If you’ve been following my recipes you would know that I like to spice things up. Adding a touch of the right spice or spices to a dish can make a world of difference, in this post I’m going to go through some essential spices to have in your kitchen along with the tools you need to manipulate them. One general rule of thumb before we proceed: Freshly ground or grated spices always taste better than the powdered version so always opt for whole spices instead of the powdered version if they are available.
A little nutmeg goes along way. Always use sparingly because too much nutmeg can be overpowering in any dish. It is the quintessential caribbean spice found in sweetbread, cakes, porridge and more. Just remember to crack the outer shell to expose the actual nut before attempting use in your recipes.
If you talking curry then geera is a must. Whether you making geera pork, geera neck or curry duck, toasting or roasting geera is a necessary spice in the preparation of all these dishes. I cannot make dhal without toasting geera.
Coriander seeds are essential when making masala spice blends, you could just buy masala powder in the supermarket but trust me, if you toast coriander seeds yourself and that aroma fills up your kitchen, you will never buy another pack of pre-blended masala. Once you go fresh you will never go back.
Methi or Fenugreek is a lesser known spice to many but an essential spice for curry blends. When lightly toasted it gives off a warm nutty flavor.
I like experimenting with mustard seeds in recipes that you might traditionally use regular mustard. So I would make a honey mustard aioli or a spice rub for meat using ground mustard seeds.
Black peppercorns are as essential as salt. There is no comparison between freshly ground black pepper and black pepper powder. Again, once you go fresh you will never go back.
Paprika is just one of those spices that brings a dish to life, whether you doing a dry rub for meats or looking to spice up some cheese paste. Paprika is a must.
Some may argue that dried chilies not essential when you could just cut up a scotch bonnet pepper. But there is something unique about the flavor and the heat you get from dried chili flakes that works well in so many dishes. It is very versatile as you can use it to make dhal or as a condiment for pizza.
Turmeric, also known as Saffron here in Trinidad & Tobago is the quintessential spice in almost any curry blend. And before you get up in arms in the comment section again about how turmeric is not saffron, saffron is the hindi word that refers to the warm yellow color of the turmeric spice, hence the reason we call it saffron which is not to be confused with the saffron threads from Crocus sativus. You can use the root to get the fresh flavor but be warned, it stains EVERYTHING.
Last but by no means least, as a matter of fact if I had to rank these spices by how much I use them when cooking then bay leaf would be first on the list. For me, bay leaf is the spice that embodies the essence of caribbean cooking. Adding bay leaf to a dish just feels like you paying homage to all Caribbean grandmothers and that could never be a bad thing.
To transform these whole spices into powdered forms you need special tools. A mortar and pestle is an essential kitchen tool for anyone who serious about cooking the stone version is great for making garlic and ginger paste as well so its multipurpose.
A wooden mortar and pestle works well for grinding spices but it isn’t great for mashing other ingredients into a paste. Since I was small i’ve been calling that small handheld greater a spice grater because I knew in my house, that was the grater used for nutmeg and cinnamon when my mother or grandmother was making sweetbread and cakes. But I learned while making this video that the proper name for it is Rasp Grater or a Rasp. You learn something new everyday. A coffee grinder is alsoan essential tool for grinding spices. If you really want to get them in a non-grainy, fine powder form then a coffee grinder is your best friend.
So these are my go-to spices that you would typically see me use in different recipes. For those of your who may not be familiar with some of these spices, I urge you to get your hands on them and experiment. Smell them, taste them, use them individually or combine them to create your own signature blends. If you enjoy cooking and experimenting in the kitchen you will be inspired to do more with the right spices and tools at your disposal.