If you’re a keen cook or baker, chances are you’ll already have discovered the delights – and the importance – of herbs and spices. Aromatic, warm and earthy, they often form an essential part of a dish, or act as subtle ‘secret ingredients’ that can’t be left out.
But what if you’re just starting out, or setting up your own kitchen for the first time? Or giving your spice shelf a revamp? Which spices should you start with? We take a look at 5 herbs and spices that should be in every kitchen cupboard, and what to do with them.
Cinnamon is a warm, sweet spice which comes from the bark of a tree. The bark is dried and rolled up into cinnamon sticks, which can be used whole to flavour custards, stews and desserts, or ground into a powder, which is more commonly used in baking. Cinnamon is heavenly alongside apples, pears and plums; it brings a sweet, complex flavour to crumbles and stewed fruit dishes. Try adding a pinch of ground cinnamon to your pancake mix or crumble topping to give classic recipes a twist.
Although cumin is used all over the world, it is most popular in Indian cooking – India is the world’s biggest consumer of this earthy, pungent spice. Cumin is an essential spice in curries, flatbreads such as roti and naan and Indian side dishes such as samosas. Ground cumin loses its flavour quickly, so it’s better to use whole cumin seeds, which are widely available. Dry roast them lightly in a frying pan until they begin to release their spicy aroma, then grind them in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder. They’ll make your kitchen smell unbelievable!
Basil is one of the most versatile and widely-used herbs in the kitchen. It goes perfectly with classic Italian ingredients such as tomatoes, olive oil and mozzarella cheese. If your kitchen is sunny, a pot of fresh basil will grow well on your windowsill during the warmer months; the rest of the year, dried basil makes for a good alternative. Try stirring a teaspoon of dried basil into chilli, or sprinkling over a Mediterranean puff-pastry tart.
A staple in Italian and Greek cooking, oregano is a dream partner for tomatoes, lamb, aubergines and goats’ cheese. A pinch of oregano can work wonders in a tomato sauce, giving it the authentic, sun-filled flavour that characterises Mediterranean cuisine. If you’re using dried oregano in a recipe instead of fresh, you’ll need to roughly halve the quantity – dried oregano has a particularly strong (and tasty!) flavour.
Rosemary has made its name in Britain as a classic winter herb. It’s also one of the herbs which keeps its flavour best when dried, so you don’t need to grow your own to experience its aromatic flavour. Dried rosemary can be a bit spiky, so it needs to be crushed a little before adding to soups and stews. Try sprinkling potatoes with chopped rosemary, plenty of cracked black pepper and sea salt before roasting them, or using the sprigs whole in focaccia, an Italian oven-baked bread.
If you’re feeling inspired, and want to rush out and buy them all at once, our Cole and Mason Carousel Herb and Spice Sets come pre-filled with all these – and more! Or if your spice shelf needs organising, coming soon the beautifully designed pre-filled Cole & Mason Oldbury Walnut Stained Beech Salt & Pepper Mill Gift Set.