“If you are careful,” Garp wrote, “If you use good ingredients, and you don’t take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day; what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane.” ― John Irving, The World According to Garp
Do you love to cook? Perhaps planning to learn? Does the idea of stocking up your shelves with spices with names you can’t even pronounce properly sound intimidating to you? Well, you’re not alone. I believe most people who are still starting up with their journey to the wonderful world of stews, spices and stoves have found that choosing the basic spices quite daunting. After all, you don’t want to spend that much money on saffron ($2,000-$10,000/pound) while you still don’t know what it does and therefore would not even know where to use it.
As someone who has once faced the task of feeding a small family with what little knowledge I have had with cooking – basically limited to three ways of cooking eggs and nuking ready-made dinners – I want to impart some advice: learn while it’s still early. In this article, I will attempt to share with you the basic herbs and spices that you should get while you’re still learning to cook. I’m no expert, mind you, but over the years, I have gained some knowledge of cooking, so I feel compelled to write this piece. Get your paper and pen ready and let’s begin…
- Bay Leaves. Typically sold dried, bay leaves give off that aromatic scent, which makes it ideal for stews and marinades. You will need to remove this from the food before serving.
- Cayenne. This has got to be one of my Top 5 Must-Haves when it comes to spices. Cayenne is made from tiny spicy red peppers. It gives off that extra kick you want in your dishes without interfering with the overall flavor. It’s also ideal for boosting your immune system and a great ingredient for a healthy juice recipe.
- Parsley. It’s a no-brainer that the world’s most popular herb would make this list. Afterall, parsley is both great for pasta and pizza, plus it’s healthy too! As a source of anti-oxidants, you can never go wrong by stocking up on parsley.
- Garlic Powder. I find it strange that I’m not a fan of garlic, but a huge lover of garlic powder. I love marinating barbecues in it; I love it with my bread. If you love grilled food as much as I do, then you should definitely get yourself some garlic powder.
- Basil. I have a basil plant – that should pretty much tell you how much I adore the herb. It’s great for soups, pasta and meat – how can you afford not to have it?
There you have it – the basics – at least according to me. Some people might have more herbs and spices in their list, but to each his own. As you grow more confident in your cooking skills and become more willing to try experimenting on new recipes, you will find that your shelves will also have more jars and packets of spices with varying flavors and textures. Who knows? It has not happened to me yet, but you may one day have enough reason to take a deep breath while you order saffron from the spice shop. Good luck!