Creating New Flavors with Spices You (Probably) Already Have on Hand

Have you ever bought a spice for a specific recipe just to have it sit there for months? Maybe you forgot about it. Or maybe you just didn’t know what else to do with it. Not anymore!

Dried herbs and spices – even those you aren’t as familiar with – definitely deserve a spot in your pantry. They’re packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals (ninja-like virus and bacteria fighters). They’re also affordable considering just how far one jar can go. And I’ve got plenty of ideas to help you use up everything from cardamom to marjoram.

If you don’t already, start taking regular inventory of your spices. You don’t need a complicated system; just keep a running list taped inside your cabinet. When you buy a new spice, note when you purchased it either on your list or on the jar itself with a permanent marker, because when it comes to spices, age matters. The older the spice is, the duller the flavor … and the health benefits. If a spice is more than a year old but still not expired, it’s safe to eat but won’t add as much pep or nutrition to your dishes.

Once you know what you’ve got and how soon you need to use it, it’s time to mix things up!

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

  • Cajun Kick: Smoked paprika, cumin, cayenne, oregano and garlic powder. Add red pepper flakes for more heat. Try it on rice or sprinkled on potato wedges for a taste of Louisiana no matter where you live.
  • Caribbean Vibes: An island-inspired blend of cayenne pepper, garlic, coriander, cilantro, black pepper, cumin and lime juice. Great on chicken, fish or plantains.
  • Spiced Up Ketchup: Add cayenne to ketchup to give it a spicy kick.
  • Tongue Thai’d: Make your own curry powder by combining 3 teaspoons turmeric, 2 teaspoons coriander, 1 teaspoon mild curry powder, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 2 teaspoons ginger, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/4 cup cilantro. Mix into a can of unsweetened coconut milk for a versatile yellow Thai curry sauce.

Flavors to Savor

  • Taste of Italy: Make your own Italian seasoning with dried oregano, marjoram, basil, sage, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. Tasty in tomato sauce, as a flavoring for meatballs and as a seasoning for garlic bread.
  • French Connection: Have Herbes de Provence sitting around your spice cabinet? It goes perfectly with fish, meat and vegetable stews. You can also make your own with a combination of savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and oregano.
  • Yellow Brick Road: Turmeric is totally having a moment, and for good reason. Not only does it have a fun bright yellow color and peppery, ginger-like flavor, but also numerous health benefits. Try mixing it with lemon pepper and a little salt and use to spice chicken, fish or tofu, or add the blend to rice at the beginning of cooking (1/2 teaspoon per serving) – this gives even brown rice a bright yellow color. It’s also great with sweet potatoes or in mac-n-cheese.
  • Holy Moly Aioli: Turn plain old mayo into fancy aioli by adding garlic powder along with your favorite mix of herbs. Try cayenne for spicy aioli, or basil or dill for a savory sauce.
  • For the Birds: Make your own poultry seasoning by combining 3 parts ground sage to 1 part ground thyme.

How Sweet It Is

  • Sweet ‘n Sassy: A mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger adds a spicy punch to pumpkin, apple and citrus fruit such as orange and grapefruit. Or instead of cinnamon, try ground coriander, which is extra good sprinkled on apple slices.
  • Nice as Pie: Make your own apple pie spice instead of buying a blend you might only use once. For every 1 teaspoon of apple pie spice a recipe calls for, substitute 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg.
  • Pumpkin Spice: This fall favorite is easy to make at home. For every 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice a recipe calls for, substitute 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon allspice.
  • Cardamom, Mom! Cardamom is a sweet and spicy powerhouse of flavor. Mix a little into granola, add a pinch to quick breads like banana bread, sprinkle on apple strudel, or add to brownies and cookies.

See, with a sprinkle here and a sprinkle there, you can use up those almost-full jars of spices AND enjoy food that’s more flavorful and more nutritious. Spice really is nice!

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