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Homemade Spice Blends

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 dish 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.

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Here's one specific recipe for an all-purpose spice blend for adding at the stove or on the table.

Sans-Salt Spice Blend
Don't be daunted by the list of ingredients. Use just a few of your favorite spices and substitute freely to create this all-purpose blend. Simply mix spices together:

2 tablespoons dried parsley
3 teaspoons ground, toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried chervil
1 teaspoon dried savory
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, coarse grind
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Other good possibilities for an all-purpose seasoning include: bay leaf, chili peppers, chives, cloves, coriander, cumin, lemon peel, mustard powder, oregano, rosemary, sage, and tarragon. If you're open to salt, add the appropriate amount of sea salt, too.

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Popular Spice Blends

Here's a rundown of some popular spice blends and their ingredient possibilities. Keep in mind that there's no one "right" recipe for any of these. We're offering a list of just some of the possible spices for each blend -- experiment to see which of those listed you most enjoy (and in what ratios). Cooks all over the world create their own blends to perfectly suit their culinary creations. This is your invitation to do the same!

Adobo Seasoning (Latin America)

adobo seasoning"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, 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, nutmeg

Barbecue Seasoning

barbecue seasoningShake 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, 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, 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, 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, thyme

Cajun Seasoning

cajun seasoningA 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, 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, 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, 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, ground turmeric

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