Spice Rack Essentials: 12 Seasonings for Cooking Novices
Having a well-stocked spice rack can do wonders for your cooking. If you're just starting out in the kitchen, spices and other seasonings give you a lot more control over the stuff you’re making—which is great, if you don't feel that in control to begin with. Here are 12 spice rack essentials to get you started.
Chili powder is a spice rack staple that's perfect when you want foods with a kick. It’s used in Tex-Mex, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and (duhh), in chili.
(Your results may vary)
Cumin has sort of an earthy tang to it that’s great for chili, deviled eggs, and a whole lot more. It’s also a big ingredient in curry powder, though LOTS of things are an ingredient in curry powder, so you’ll probably want to just buy pre-mixed.
If you want to save space and skip buying things like basil, oregano, and thyme, you can get all that and a little more in a blend known as “Italian seasoning.” It's a great catchall for pasta dishes, pizza, or anything else Italian.
(Wise words from the Internet.)
Cinnamon is a great fall flavor. You’ll see it used in everything from apple cider to pies—it’s a chief ingredient in the much-maligned “pumpkin spice.” People use it for desserts all the time, but cinnamon can also add depth to savory flavors.
I like to add just a tiny pinch of it to beef dishes like burgers—not enough to make people say, “Do I taste cinnamon?” but just enough to make ‘em say, “Huh. What is that?”
Clove and Allspice
These make up the rest of the dreaded “pumpkin spice.” Allspice has sort of a tangy sweetness to it, while clove has a similar scent, but with a little bit of heat behind it. These two combine well with cinnamon for mulled cider and fall dishes like that.
Nutmeg can be hard to describe. It’s used for a lot of things, but you probably recognize it as the stuff on top of eggnog. It’s versatile, for sure—you can use it in sweet or savory dishes—but be sure and only use a little bit. It’s strong.
This is a great seasoning to have around when you want a little onion flavor without an onion texture.
You can get garlic powder, but fresh is better. If you don’t have time for fresh, you can get jars of minced garlic that are a pretty great happy medium between dry powders and mincing your own by hand.
(Eat this guy before he eats you.)
Tumeric is a root that looks bright yellow when it’s ground up into a spice. It’s what gives curry and shawarma their unique hues. If you’re not into Mediterranean or Indian food you can probably skip this spice, but again, if you have a little on hand, you might be surprised how much you like it.
It’s just salt and celery seed. Great for adding a little somethin’ somethin’ to chicken dishes.
Rosemary is an herb that you can actually get to grow in your yard—I’m doing that right now by accident. It shows up a lot in Italian cooking, and a little pinch can make an oven-baked chicken breast taste like a dream instead of like a college student’s constant disappointment.
A little bit of this will add a lot of flavor to just about anything baked—cookies, cakes, and even pancakes can all do with a little dash of vanilla extract. At first glance it may seem a little pricey, but given how little of it you use at one time, it should last you a good long while.