Back to Basics: Pantry Staples – DIY Spice Mixes

Now we’ve been dealing with the Virus That Shall Not Be Named for several months now, I feel like I may be somewhat late to the table with this advice. However, I feel that in this new year there may be a few people still out there who have decided the drive-through and Uber Eats Lyfe is no longer for them, and want to do more home-based cooking…but maybe don’t know where to start.

I’ve compiled a list and will be discussing, one by one, many of the widely available, basic pantry staples in the standard North American and European diet that will help you create a meal out of almost anything (within reason), some instructions on how to cook certain items, and links to my favourite recipes to get you started. Please see my other posts in the Back to Basics category for more recipes and meal ideas.

DIY Spice Mixes and Seasonings

There’s nothing like being able to make a delicious meal by reaching into your cupboard at a moment’s notice for just the right thing to personalize and elevate your food. Self-sustainability is important, as is knowing where your food ingredients come from. Making your own spice blends, whether they be sweet or savoury, are a step in the right direction and thoroughly within your control, more so than you may realize.

Here are a dozen DIY spice blends that you can put together in a matter of minutes, to either stock in your own pantry or give away as gifts. Given proper protection from heat, light, oxygen, and humidity, these spice blends can often last a year or more, though there are some exceptions I’ve noted below. I highly recommend investing in some small mason jars with good lids, and a package of oxygen absorbers (those little silica gel packets you see in food to keep humidity and oxygen away and minimize spoilage due to mould and bacteria growth).

Each of the spice mixes below can easily be customized to your preference for spiciness, sweetness, saltiness, “herbaceousness”, or specific elements you prefer or don’t prefer. The mixes below make relatively small amounts, but are completely scalable. Pro-tip: try making the standardized recipe below, see how you like it, and your next go-round, customize and make larger amounts with your own special touches. I’ve noted below where other options to add or subtract may be worth trying.

1-Taco Seasoning:

  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp each: chili powder, sweet paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, finely ground black pepper (other good additions/substitutions: hot or smoked paprika, crushed coriander seeds, crushed red pepper flakes)
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch (to prevent clumping)

Note: use 2 tsp per pound of meat.

2-Seasoning Salt

  • 2 tbsp each: kosher salt, sweet paprika, black pepper
  • 1 tsp each: onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried thyme, granulated sugar (other good additions/substitutions: hot or smoked paprika, dried parsley, turmeric)
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch (to prevent clumping)

3-Steak Seasoning

.
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp each: granulated garlic, minced dried onion (can substitute with onion and garlic powders)
  • 1 tsp each: dry mustard, crushed red pepper flakes, dried crushed rosemary

4-Lemon Pepper

  • 2 tbsp lemon zest (3-4 lemons), dried in a toaster oven on lowest setting or dehydrator until completely dry
  • 2 tbsp finely cracked peppercorns (can use all sorts of different kinds of peppercorns such as pink, black, white, or a medley)
  • 1 tbsp pink Himalayan salt, sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 tsp dried chives or scallions
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic (other good additions/substitutions are allspice and/or crushed coriander seeds)

Note: Great on fish, chicken, and steamed or roasted vegetables. For this recipe I highly recommend the oxygen absorbers, and to keep away from heat and light; the lemon zest is fragile and will lose colour and flavour rapidly, so try to use it up within a few months.

5-BBQ Spice Rub (for pork or chicken)

  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1-1/2 tbsp coarsely cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbsp each: kosher salt, chili powder, dried mustard, light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp each: granulated garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, dried minced onion

Method: Rub directly onto all sides of a rack of pork ribs or skin on, bone in chicken parts and allow to rest on a metal rack over a sheet pan in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 1 hour up to overnight to dry the outer skin and allow for maximum penetration. Smoke or cook over medium flame or medium oven heat in order to not burn the outside before the inside is cooked to your taste. See: Back to Basics: Marinades, Sauces, Brines and Rubs for more information on how rubs help impart flavour to your meats.

6-BBQ Spice Rub (for beef)

  • 3 tbsp coarsely cracked black pepper
  • 2 tbsp each: garlic and onion powder
  • 1 tbsp each: granulated sugar, smoked paprika and chili powder (other good substitutions: crushed dried chipotle or ancho chilis)
  • 1 tsp each: kosher salt, mustard powder and cayenne

Method: Rub directly onto all sides of a roast or beef ribs and allow to rest on a metal rack over a sheet pan in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 1 hour up to overnight to allow maximum penetration. Smoke or cook over medium flame or medium oven heat in order to not burn the outside before the inside is cooked to your taste. See: Back to Basics: Marinades, Sauces, Brines and Rubs for more information on how rubs help impart flavour to your meats.

Greek Dry Rub

  • 3 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp each: dried basil, garlic and onion powder
  • 1 tbsp each: dill weed and kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tsp each: cracked black pepper and thyme
  • 3/4 tsp each: ground cinnamon and nutmeg

Method: Rub directly onto all sides of a steak, pork chops, or chicken pieces and and allow to rest on a metal rack over a sheet pan in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 1 hour up to overnight to allow maximum penetration.

8-Jerk Seasoning (for pork, chicken or salmon)

  • 2 tbsp each: allspice, cumin, light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp each: dried sage and thyme
  • 1 tsp each: nutmeg, allspice and salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Dried zest of 1 lime

9-Poultry Seasoning

  • 2 tbsp each: dried sage and thyme
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt and white pepper

10-Indian Curry Seasoning

  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp each: dried thyme leaves and cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp each: cracked peppercorns, ground cardamom, cloves and nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or dried chilis (use paprika for a milder version)
  • Optional additions: granulated garlic, caraway, fennel seeds, mustard seeds
  • If you can find it: 1/8-1/4 tsp of any of the following – dried curry leaves, asafoetida/hing, fenugreek

Method: Grind all spices together in a spice grinder until a smooth powder. Store in sealed jars away from oxygen, heat and light for 3 to 6 months. To use: entirely to taste; start with 1 tsp and go up from there. For more information about the origin of Indian curry and how to use it, view website Escoffier online.

11-Pumpkin Pie Spice

  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp each: ground allspice, nutmeg, ginger, star anise and mace
  • 1/8 tsp cloves

Makes one pie.

12-Apple Pie Spice

  • 1 tbsp each: vanilla sugar and cinnamon
  • 1 tsp each: allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom

Makes one pie.

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