Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Essential Herbs and Spices to always have in the kitchen

Those new to cooking or trying to expand their culinary basics might want to keep a stock of key herbs and spices to always have on hand for kitchen creations. The list of essential ingredients will vary in every household as everyone has their favorite dishes to prepare whether it is Czech recipes accented with dill or Mexican recipes accentuated with cayenne pepper and cumin. I put together a list of some essential spices and herbs found in my kitchen. I have more items than what is on this list. I just find this list to be my guide to those items that should never be depleted.
I also highly recommend (when applicable) to use fresh herbs over the dried version. If you are a gardener, try and plant or grow herbs for easy access in the summer. For the rest of the season, your options are to use dried or prepare to spend some extra money on fresh herbs imported from the warmer climates.

No shocker here. Whether baking or cooking most dishes include sodium for flavor. I have three forms of salt on hand in my pantry. I use table or iodized salt for baking and kosher salt for cooking and roasting. I also use sea salt for brining meats.

Black Pepper
As salt is mentioned first, I find it necessary to list pepper. Invest your money in a peppermill and purchase peppercorns. Fresh ground pepper is the way to go. Forget the McCormick ground pepper in the small can. The taste does not compare to grinding it yourself.

Always opt for the fresh garlic bulbs first. Fresh garlic always seems to make the dish stand out better than reaching for the powder or salt versions. A bulb of garlic is quite cheap and will last you a week or two depending on your frequency of grilling and sautéing. The smell of garlic sweating in a pan of olive oil or butter is fantastic.

This one is not used too much in my Czech recipes. I do use oregano frequently when preparing Italian and Greek cuisine. I usually keep a small bottle of dried oregano on hand for homemade pizzas as well.

This Mediterranean herb is very common in the summer when preparing bruschetta, margarita pizzas and host of other fun backyard cookouts. Fresh basil complements tomato dishes very well and it is recommended to use this herb when fresh. Even when I desire the use of basil in the winter, I will spend a few bucks to get some live herbs as the dried version simply does not cut it.


These herbs that resemble pine needles are a good starter for roasts, sauces, and marinades. I like the strong scent of rosemary and also prefer the fresh variety in the summer. I also keep the dried jar of rosemary on hand for winter beef roasts and lamb au jus. This is another staple to cooking Italian and Greek dishes.

Paprika is an excellent flavor enhancement to eastern European cuisine. If you don’t believe me, try my chicken paprika recipe found on this site. This pepper derivative also provides rich red color to sauces that go well with dumplings and potatoes.

Bay Leaves
Keep a bottle of dried bay leaf on hand for making stews, soups, sauces, and rice dishes. Bay leaf is also very common when preparing seafood dishes and complements shellfish very well. There are a number of shrimp recipes that contain bay leaf as a key ingredient.


I like to keep parsley flakes on hand for preparing stews, soups, and sauces. Try to plant parsley in the annual summer garden or purchase fresh when the prices are reasonable.


This is one of my favorite and most used items when baking or making sweet baked breakfast breads and coffee cakes. Cinnamon is used frequently in our households as we include it with rice pudding, bread pudding, cakes, French toasts, German apple pancakes, and a host of other delicious items that make the whole home smell wonderful. If money is no option, go with the cinnamon sticks as these can either be manually ground for baking needs or create a fun twirler for hot apple cider or coffee cordials.

Vanilla Bean

I usually have extract on hand for home baking needs. The vanilla beans are very expensive but prove far superior to extract when it comes to providing fresh flavor to creams and desserts.

There is my list. As I mentioned before, your list might have other items such as mustard, ginger, spearmint, nutmeg, or marjoram. I hold strong to these items and try and use fresh variety if and whenever possible.

No comments: