It only takes one look at any of my recipes, and it’s clear just how much I love using a variety of spices. Spices add complexity to a dish, giving it levels of flavor that are exciting to both the person creating it and the person eating it. By combining particular herbs and spices, we can make blends for ethnic dishes with specific flavor profiles.
I used to buy a lot of jarred spice blends. It was easy and convenient; after all, some blends have over a dozen different spices in them. The better I got at cooking, however, the more I bought a large variety of different spices and learned how to combine them for the best flavor. Then it made much more sense to make my spice blends and even foods like curry paste and chili sauce. It’s easier than you think. Here’s how to make your spice blends and condiments and add personal flavor to your dishes.
Why Make Your Blends
Even though store-bought spice blends and pastes are convenient, they have their downsides. Firstly, you might not like all the spices in the pre-made blends. Some people can’t stand cilantro or maybe the blend is way too spicy for you. When you make your own, you choose what goes in the blend and what doesn’t. You choose how spicy to make it.
Secondly, ever read the label of a spice blend and it says “spices” on the label but doesn’t specify what those spices are? That’s so frustrating. The blends might contain a lot of salt or additives. When I make my blends, I decide how much salt, if any, goes into them.
A third benefit to making your own is that you can make exactly the amount you need. Maybe you need a jerk blend for a dish but it’s not something you’ll make often. Why buy a whole jar that will collect dust on your shelf when you can make what you need for just that recipe and save money?
Lastly, homemade spice blends make beautiful gifts if you put them in pretty jars with personalized labels. Now that you know all the reasons to make your own, here are the recipes for some popular blends and pastes.
Berbere is a popular spice used in Ethiopia and other eastern African countries. It is an all-purpose spice mix that is used in soups, stews, vegetables, and all types of dishes. Berbere is a warm spice blend with a chile base. It combines sweet, bitter, and spicy tastes.
To make 1/2 cup of Berbere, combine 2 tablespoons chile powder, 4 teaspoons paprika, 4 teaspoons ground coriander, 4 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon black pepper, ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon ground allspice. Use your new blend to make this BBQ Berbere Portobello Comfort Bake.
2. Cajun Seasoning
You don’t have to live in Louisiana to enjoy the zesty flavors of Cajun seasoning with all its peppers and cayenne; To make ½ cup of Cajun seasoning mix, combine 1 tablespoon of each cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and paprika, 2 teaspoons each onion powder, dried thyme, dried oregano, and black pepper. Add salt to taste. Use this mix to make this Easy Cajun Jambalaya, Vegan Cajun Breakfast Burrito, and this Cajun Tofu with Dirty Quinoa.
3. Chinese 5-Spice
Chinese 5-Spice is a staple in Chinese cooking, and there are different varieties, but the most common blend includes star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and Szechuan peppers. The aroma is heavenly with the star anise dominating the scent as well as the taste.
To make ½ cup of Chinese 5-Spice, combine 4 teaspoons each of ground cinnamon, ground star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel seed, and ground cloves. Use this blend in these Hoisin Black Bean Burgers with Spicy Sesame Sauce and Chinese 5-Spice Potato Latkes with Plum Hoisin Dipping Sauce. Add it to condiments such as ketchup to give them an Asian twist.
4. Jerk Seasoning
Jerk seasoning is a Jamaican blend that is usually used in dry rubs and wet marinades to cook spicy dishes. The key ingredients in jerk spice blends are allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers though red chile flakes can be used instead of fresh peppers. The recipes can vary, but the blend always has a mix of warm, spicy, and sweet flavors.
To make approximately ½ cup Jerk seasoning, combine 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons ground allspice, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 2 teaspoons paprika, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 2 teaspoons onion powder, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon red chile flakes, ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, and ¼ teaspoon ground cloves. Use this blend to make my Jerk Tofu and these Caribbean Jerk Millet Burgers With Pineapple Guacamole.
5. Garam Masala
Garam Masala is also a blend of spices from India. Garam means “hot” and masala means “spice blend.” Garam Masala is beautifully aromatic with the scent of toasted warm spices. Different regions use different blends and in Indian households, garam masala is considered a very personal recipe. Common spices used to make garam masala include coriander, cumin, cardamom, mustard seeds, bay leaves, fennel, fenugreek, black peppercorns, cloves, mace, and cinnamon.
To make ½ cup of a simple garam masala, combine 2 tablespoons ground cumin, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 tablespoon ground cardamom, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Or try this recipe for Ayurvedic Garam Masala and use it when you make these Indian Tikka Masala Pizzas.
6. Poultry Seasoning
Here’s the thing about poultry seasoning – there’s no poultry in it. It’s not like chicken broth that has chicken in it. Poultry seasoning is just the blend of herbs and spices usually used in chicken recipes. It’s a good blend to make when you veganize your favorite chicken dishes like this Vegan Fried “Chicken” or Rosemary Chicklins and Dumplins Stew.
To make ½ cup of poultry seasoning, combine 2 tablespoons of ground sage, 2 tablespoons of ground thyme, 4 teaspoons of ground marjoram, 2 teaspoons each ground rosemary, celery seed, ground allspice, and black pepper.
7. Pumpkin Pie Spice
Pumpkin pie spice should be the official aroma of autumn but you can use it all year long. The spices that go into this blend – cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves – are regular ingredients in many dessert recipes. Why measure out those tiny pinches and dashes of these warm, autumn spices when you can just add a spoon of the blend to your recipes?
To make ½ cup of pumpkin pie spice blend, combine ¼ cup ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoons ground ginger, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground allspice, and 1 teaspoon ground cloves. Use your new blend to make these 12 Recipes to Savor the Flavor and Aroma of Pumpkin Pie Spices.
Za’atar is a blend that has a history going back to ancient Egypt. It’s smoky, earthy, and tangy and while the recipe varies regionally, it generally has dried thyme (in fact, the word “za’atar” means thyme), oregano, marjoram, salt, and toasted sesame seeds. Some blends also contain sumac or other spices.
To make ½ cup of za’atar, combine 2 tablespoons each dried oregano, dried thyme, ground cumin, sumac, and toasted sesame seeds. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use your za’atar blend to make this Za’atar Roasted Chickpea Salad.
9. Thai Chili Sauce
I often have trouble finding spicy chile sauce at my local market. That led me to make my own, and it was much easier than I thought. Not to mention, I love the feeling of self-sufficiency I get when I know I’m not dependent on the store for ingredients. Homemade chile sauce tastes even better than store-bought. I use chile sauce in tons of recipes including lots of Chinese dishes and my Braised Seitan Short Ribs in Spicy Chile Sauce.
To make your spicy chile sauce, combine 15 oz. of tomato sauce, ¼ cup tomato paste, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup brown sugar, 2 chopped jalapeno peppers (or whatever peppers you like), a teaspoon of garlic powder, and chile powder, ½ teaspoon each of dry mustard and onion powder, ¼ teaspoon of allspice and 2 tablespoons of vegan Worcestershire sauce in a food processor. If you want it extra spicy, you can add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Process until smooth, taste for seasoning adjustments, and keep in a jar in the fridge.
10. Thai Curry Paste
Another blend that is good to know how to make yourself is the Thai curry paste. If you buy jarred curry paste in stores, you have to read the labels carefully because most of them have fish sauce, shrimp paste, or other non-vegan ingredients.
To make your red curry paste, toast 1 tablespoon cumin seeds and 2 teaspoons coriander seeds for a few minutes until darkened and fragrant. Then combine with ½ teaspoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon cilantro stems, 5 rehydrated red chili peppers, 4 garlic cloves, 3 tablespoons lemongrass, 1 minced shallot, 1 ½ tablespoon fresh grated galangal or ginger, the zest of 2 Kefir limes, and salt to taste. Blend it all into a smooth paste.
Use your paste to make this Super Quick Thai Curry or this Red Lentil Curry With Black Tahini and Roasted Cashews. You can also learn to make your yellow curry paste as in this Thai Yellow Curry With Seitan and Potatoes.
Convenience is great, but self-sufficiency tastes even better. Once you start making your spice blends, sauces, and pastes, you’ll never go back to buying them.
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