If you clean out and reorganize your spice rack as intermittently as I do, it can be like taking a trip back in time and around the world. Sorting through my spice collection triggered my imagination evoking memories of bustling and exotic markets and unforgettable meals.
I discovered smoked paprika from La Boqueria Market in Barcelona, and hot paprika from the market in Budapest; delicate tiny paper packages and small treasure boxes of golden saffron strands from Morocco and Greece, flaky sea salt from Montreal, and Alaskan vanilla flavored sea salt for baking, and chiles from Mercado Benito Juarez in Oaxaca, Mexico. My friends have also generously endowed me with a rich and varied collection of spices and seasoning mixtures from penzeys.com in Wisconsin and oaktownspiceshop.com in the Bay area in California.
The holy trinity of Creole cooking is generally enhanced by herbs such as thyme, parsley, bay leaves, basil and oregano. My french roots also lead me frequently to flavor recipes with rosemary and herbes de Provence, a mixture of rosemary, thyme, basil and tarragon. I also have large jars of cumin and coriander seeds for middle eastern cooking. I typically toast the seeds to maximize flavors and then grind them in a small hand held spice grinder.
Where should you begin to make order from this chaos? After purging my collection of anything older than a couple of years, I decided to begin by organizing my spice rack according to the herbs and spices I tend to use most frequently. Or, maybe you prefer to differentiate and categorize the spices separately from the herbs.
Spices are whole or ground seeds, berries, fruits, bark and roots. Herbs are from the green leaves of plants. Some people prefer to organize their herbs and spices alphabetically. You choose what works for you, your kitchen, and your cooking style. Just make certain that your herbs and spices are stored in a cool, dark place away from heat and moisture. When stored properly, most dried spices and herbs will maintain their flavor and potency for 1-2 years.
I also grow herbs and encourage you to grow fresh herbs in pots in your garden. I have the luxury of enjoying fresh mint, oregano, thyme, rosemary and basil almost year round. If you grow your herbs during the summer you can also dry these herbs for use later in the year. Pack the dried herbs in small glass spice jars to keep them fresh.
Here is a list of what I think are the most important and essential spices to have fresh in your spice drawer or pantry:
- Black peppercorns
- Paprika, (I like smoked and picante or hot)
- Chili powder
- Red pepper flakes
- Bay leaves
I also like to keep a variety of sea salts or flaky salts, great for sweet and savory foods, as well as black peppercorns for my pepper grinder and ground white pepper.
Be curious. Immerse yourself in the sensory beauty of the world of herbs and spices. Use your kitchen and Sur le Plat recipes to explore the world of cooking with herbs and spices that tantalize your senses!