A little zest

I remember the first image of a spice market I ever saw, probably in a National Geographic magazine. It was an exotic, colorful scene of piles of powders arranged in rows in front of an ancient wall, dark-skinned people in head coverings and long tunics, completely foreign to my plains farm girl experiences. The few little metal boxes of spices in our cupboard were so old and dusty that they all smelled alike, except for cinnamon. Mom always kept a little purple and gold pitcher of cinnamon and sugar for toast, and cold rice with milk. She was a good cook, sweets being her specialty, but Dad was strictly a meat and potatoes guy so there was no need for fancy flavors. Even his tastes in meat were limited to beef, pork, lake fish he caught himself, and lutefisk. Every holiday season Mom cooked that smelly lutefisk for him. She gamely ate some of it but the rest of us just watched and filled up on lefse and mashed potatoes. But I’m wandering…

These days my spice drawer is overflowing, especially since exotic spices are pretty easy to find. Even the local grocery stores have a good selection. If you’re a curious cook, sooner or later you’re likely to encounter something you’ve never seen. That, plus my reluctance to shell out dollars for a spice mix that includes sugar, MSG, and any number of other fillers and artificial flavors, has led to experimenting with my own mixes. You can find recipes for almost any blend on-line but those are just starting points. Mix up small amounts at first till you know your preferences. Don’t mix up more than you can use in about three months. The oils in spices are what give them flavor but they are volatile, evaporating slowly till the spice loses its unique characteristics. Store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. A coffee grinder set aside for just spices makes it easy to grind small amounts of whole seeds, which keep longer and will give you superior flavor. With whole seeds you can also toast them before grinding, introducing a heightened flavor profile.

Following are my five most-used mixes. Recipes utilizing all of these will be coming up soon.

– Joan, 3 January 2020



  • img_21681 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon summer savory leaves
  • 1½ teaspoons culinary lavender buds
  • ¾ teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
  • ¾ teaspoon dried basil, oregano, sage, or fennel – optional



  • 1 teaspoon ground cuminimg_2170
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground fennel
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

This is a mix that really benefits from buying whole seeds and grinding them yourself – cumin, coriander, allspice, fennel, and cloves.


  • 1 tablespoon ground allspiceimg_2173-e1578074406303.jpg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper



  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon granulated garlic
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper powder


  • 3 tablespoons chili powderimg_2169
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • ½ tablespoon ground coriander
  • ½ tablespoon kosher salt


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