Spice Your Meals Up – Basil, Peppers, Curry Powder and More

Have you ever got confused cardamom with coriander? Do you know what actually curry powder is made from? Have you found the perfect way for using chili peppers in your food? Don’t worry, most people who even like cooking don’t know everything when it comes to spices and herbs. For that reason, I’ve asked experts from Bazaar Spices (Washington, DC) to help me put together a useful guide to some of the most common spices used in international cuisine. This time, we’ll cover basil, peppers, curry powder, dill, cardamom, rosemary and thyme.

Basil is used both dried and fresh. Sweet basil appears to be the most common of all other varieties; it’s slightly sweet and its flavor is bold with a slight peppery bite. In some cases, basil can taste rather minty. For a really temperamental flavor, use fresh basil (if possible). If, however, you find it bit expensive, dried basil can do the trick too. In that case, nevertheless, opt for more than the recipe calls for. Basil is used extensively in Asian and Mediterranean cuisine and it goes incredibly well with mild cheeses, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and pork.

Peppers in so many varieties and forms are almost inevitable part of cooking. Most international dishes contain dried red chili peppers, chili powder and/or cayenne. To bring the heat to your meal, opt for cayenne. In case you need to add some flavor and color to your food, dried red chili peppers are the perfect solution. For marinating meat or cooking pasta sauce, it’s always a good idea to use crushed red peppers. Chili powder has smoky and sweet notes and it goes the best for Latin and South American cuisine, as well as for some Indian traditional dishes.

Curry powder is made out of different ingredients in almost any recipe. Still, when you feel, smell and taste it, you know it’s curry, right? It can be bought ready-made or you can mix it yourself. In general, it’s a mixture of spices and, in most cases, these are the spices included in curry powder: chili powder, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, garlic and ginger. Curry powder is highly recommended for vegetables, beans and, of course, meats.

Dill is one of those herbs/spices that should by all means be used fresh. It’s not that it’s bad when it’s dried, but it’s surely not as tasty and aromatic compared to the fresh dill. It goes incredibly well with fish, lemon, potatoes and in pickles. Also, I think that cooking green peas without fresh dill is a bit of a crime; try it and you’ll see why!

Cardamom can be found in whole pods or ground; green or black. Although it’s best when it’s freshly ground, cardamom can be quite good from a can, of course, if you buy high quality spices from a trusted retailer. This spice is an inevitable part in Indian meals, especially in curry, but it’s used all over the world too.

Rosemary goes well with any vegetable, fish (with sea salt) or meat (especially when you grill). It’s great both fresh and dried, although dried variety can be too hard to bite. This can be overcome by crumbling the leaves when adding rosemary to meal.

Thyme is usually available dried. Same as rosemary, thyme works lovely with root vegetables. It’s also great in butter sauces and that’s why it is an inevitable part of French cuisine. Unlike rosemary, it’s more grounded and not so aromatic and strong.