There are 11,452 spices in that aisle of the grocery store. But you need only 7 or so to make your dishes sing.
Along with salt, your kitchen needs the following spices. Store them in airtight containers, out of direct heat and light. And shop small-a two-ounce vessel is plenty.
Crushed Red Pepper
This is the most versatile way to bring heat. Stir into hot oil at the start of cooking to diffuse its kick.
The delicate, herbal qualities of one leaf (or even half) add dimension to a simmering sauce or broth.
Yes, it gives a warming, nostalgic touch to desserts, but it does the same to savory dishes. Combine a pinch with ground coriander and cumin in a chickpea stew.
Subtle, sweet, bright, and reminiscent of lemon, it’s often used in Mediterranean soups and stews. Pair it with aromatic cumin for an added layer of flavor.
Popular in Latin American dishes and curry powders, it enhances the earthiness of beans and legumes with its unique, slightly bitter taste. Add a pinch to season veggie or meat patties.
Not just for a big pot of chili, this blend (which can include dried chiles, garlic, oregano, cumin, coriander, and cloves) delivers a concentrated seasoning. Rub onto steak before grilling.
Simply put, freshly ground will always be the most lively. Keep Tellicherry peppercorns on hand to refill a pepper grinder, and you’ll never go back to buying preground.
Bonus: International Seasoning Blends
These days, global blends are readily available at grocery stores from brands like McCormick, or via online order from shops like the Spice House (thespicehouse.com).
Toss this Ethiopian mix of cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, garlic, and red pepper (among other ingredients) with veggies before roasting.
This Middle Eastern blend (usually containing sesame seeds, thyme, sumac, and marjoram) is zesty yet nutty. Dust over steak or eggs, or mix with olive oil or yogurt for a dip.
Shake this spicy Japanese blend, which often includes chiles, sesame seeds, seaweed, and orange peel, over rice or grilled chicken.
Ras el Hanout
This rich Moroccan blend can contain as many as 50 (!) ingredients, including ginger, allspice, turmeric, and cardamom. Try a dash in a pot of couscous or stir into ground lamb as it cooks.