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Making Your Own Blends

Making Your Own Blends

Building spice blends is very easy to do. In fact, you don't even have to measure ingredients! Simply mix an array of spices and you're good to go. Here are some ideas and guidelines to help you get started.

Aromatic, colorful, and rich with melded flavors, spice blends have an air of mystery about them. Despite the intrigue, though, making your own spice blends is pretty straightforward and an easy way to indulge your creativity in the kitchen.

The possibilities are endless, of course. You can make specific blends for ethnic dishes, like curries and jambalaya. Or you can concoct your own blends for enlivening everyday fare like mac and cheese or that side veggie. Consider developing your own blends for grilled foods, beverages, pizzas, stuffings, soups and stews, pies, cookies, popcorn, even toast.

The ability to personalize each dish is a big plus. Do you find most pre-made chili powders too tame? Or do you avoid garam masala altogether because it's always just too fiery? By blending your own spices, you can adjust each seasoning to suit your preferences for heat, smokiness and sweetness. You can create blends that are light on salt (or salt-free) and blends that include a spice you're interested in adding to your diet. You might even include one favorite spice in most every blend, as your signature.

Building spice blends is very easy to do. In fact, you don't even have to measure ingredients (unless you want to keep track of things so you can exactly replicate your blends later). Simply mix -- and in many cases crush -- an array of spices and you're good to go.

Adobo Seasoning (Latin America)

"Adobo" is Spanish for "sauce" or "marinade," and you'll find it in Southwestern and Latin American dishes. Grind the ingredients together and use to season meats, poultry, fish, beans and grains. Or make a traditional adobo paste by combining the dried spices with tomatoes, vinegar and sugar.

Ingredient possibilities: bay leaf, black pepper, cayenne, cumin, garlic, onion powder, oregano, paprika, sea salt, and turmeric

Apple Pie Blend

Use for an array of apple and other fruit desserts and baked goods.

Ingredient possibilities: cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, lemon peel and nutmeg

Barbecue Seasoning

Shake on meats, poultry, tofu, and fish at the grill, or add to other sauces and condiments (like catsup).

Ingredient possibilities: black pepper, cayenne, chili peppers, cumin, garlic, nutmeg, onion, paprika

Bay Spice Blend

Originally used to season crabs on the Chesapeake Bay, Bay Spice Blend (also known as Old Bay) is good for all kinds of seafood as well as poultry and potato and egg dishes.

Ingredient possibilities: allspice, bay leaves, black pepper, cardamom, cayenne, celery salt, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, mustard powder and paprika

Berbere Spice (Ethiopia)

This rich spice is traditionally used to flavor many African recipes, such as meat stews, chicken, vegetables, and lentils.

Ingredient possibilities: allspice berries, black peppercorns, cardamom, chili peppers, cinnamon sticks, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin, fenugreek, ginger (ground), green cardamom seeds, paprika, sea salt and turmeric

Bombay Vegetable Blend (India)

Traditionally used in lentil and vegetable stews, this mix is also delicious as a rub for grilled poultry.

Ingredient possibilities: bay leaves, black pepper, cayenne, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin seeds, fennel, fenugreek and sea salt

Bouquet Garni (France)

Actually a bundle of herbs, a bouquet garni can be made with any seasonings at all, though some are customary. Use cheesecloth or a large tea ball for easy removal from your soup or stock.

Ingredient possibilities: basil, bay leaf, black peppercorns, chervil, oregano, rosemary, savory, tarragon and thyme

Cajun Seasoning

A key ingredient in gumbo and other Cajun and Creole dishes, you can also use this blend as a rub for fish or meat or sprinkled on vegetables, grains and salads.

Ingredient possibilities: basil, bay leaf, black pepper, cayenne, chili powder, cumin, fennel, garlic, marjoram, mustard seeds, nutmeg, onion powder, oregano, paprika, parsley, sea salt, thyme and parsley

Chili Powder

A staple blend for Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, make this as potent or tame as you prefer by varying the amount and heat of the chilies you include.

Ingredient possibilities: allspice, chili peppers, cloves, coriander, cumin, garlic, onion, oregano and paprika

Creole Seasoning (New Orleans)

Use in bean and grain dishes, on tomatoes, with fish, meat (especially blackened dishes), gumbo and jambalaya.

Ingredient possibilities: black pepper, cayenne, chili peppers, fennel, lemon peel, garlic, onion, oregano, paprika, sage, sea salt, thyme and white pepper

Curry Powder (India)

Most Indian cooks stir up their spice blends as needed to suit each dish. Some curry powders contain dozens of spices (all ground together), but don't panic, a few will do! Curry spices are best when heated, so sauté them a bit before adding to any dish that's not going to be cooked.

Ingredient possibilities: bay leaf, black mustard seeds, black peppercorns, cardamom, cayenne, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seed, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, ground ginger, mace, nutmeg, paprika, sea salt and turmeric

Fajita Seasoning

Add this blend to your fajita ingredients (vegetables and/or chicken or beef) as you sauté them.

Ingredient possibilities: black pepper, cayenne, chili peppers, coriander, cumin, dehydrated vegetables, garlic, onion, oregano, paprika, parsley, sea salt, black pepper

Fines Herbs

Indispensable in the French kitchen, this blend is especially delicious in soups, poultry and egg dishes.

Ingredient possibilities: basil, chervil, chives, marjoram, parsley, tarragon

Five Spice Powder (China)

Five ingredients -- sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty -- in roughly equal proportions create a balanced blend that's used to flavor meat and poultry dishes. It partners well with soy sauce for marinades, too.

Ingredient possibilities: cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, white or black pepper

Garam Masala (India)

Warm and hearty, the spices for this blend are traditionally toasted, cooled, and then ground into a powder.

Ingredient possibilities: allspice, bay leaf, black peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cayenne, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, cloves, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, ginger, mace, nutmeg, turmeric

Greek Seasoning

Delicious on vegetables, salads, in egg dishes and sauces, and for meat and poultry rubs.

Ingredient possibilities: basil, bell peppers, black pepper, garlic, lemon peel, onion, oregano, paprika, parsley, sesame seeds

Gumbo File Powder

You'll find this distinctive flavor called for in Creole dishes, especially gumbo, of course.

Ingredient possibilities: sassafras leaf, thyme leaf

Herbes de Provence (France)

This delicate blend of herbs is delicious in stews and egg dishes and with fish and meat. Add it to dips and dressings, too.

Ingredient possibilities: basil, chervil, fennel, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme

Italian Seasoning (Italy)

A convenient blend to have on hand, you can tweak this blend specifically for pastas and sauces, pizzas and breads. Add bay leaf, black pepper, garlic, onion, parsley and/or bay leaf to create a special spaghetti seasoning, for example. For pizza, you might go heavy on the oregano and add bell peppers, celery flakes, and onions.

Ingredient possibilities: basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage

Jerk Seasoning (Jamaica)

Jamaican cooks use this blend as a dry rub or marinade for meats. It's also excellent on tofu and seafood.

Ingredient possibilities: allspice, black pepper, cayenne, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, onion, paprika, sea salt, scallions, thyme, tomato powder

Mexican Seasoning

Handy in the kitchen come time for tamales, enchiladas, tacos, and any other Mexican fare. Use it to flavor dips, too.

Ingredient possibilities: bay leaf, cayenne, celery seed, chili peppers, cumin, garlic, onion, oregano, paprika

Mulling Spice

Use to flavor cider and apple juice as well as other juices, wines, and brandies. For easy removal, place the spices in a large tea ball or cheesecloth.

Ingredient possibilities: allspice, cinnamon chips/sticks, cloves, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, orange peel, star anise

Pickling Spice

Pickling spices are used whole. Add them to the brine for pickling cukes -- and just about any other veggie, too.

Ingredient possibilities: allspice berries, bay leaf, black peppercorns, caraway seed, celery seed, chili peppers, cinnamon chips or sticks, cloves, coriander seed, dill seed, dill weed, ginger root, mace, yellow mustard seeds

Poultry Seasoning

Use for stuffings, of course, but also casseroles, sausage, meat loaf, gravies and grains.

Ingredient possibilities: basil, black pepper, cayenne, celery seed, chervil, cloves, garlic, marjoram, onion, parsley, sage, savory, sea salt, tarragon, thyme, white pepper

Pumpkin Pie Spice

Add more cloves for richer color and deeper flavor, more cinnamon for sweetness, or more ginger for kick. Use for top-notch pies, but also cookies, custards, eggnog and cakes.

Ingredient possibilities: allspice, cinnamon, caraway, cloves, coriander, ginger, nutmeg

Sambhar Powder (India)

Traditionally the spices in this blend are sun dried and then ground to a smooth powder. It's used to flavor grains and flatbread as well as stews and lentils.

Ingredient possibilities: black peppercorns, cayenne, chili peppers, cinnamon, coriander, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds

Seafood Blends

Use any of the following spices for creating your own seafood boil blend (for shrimp and crab, for example) or for a full-fledged seafood seasoning for use on the grill or in the oven.

Ingredient possibilities: allspice, bay leaf, black pepper, celery seed, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, dill seed, fennel, garlic, ginger, mustard seed, onion, oregano, rosemary, sage, sea salt, thyme, winter savory

Steak Seasoning

Shake this basic steak seasoning on at the table or before grilling. Or use it as the flavoring for your meat marinade.

Ingredient possibilities: basil, black pepper, chili peppers, garlic, lemon peel, lemon thyme, rosemary, sea salt, white pepper

Thai Seasoning (Thailand)

While Thai food is traditionally a bit spicy/hot, creating your own blend allows you to turn up or down the head. This blend is especially good for seafood, soups, and rice and noodle dishes.

Ingredient possibilities: basil, black pepper, cayenne, cilantro, coriander, garlic, lemon peel, onion, paprika, white pepper

Quatre-Epices (France)

Literally four spices, these are often used in French soups, stews, and vegetable dishes. You'll also find this combination in some Middle Eastern cuisines.

Ingredients: black and/or white peppercorns, cloves, ginger, nutmeg

Panch Phoran or Five-Spice Mix (India)

Indian cooks fry this blend in oil or ghee, causing it to pop or "temper." Then vegetables, lentils, or fish are typically added to the blend. You'll also find it in recipes for stews.

Ingredient possibilities: cumin seed, fennel seed, fenugreek, mustard seed (or celery seed), nigella seed

Ras-el-Hanout (North Africa, Middle East)

Literally the "top of the shop," this blend is meant to be the best of the spices available. There are myriad possible combinations for this blend, and the spices are most often toasted and ground together, then used to flavor grains like couscous and rice.

Ingredient possibilities: allspice, black peppercorns, cardamom, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, galangal, ginger, lavender, mace, nigella, nutmeg, rosebuds, orrisroot, paprika, turmeric

Tapenade (Mediterranean)

These spices are traditionally combined with olive oil for spreading on breads.

Ingredient possibilities: basil, black pepper, capers, chili peppers, dill, fennel, garlic, olives (black and/or green), oregano, tarragon, thyme, tomatoes

Za'atar (Middle East)

Also known as zahtar, this blend is mixed with olive oil and spread on flatbreads. Add it to hummus and vegetable dishes, and use it to make a marinade for poultry.

Ingredients: roasted sesame seeds, sumac, thyme

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