Here's a copy & paste from my recipe files that I got from Vegetarian Times:
from Vegetarian Times
These five spices deserve a permanent place in your kitchen, preferably in airtight containers away from heat and light. (If you can reach your spices while standing at a blazing hot stove, move them now.)
1. Black Pepper
Forget the flavorless pepper dust sold in cans. Switching to freshly ground black peppercorns will revolutionize your cooking. They have a peppery taste, but also a sort of heat, similar to chiles.
* LOOK FOR un-cracked kernels with uniform color. Bite into one and inhale … if it’s fresh, you’ll feel heat right away.
* TRY IN everything!
* EXPERT ADVICE To avoid overpowering a dish with pepper, grind peppercorns as needed onto a separate dish or a piece of parchment paper. From there, add it to a recipe, and adjust to taste.
Best known for its use in baked goods, cinnamon also offers surprising depth of flavor and versatility in entrées and vegetable dishes.
* LOOK FOR brands that identify the country of origin. Buy from stores that have a high turnover of spices—ground cinnamon can lose its flavor in 6 months.
* TRY IN Middle Eastern recipes or anything with tomatoes. Sprinkle into squash and eggplant dishes.
* EXPERT ADVICE Take a sniff to make sure the flavorful oils are still pungent. If you can’t smell it, you won’t be able to taste it.
A signature flavor in Mexican and Indian cuisines, cumin has a bright, grassy taste that’s instantly recognizable—it’s one of the main seasonings in chili.
* LOOK FOR consistently colored whole seeds that have a slightly greenish tinge to them.
* TRY IN chili, curries, roasted root vegetables, and bean dishes.
* EXPERT ADVICE Cumin is potent enough to hold up to roasting and long simmering, but try adding a pinch at the very end of cooking to fully impart its unique flavor.
4. Herb Blend
Whether you choose Italian seasoning, herbes de Provence, or your own mix of dried basil, oregano, and thyme, a basic herb blend can liven up everything from a salad dressing to a savory stew.
* LOOK FOR intensely aromatic leaves—rub them between your fingers and take a whiff.
* TRY IN tomato sauces, potato dishes, and grilled veggies. Stir into hummus or sprinkle on flat breads and olives.
* EXPERT ADVICE Mix 1 part herb blend with 3 parts coarse sea salt for an all-purpose table seasoning that’s been used throughout Europe for centuries.
Many cooks think of paprika merely as a color booster for pale foods like deviled eggs. But it’s an underused workhorse that can serve as a thickener and flavor enhancer for simple dishes.
* LOOK FOR vibrant reddish-orange powder that smells slightly fruity. If possible, taste a bit on your fingertip—it should register as subtly sweet.
* TRY IN egg dishes, vegetable medleys, and winter soups and stews.
* EXPERT ADVICE Steer clear of the various “hot” versions, as they are typically blended with non-paprika chiles.
Take your pick—or try them all. These categories represent classic taste profiles that will round out an entry-level spice rack and give you enough variety to season a full spectrum of foods. The options in each category are interchangeable in most recipes, though their flavors are entirely different.
1. Chili or curry powder
One has Tex-Mex roots, the other is inspired by the dishes of India, but both are all-purpose blends that can be used in everything from dips to bean dishes.
* LOOK FOR salt-free brands whose first ingredient isn’t paprika (in the case of chili powder) or turmeric (for curry powder).
* TRY IN rice-and-bean recipes, marinades, and tomato-based dishes.
* EXPERT ADVICE Experiment with different brands until you find the blend that suits your palate best.
2. Fennel or Caraway
These two similar-looking seeds have unique, distinctive flavors: Fennel tastes like licorice; caraway is woody and pleasantly bitter.
* LOOK FOR whole seeds that are uniform in color.
* TRY IN stews, sautéed vegetables, potato dishes, and bread dough.
* EXPERT ADVICE Crack seeds or grind them completely in a grinder to release flavor. To crack: Place desired amount in a re-sealable plastic bag and crush with the bottom of a heavy skillet. Alternatively, toast the seeds in a dry skillet 1 to 2 minutes, or until fragrant.
3. Dill Weed or Rosemary
Fragrant and hearty, both retain their original flavor when dried and can stand up to stronger ingredients. Rosemary has heady pine overtones; dill is slightly sour.
* LOOK FOR full leaves that are vibrant green, not brown or gray. Rub between your fingers and sniff for potency.
* TRY IN potato and bean dishes. Or season breadcrumbs with either as a topping or crust on casseroles.
* EXPERT ADVICE Balance the intensity of these herbs with pungent ingredients—like vinegar in dressings— or simmer slowly to mellow the flavor.
4. Mustard or Coriander
Mustard and coriander seeds work best in foods that cook slowly and release their fl avors. Coriander has a faint lemon flavor; mustard seeds are mildly spicy, like the condiment of the same name.
* TRY IN braised cabbage and other leafy greens, as well as spicy stews, sauces, and marinades.
* LOOK FOR seeds that are not cracked or split, a sign that they’re old.
* EXPERT ADVICE Toast the seeds in a dry skillet 1 to 2 minutes to release the spice’s flavor.
5. Nutmeg, Allspice, or cloves
Each of these spices is distinctively strong, but used sparingly, they can be interchanged in recipes to wake up mild flavors.
* LOOK FOR whole, light brown nutmegs without blemishes and whole, undamaged allspice berries or clove buds.
* TRY IN cream sauces, quiches, fruit dishes, and chocolate desserts.
* EXPERT ADVICE Ground nutmeg loses its pungency within hours, so buy whole and shave as needed using a grater or Microplane zester.
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