Mix Up Your Own Seasoning Blends
If you’ve ever started to make tacos and realized you were out of the seasoning mix, chances are you already had everything on hand to make your own. Turns out there are no secret ingredients to achieving that smoky southwestern flavor, just an easy-to-duplicate combination of dried herbs and spices. The same can be said for other blends. With a well-stocked spice rack, there’s no need to purchase special seasoning packets. The trick to a successful mix is simply knowing which flavors work together and in what ratios. With this glossary and the sample recipes and combinations below, you can start making your own blends and then adjust them to your liking. For instance, if you’re a fan of spicy food, increase the amount of cayenne pepper. If you’re watching your sodium intake, you can easily control how much salt you add. Experiment until you find your preferred ratio, then once you perfect your ideal concoction, give it a name and start giving it as a gift.
HERBS, SPICES AND SEASONINGS GLOSSARY
- Allspice—a mildly pungent spice made from the berries of a West Indian tree
- Basil—a sweet and aromatic herb, a member of the mint family
- Cayenne pepper—a hot ground pepper used to add heat (also called ground red pepper)
- Chili powder—generally a blend of cumin, chile peppers, garlic and oregano
- Cinnamon—an aromatic, sweet spice derived from the inner bark of several trees
- Clove—an aromatic, pungent spice from the dried flower bud of a tropical tree
- Coriander—ground seed with a citrusy, spicy flavor (leaves of the coriander plant are known as cilantro)
- Cumin—ground seed with a smoky, slightly spicy flavor
- Curry—an Indian blend generally containing a base of coriander, turmeric and ginger
- Garlic—powder—strong, aromatic power derived from garlic cloves
- Ginger—a strong, sweet spice derived from gingerroot
- Lemongrass—a pungent, zesty herb with a light lemon flavor
- Mint—a refreshing herb derived from crushed dried mint leaves
- Nutmeg—an aromatic seed with a sweet, woodsy flavor
- Onion powder—a strong, slightly sweet seasoning derived from dried onions
- Oregano—an earthy herb common in Italian dishes
- Paprika—a mild, sweet spice derived from the red bell pepper
- Rosemary—an earthy herb with a pine-like flavor
- Thyme—a pungent, minty-tasting herb with a slight lemon aroma
- Turmeric—a bright yellow spice with a pungent flavor similar to saffron and ginger
A common seasoning blend for fish and chicken, especially in the French-speaking Acadian regions of Louisiana, this mix includes proportionally large amounts of cayenne pepper balanced out with salt, garlic and onion. If you can handle the heat, here’s how to make your own: Mix 2 tablespoons salt, 1-1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, and 1 teaspoon each garlic powder, paprika, onion powder and pepper.
If you have cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric, cayenne, salt and pepper, there’s no reason you should buy curry powder. How hot or salty you make it is up to you, but you can mix up your batch by starting with this ratio: Mix 2 tablespoons each ground cumin, ground coriander, ground ginger and ground turmeric with 1/2 teaspoon each cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt.
Basil and oregano are a given in any Italian seasoning, but there are often other herbs and spices that contribute to this blend’s complexity. When developing your own, consider flavors you know work well together, like garlic and onion and rosemary and thyme, and build off of those. Notice how they come together in this Italian seasoning recipe: Mix 3 tablespoons each dried basil, dried oregano and dried parsley with 1 teaspoon each garlic powder, onion powder, dried thyme and dried rosemary. Round it out with a dash of black pepper, and for a little kick, a dash of cayenne pepper (if desired).
This basic blend gets a touch of smoky flavor from cumin, a bit of sweetness from paprika and a kick of heat (if you choose) from cayenne pepper. To make your own: Mix together 2 tablespoons each chili powder (or use this recipe from thekitchn.com to mix your own chili powder, paprika and cumin with 1 tablespoon each onion powder, dried oregano, salt and garlic powder. That’s enough to season about 2 pounds of ground meat for tacos or burritos. For a little heat, add a pinch of cayenne pepper.
When it comes to Thai flavors, some key spices and dried herbs include ginger, mint and lemongrass. Adding cumin gives it a smoky undertone, while Thai chile peppers contribute to its distinguishing heat. This homemade Thai blend developed by Tabitha Alterman, contributing editor at Mother Earth News, can be used to bring a distinctive Thai flavor to meat, seafood, noodles or veggies. Mix 1-1/2 teaspoons cumin with 1 tablespoon each sea salt, ground white pepper, ground black pepper, ground dried hot Thai chiles, and 2 tablespoons each dried lemongrass, dried lime peel, garlic powder, ginger, dried mint and ground toasted unsweetened coconut. Combine with a mortar and pestle or food processor and store in an airtight container.
PUMPKIN PIE SPICE
Many holiday recipes call for pumpkin pie spice, but it’s really just a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. Here’s a simple pumpkin pie spice recipe from mybakingaddiction.com: Mix 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons each ground ginger and nutmeg, and 1-1/2 teaspoons each ground allspice and ground cloves. The last two have quite strong flavors, so feel free to use less of those. This sweet blend can be used in place of cinnamon for baking, to spice up coffee or—you guessed it—in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe.
HELPFUL TIP: Buying spices in the bulk section of your supermarket and storing them in your own containers will not only save you money, it will also prevent your spices from losing their flavor since you’ll only buy what you need. Store and stack in the space-saving SNAPWARE CANISTERS. If kept in a cool dry place, your custom blends will be at their best for about 6 months. And if you start right now, you could have a nice stockpile of holiday gifts!
YOUR TURN: What kinds of seasoning blends have you made at home?