Thursday, May 31, 2012
HOW TO GET ALL OF YOUR SPICES ON A BUDGET
It’s spring. You’re convinced that this year you will be doing more cooking. Maybe you’ve seen a few different websites with delicious food and said to yourself “I’m totally going to make that.” But then you read the ingredients… “I don’t have that much ginger?!!?” you say. And I’ve been there. When I first moved to the city, I got super bummed that all the recipes I wanted to try had these foreign ingredients that cost an arm and a leg. The last thing you want to be doing is spending $5 on a jar of cardamom so you can make one dish that appealed to you on some random photo/cooking blog. But I have a solution. In order to make cooking easier, you need the right tools and the right ingredients. And yes, justifying a $7 bottle of organic molasses is sometimes hard to do. But ALL of your spices can be purchased and kept safely for under $20. AND THAT’S FOR EVERYTHING. Read on. Spices have a shelf life of 6 months (to a year, max) before they start to lose their flavor. So for the most part, you really don’t need an entire jar of anything. Especially those ‘rare’ spices you use once every month or so. You also don’t need $3 glass jars with a fancy spice rack in all cases. Why not just get very basic containers? You can upgrade later if you really want to. So here’s how it works. Let’s start with Storage. I know this place in China Town called Tap Phong. They sell cooking supplies for restaurants and it is ridiculously cheap. Look for the equivalent store in your city, because it definitely exists. Otherwise hit the Dollar Store. In this store, you will find small plastic containers (like Tupperware but much smaller). The cheapest I found were 0.65¢ each. So 15 containers cost me under $10. Next Stop, the spice store in the market. Let me just stop you here. Do not go to the grocery store. Do not hit the local convenience store or even the fancy, overpriced Health Food Store. You want the legit spice store with the big giant bulk bins. Where YOU choose how much you take. Prepackaged spices are a rip-off. The next part is where I’m here to help. Chances are, unless you prepare Asian recipes from scratch on a regular basis, you will not need much Chinese 5 Spice. It also goes for Poultry Seasoning (the spice that makes things taste like Thanksgiving), or Cloves, Chili, Cardamom, etc etc. So let’s not go wild here, okay? It’s not like you can’t whip back down ANY DAY and pickup a couple cents (literally) worth of fennel if needed. So go grab half of half a spoon (or less!!) of some of the following spices: Should Have: Garlic Powder Oregano Basil Paprika Cumin Onion Powder Poultry Spice Bay Leaf Turmeric Salt Pepper (Whole Peppercorn if you have a grinder) Cayenne Thyme Rosemary Cinnamon Can Have: Mustard Seed (ground) Curry Powder Chinese 5 spice Tarragon Chili Powder Sage Nutmeg Parsley Dill Celery Seed Arrowroot (although great for thickening sauces) Ground Ginger Cloves Nutritional Yeast Now remember, you do not need to go overboard. You likely won’t have a recipe that calls for more than a tablespoon or two of ANY of these spices at one time. And don’t feel bad just grabbing a tablespoon or two of any weird spice if you just want to try it for one recipe. After all, it’s about experimenting, but $5 on Celery Seed does not make sense. Grab a healthy portion of the spices that you see in a lot of recipes. For example, I use a lot of Paprika and Cumin, so I buy more of that stuff. Then go home and pour your new array of spices into those containers (I’d suggest washing and drying them first). Label with a black permanent marker and stack! This is your first spice rack. And now when you see those potentially intimidating recipes online, you don’t have to be worried. You’ve got this.