Building Your Pantry ~ Five Essential Herbs and Spices
by Alisa Rose P.
Herbs are an easy and essential way to bring excitement and interest to any dish. They are aromatic and delicious, they run from sweet, warm flavors, to spicy and savory. Herbs have been used the world round by many cultures both for the flavor as well as their medicinal and magical properties, according to each tradition. Dried herbs and seasonings are still an essential part of any kitchen and healthy home, bringing flavor both to our food and to our lives. These five herbs are what I have found to be the five most useful, diverse and are a good place to start building your pantry.
I don’t know many people, if any, who don’t love a dash of cinnamon in their cookies, on their toast, over their cereal, swirled in their coffee… It’s warm and sweet flavors add a lingering warmth to desserts and mellow smoothness to savory stews and casseroles. Cinnamon hails from Bangladesh originally and is said to inspire motivation, clarity and comfort, as well as strengthen bonds between family and friends. Cinnamon also boosts your metabolism, helps with digestion and can help alleviate small headaches.
Rosemary’s bright flavors and distinct aroma makes any heavy dish come to life, bringing it out of the muddy mire of flat flavors. I prefer fresh Rosemary, which I have grown at every studio, apartment and house I have lived in. All it takes is a small sprig. Strip the green leaves and chop or add whole. Rosemary is said to offer protection and healing, along with clarity and focus. It also can relieve headaches, reduce swelling, improve memory and is naturally anti-bacterial. Rosemary can first be seen in archaeological records as growing in Asia and the Mediterranean, but has been internationally prolific for centuries and become a cornerstone in many recipes.
The peppy and almost spicy flavors of ginger can brighten up and add a fresh kick to both savory and sweet foods. Ginger, both fresh or powdered, can be added to a salad dressing, sprinkled onto stir-fry, blended in a smoothie, or brewed into tea for a pleasant zing. Indigenous to Asia, ginger is said to empower and bring good luck to those who eat it. Ginger also eases nausea and cramps, prevents colds, can boost the metabolism and is, apparently, an aphrodisiac.
The rich and full flavors of cumin add depth and punch to any savory dish. Whether as whole seed or in powder, cumin is diverse and fills any flavor “gaps” you might have in your food. Which, is probably why it was so popular in Mediterranean trading routes in ancient times, as it is native to Egypt, and still remains a common element in the kitchen. Cumin also tastes great sprinkled on fruit, believe it or not, and dashed into drinks like Margarita’s, Orange Juice or Watermelon Slush. Cumin is said to boost loyalty and bonds in personal relationships, offer positive energy to a home and help release negativity. Cumin also is rich in iron and helps in liver detoxification.
Roasted, raw, powdered, sauteed or ground. I have never had a dish that I regretted adding garlic to. Garlics mild spice, rich tones and smooth warmth makes every meal flavorful and cravably perfect. While Garlic’s early ancestors grew in Central Asia originally, it has long been prolific throughout the Western world and become a staple for many culinary traditions. Garlic is said to offer intense protection, healing and inspire romance. Garlic tablets can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, prevents skin from wrinkling, and keeps mosquitos from biting.
NOTE: I did not include Salt and Pepper, as these are counter top basics and seemed too obvious…. I also avoided my spicy essentials like chili flakes, allspice and chipotle powder for those who are less inclined. That’ll be a separate post perhaps 😉
So, tell me, what are you pantry essentials?