor to a dish, but it adds such an amazing color! I will usually go for a deeper red, more mild paprika, because odds are, crushed red pepper will be joining the party, so I don't need the paprika to add spice to a dish. Paprika makes an appearance in our kitchen in marinades, taco seasonings and sprinkling on hummus, just to name a few...and it is actually delicious on some deviled eggs!
I love the punch of fresh garlic cloves, but it's always great to have garlic powder on hand. You can use garlic powder in rubs, spice blends, marinades & salad dressings. While garlic powder is a great addition, I usually avoid garlic salt. It's so easy to over salt a dish, so I stick with using kosher salt and try to leave it out of my other spices. But see what works for you!
Chili powder makes a mighty fine addition to any rustic, earthy dish. It's combination of flavors, generally chili peppers, garlic, cumin & oregano, make this spice perfect for Mexican & Southwest food, grilled beef or chicken, and Chili, of course!
I love the smell of oregano. The pungent leaves have a strong and unforgettable flavor. I love to keep it in the pantry (and maybe I just take a big whiff of it from time to time. Is that weird???) I add it to marinades and rubs, but it really tastes great sprinkled on top of a pizza or on a sandwich.
Cumin is another one of those earthy spices that I love to have on hand. A bottle usually lasts longer than Paprika and Chili Powder in our house, but I find that it makes a great addition to a homemade taco seasoning, soups and stews, and even homemade salsa, when I want it to have a more robust flavor.
I am a huge fan of all things pickled, so me and dill are as tight as a freshly packed jar of pickles. If you don't love pickles, you can still make use of dill in a number of tasty ways. When you are checking out the spice section in your grocery store, you will likely see dill seed and dill (dill weed) hanging out right next to each other. Personally, I like to use dill seed mainly for pickling, but I also like to use it alongside dill weed in a number of dishes. For me, Dill is a great addition to coleslaw, potato salad, homemade salad dressings & dipping sauces.
For me, there is nothing like a bunch of pungent, fresh mint. I love the fresh burst of flavor it adds to cocktails or paired with some spicy beef in a salad. I love keeping the fresh stuff on hand, but I always have a container of dried mint in the pantry. It works really well in homemade salad dressings.
Basil is another one of those herbs that I always prefer to have fresh, but the dried stuff is great to keep in the pantry if you're in a pinch and need the flavor of basil. It works well in tomato sauces or on chicken, but personally, fresh is where it's at with basil.
Not the poisonous kind, I promise! This one may not be as common as some of the other spices on this list, but it gets used it pretty often in our house. You'll mainly find the spice used in Mediterranean dishes, sprinkled on top of hummus or as a garnish on salads. Sumac adds nice tart, citrusy flavor. The deep red, almost maroon, color pops when added as a finishing touch and the flavor is so unique.
I don't know about you, but on a cold day (which we don't get alot of here in Louisiana), some hot, steaming curry over rice is pretty much the ultimate comfort food. But I started to realize that the flavor works well in so many other dishes. It adds such a richness and depth to meats & vegetables. I recently started adding it in to one of my chicken marinades and it is so delish. I really can't wait to experiment with it a little more!
*Non Herb & Spice Honorable Mentions
I know this list is about herbs and spices, but it feels wrong not to at least mention these awesome accompaniments to my favorite seasonings...
I'm sure you have olive oil at home, why wouldn't you! We use so much olive oil in our house that we buy it in bulk now! While we keep other oils on hand, like coconut & vegetable oil, we reach for the olive variety the most.
Red Wine Vinegar & Apple Cider Vinegar
I love these guys! When paired with olive oil and some of the spices mentioned above, you've got a mighty fine marinade, fresh salad dressing, or dipping sauce, to name a few.
Well there you have it! These are the spice stars in my kitchen. I know there are a lot of amazing herbs & spices that aren't on this list, but these are the ones that I find myself reaching for and having to replenish the most. They are super versatile and can be mixed and matched in so many tasty ways.
Building a complete pantry collection takes time, and your taste may change along the way, but pick a few that sound appealing to you and go from there. These spices will keep for years in the pantry, but they lose potency over time, so get cooking!