5 Spices and Blends You Should Be Cooking With

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Chicken in Creamy Tomato Curry

Your spice cabinet may be filled with everything you thought you’d ever need, but perhaps it’s time to cook with more than the spices you always reach for. By integrating more exotic and compelling spices into your spice rack, you can work complex layers of flavor into your dishes, whether you’re slow-roasting a rack of lamb, simmering a curry or setting a tray of vegetables in the oven. With just a few pinches (or teaspoons if we’re getting really accurate) of these spices and spice blends, your dishes will be ignited with some serious chef worthy flavor.

Garam Masala

An aromatic blend of ground spices rooted in North Indian and South Asian cuisines, garam masala literally translates to “warm spice mix.” A typical recipe for Garam Masala can include cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns, nutmeg and caraway, but there are many regional variations of this warming mix of spices.

When Aarti Sequeira makes her Chicken Tikka Masala (pictured above), for instance, sauteing the garam masala in the skillet draws out the fragrance of the spice so it’s woven into every layer of the creamy tomato curry. Though you can use it to reproduce some of your Indian takeout favorites, you can also use this warming mix to bring marinades, sautes, meats and more to life.

Zaatar -  middle Eastern  mixture of spices and seasonings

Za’atar

You may have already relished this Middle Eastern spice blend’s nutty, floral notes on olive oil-slathered pita or over a bowl of hummus, perhaps without even knowing it. Though the makeup of this condiment tends to vary throughout the region, you can blend your own za’atar at home.

With a little help from your spice grinder, mix together dried thyme or oregano, powdered sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt, and then store it in an airtight container for up to 2 months. From there, you can rub it on grilled and roasted meats and fish, or sprinkle it atop roasted vegetables like Food Network Magazine’s Roasted Carrots with Za’atar.

Aleppo Pepper

Named after Aleppo, a Syrian city along the Silk Road, Aleppo pepper is used in its dried, crushed form as a condiment in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. Though it comes with a little bit of heat, the spice factor doesn’t overwhelm the raisin-like fruitiness and slight saltiness of this burgundy-hued pepper. Plus, due to its high oil content, it’s deeply fragrant, with a little bit more zest than paprika, though you could use that as a substitute.

Use this vibrant spice to punch up potatoes, fish, soups or even deviled eggs, or follow Marc Murphy’s lead and sprinkle Aleppo pepper over Parmesan- and lime zest-dusted grilled corn.

Faux-toush Salad w Lavash

Sumac

When the fruits of the sumac bush are dried and ground into a deep purple-red powder, you get a spice used frequently in Middle Eastern cuisine that contributes a fruity, almost sour taste. Rubbed into grilled meats or sprinkled over potatoes, hummus, yogurts, salads and more, sumac brings a lemony essence to everything it touches. To get a taste of this ground spice at home, make Faux-toush Salad with Lavash, which comes with a lemony sumac-spiked dressing.

Shichimi Togarashi

A common Japanese spice mixture containing seven ingredients, shichimi togarashi has something for everyone. With two kinds of chile flakes, sesame seeds, orange zest, ginger, hemp seeds and nori flakes, this is one of those mixes that work on nearly anything, thanks to its touches of heat, acidity and even crunch.

You can sprinkle Food Network Magazine’s Shichimi Togarashi blend over everything from seafood to soups and noodles, or even scatter it over a cream cheese-schmeared bagel for a new take on the “everything” spice blend.