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The ultimate guide to cooking with spices

BY Rachael Perrett

17th Nov 2022 Recipes

The ultimate guide to cooking with spices
Cooking with spices is easy if you know how to do it well. Use these cooking tips to crack the mystery of how to unlock the perfect heat-packed flavour
No matter what type of cook you consider yourself to be, chances are you have a dedicated space in your store cupboard for a spice or two—or thirty, in our case.
From fragrant curry to spiced hot chocolate, spices have a myriad uses. They’re also known for their health benefits, from boosting immunity to easing inflammation.
"Learning how to master the art of balancing spices is the secret to elevating any recipe"
But their punchy flavour is also what makes them a challenging ingredient for many chefs. We’ve probably all had one or two occasions where we’ve been a bit heavy handed with unappetising results.
That said, learning how to master the art of balancing spices is the secret to elevating any recipe. Here is our guide to cooking with spices.

7 Essential cooking spices you need to know

There's no limit to how many spices you keep in your cupboard, but you should make sure you're stocked with the essentials
The jury’s still out on how many spices there are in the world – some say 40, while others say it’s closer to 100.
But when it comes to culinary uses, there are a few key spices that are essential, including:
  • Black pepper: A seasoning staple that pairs particularly well with steakpotatoes and strawberries
  • Cumin: A warm and earthy addition to curries and meat marinades
  • Cayenne: Lends a fiery heat to a variety of dishes from around the world
  • Paprika: Sweet, smokey or hot, a versatile spice popular in Hungarian and Spanish cuisine
  • Curry powder: A blend of various spices typically used in curries, autumnal soups, or as a veggie spice rub
  • Cinnamon: Used whole to infuse drinks and stews or ground in baking recipes. Pairs well with apple, chilli and lamb
  • Ginger: Commonly used ground in baking recipes or freshly grated in Asian dishes such as stir fries

Types of spices: Whole, ground or fresh

Stock fresh and ground spices to achieve different flavours and textures in your cooking
Chances are you favour ground spices, as they’re easy to use and readily available. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, it’s worth using whole spices to grind as and when needed.
Besides having a longer shelf life, whole spices also have a bolder taste that’s released when they are ground up. They can also be toasted whole, which mellows their flavour.
Of course, it depends on what you are cooking as well. For example, while fresh ginger works beautifully blended into a Thai curry paste, ground ginger lends itself well to dry spice mixes used in baking.

Easy recipes to use up your spices

Don't just limit yourself to cooking with spices for your main meal—try them in your sweet recipes too
From Indian curry to pumpkin pie, these recipes are the ideal way to use up spices in your cupboard while adding a rich depth of flavour to otherwise simple dishes.

Indian prawn curry

Spices are truly the star of the show in celebrity chef Asma Khan’s prawn curry with rice. Ginger, garlic, turmeric, chilli, coriander and cumin are combined into a paste. The spice blend is then cooked with juicy prawns, resulting in a rich yet simple dish.

Spiced rice recipe

Hot, smoked paprika and chorizo add a flavourful kick to this spiced rice dish. Sprinkle on nigella seeds, chilli flakes and fresh coriander to bring it all together.

Spiced soup recipe

Come soup season, we are all about this spiced parsnip soup. Granted, parsnips may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But this recipe beautifully balances the winter root veg with a blend of earthy spices for a soul-soothing bowl.

Spiced lamb recipes

We often associate lamb with roast dinners and mint jelly. But you might be surprised by the depth of flavour that spices impart on this popular meat.
For culinary inspiration, look to Greece and the Middle East for lighter plates such as lamb salad (also a great base for shawarma) or take a leaf out of Morocco’s book with a hearty spiced beef stew.

The best pumpkin spice recipes

The pumpkin spice latte is an autumn staple and its popularity shows no signs of waning. But that’s not the only recipe worthy of this heartwarming spice mix.
The secret to a good pumpkin pie spice blend is allspice (or mixed spice), which is combined with ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove.
Keep a jar on hand to add a tasty twist to breakfast waffles, seasonal soups or even cocktails at a moment’s notice.

Spiced dessert recipes

Apples usually reign supreme when it comes to autumn baking. But this spiced plum crumble recipe proves plums are a worthy contender of the crown. The spiciness of the ginger and mellow sweetness of the plums makes for a warming – and winning – combination.

Spiced rum cocktails

Spiced cocktails are a particularly indulgent way of warming up in winter. If you’re ready to take your cocktails to the next level, try infusing more flavour with a spice or two. Cinnamon, clove, star anise and even chilli are all worthy additions to your drinks cabinet.
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