Herbs & Spices: Curries and Blends (Original)
By Cat, Aug 2007 (Photo, right, by Cat)
The spices common in curries and blends have many health benefits; two of these benefits are:
- anti-inflammatory activity, such as turmeric
- anti-oxidant activity, such as cinnamon, garlic and rosemary
For ground spices, I highly recommend grinding your own for each recipe, because they lose much of their ant0-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity with time, once they are ground. This practice is dominant in East-Indian kitchens; I use my Revel electric spice grinder (made in India), as in photo, left, from Amazon.
- See also: 1. Herbs & Spices: Ancient Medicine; 2. Individual Herbs & Spices, A – F; 3. Individual Herbs & Spices, G – Z; 4. Digestive Bitters
- Includes: Curries: Common Curry Powder; Garam Masala; Advieh (Persian); Other Spice/Herb mixes: Cajun Seasoning; Chili Seasoning; Chinese Five-Spice; Harissa; Herbes de Provence; Italian Herb Blend; Jamaican Jerk Seasoning; Moroccan ‘Ras el Hanout’ (‘head of the shop’); Pickling Herb/Spice Mix; Pumpkin Pie Spice; Za’atar
Advantages of Curries and Blends
When you use curry paste or powder, you are using several spices at the same time. To learn about the health benefits of the individual spices, see Individual Herbs & Spices: A – F and Herbs & Spices G – Z. Curries that include turmeric are especially beneficial as a person ages, relieving arthritis, clogged arteries and as new evidence indicates, lowers the risk of dementia. Researchers suggest eating a curry dish at least once a week. see Mercola’s article on turmeric and demential (1) for more.
Mercola (2) also recommends using a spice or spice/herb blend to mix in ground meats or rub on cuts before cooking, to provide antioxidants that minimize harmful chemicals that form when meat is cooked, especially over high heat. He suggests using at least some of the following in your mix; you may also find that you prefer a different mix for different meats (beef, lamb, chicken, etc.):
- Garlic powder
- Pepper (Black)
Blueberries and cherries are another great addition to ground meats, to reduce harmful toxins from high-heat cooking.
Curries and Blends
Common curry powder
This may contain:
- leaves of curry tree
- chili or cayenne
- fennel seeds
- black pepper
Here’s an example from chow.com (13): Combine the following to make about ¾ cup curry powder
- 5 Tbsp ground coriander seeds
- 2 Tbsp ground cumin seeds
- 1 Tbsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp dry mustard
- 2 tsp ground fenugreek seeds
- 1 ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- ½ tsp ground chile peppers
This is a popular curry from India; I was taught that it contains all the ‘C’ spices (3):
- cardamom seeds (released from the pod)
to which may be added black pepper, ginger and crushed bay leaves.
Grind the following together until a fine-grind is reached
- 2 parts dried rose petals or buds (optional)
- 2 parts cardamom
- 2 parts cinnamon
- 2 parts nutmeg
- 1 part cumin
- Optional spices:
- 1 – 2 parts coriander
- ½ part saffron
Cajun or Creole Seasoning
This mix is based on recipes from Epicurious (19), All Recipes (19) creole seasoning recipes, with optional ingredients from a copycat version of Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning (19). Makes about 1 cup. Use fresh herbs and spices for best flavor.
- ⅓ cup paprika (5 – 5 ½ Tbsp)
- 2 – 3 Tbsp dried oregano
- 2 Tbsp dried basil
- 1 – 2 Tbsp cayenne pepper
- 1 Tbsp granulated onion
- 4 tsp dried thyme
- 4 tsp granulated garlic
- 2 – 3 Tbsp (or to taste) kosher or unrefined sea salt
- 1- 3 Tbsp ground black pepper
- Optional ingredients
- 1 Tbsp chili powder (see below)
- 2 tsp celery salt
- 2 tsp ground mustard
- 1 – 2 tsp ground sage
Plate all together in a bowl and whisk to combine. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Cat’s Blend for Lamb
This is from Lamb Chops, Spiced with Couscous or Kasha. I sprinkle this on lamb chops, 1 tsp per chop, then follow with a sprinkling of granulated garlic, and rub it in. It is also delicious on a leg of lamb (roast).
- 1 part Allspice
- 1 part Cinnamon
- ¼ part Cayenne
NOTE: Chile powder is dehydrated chile peppers (single or a mix); chili seasoning/chili powder is a mix of chile powder(s) and other seasonings. (Note the difference in spelling, chile and chili). Examples of single-chile powder are paprika and cayenne. There are also smoked chile powders, such as chipotle and smoked paprika.
The most common spices in chili seasoning include:
- chile powder
- garlic powder
- onion powder
To which you can add other herbs/spices of choice. Wellness Mama adds thyme in her recipe I’ve copied below.
Wellness Mama’s Chili Seasoning recipe (16)
- ½ cup Chili Powder
- ¼ cup Garlic Powder
- ¼ cup Cumin
- 3 Tbsp Onion Powder
- 2 Tbsp Oregano
- 2 Tbsp Paprika
- 1 Tbsp Thyme (optional)
Mix all ingredients and store in a glass jar. Will last up to a year in an air-tight jar, but best flavor is in first 6-months.
This popular spice blend comes from China. It is available in Asian markets, and contains powdered spices for all 5 basic flavors of Chinese cooking and healing (not 5 specific spices): pungent, salt, sour, bitter, and sweet (see Ancient Medicine through Food for more about the five flavors).
The spice combination may include (4, 5):
- cassia buds
- cinnamon bark (or cassia bark)
- ginger root
- star anise
- Szechuan peppercorns
Refer to Chinese food about.com (4) for a recipe for making your own Five-Spice blend.
The five flavors are (from Learning Herbs):
- Pungent herbs are warming and spicy and are used to awaken the senses and get things moving.
- Salty herbs are high in minerals and often affect the balance of fluids in our bodies.
- Sour herbs stimulate digestion and build strength and they are often high in antioxidants.
- Bitter herbs stimulate digestion and often have a cooling and draining effect that can help to modulate inflammation.
- Sweet herbs nourish and build and are used to restore energy levels and modulate the immune system.
My recipe for this spicy paste is adapted from TheKitchn (20b), with other ideas from Fine Cooking’s Basic Harissa recipe (11b). [Note: Fine Cooking has several recipes with slightly different flavors]. Here’s their profile for this hot spice blend (11b):
“Harissa is a spicy North African sauce or paste made of ground dried chile peppers, garlic, olive oil, and spices like coriander, caraway, and cumin. Primarily Tunisian, harissa is also used in Moroccan, Algerian, and Libyan cooking. Ranging in heat from mild to scorching hot, harissa is used as both a condiment and an ingredient that’s stirred into couscous, tagines (stews), soups, and pastas.”
Chiles: Use any chiles you like or have on hand, either a single kind or a combination:
- For moderately spicy harissa, try a mix of Guajillo and New Mexico chiles.
- Add heat with Arbol or Puya chiles.
- Add smokiness with Chipotle or Morita chiles.
- Add richness with Ancho, Mulato, or Pasilla chiles.
- For a very mild harissa, use roasted red bell peppers.
- To substitute fresh chiles: Use twice as many fresh as dried (e.g., 8 ounces total fresh instead of 4 ounces total dried). You can also use a mix of fresh and dried chiles.
Fine Cooking’s basic harissa uses a combination of dried Anaheim or New Mexico chiles, and dried chiles de Arbol. I like it fairly mild so I use dried New Mexico chiles and a sprinkle of ‘crushed red peppers’ from my spice shelf, added to the spice mix.
Making the paste: I don’t have a food processor, so I use a mortar & pestle to grind the spices, and my blender to make the paste. It helps to add a bit of warm water or reserved straining liquid from soaking the chiles, before turning on the blender to avoid burning out its motor.
This recipe makes about 1 cup of paste.
Ingredients & Equipment:
- 4 ounces dried chiles of your choice; see note above. I like it mild so use dried New Mexico chiles
- 1 tsp caraway seed
- 1 tsp coriander seed
- ¾ – 1 tsp cumin seed
- 2 – 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
- ½ tsp finely grated lemon zest or ½ preserved lemon (optional)
- Additional optional flavors: fresh or dried mint, fresh cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, cayenne, paprika, crushed red peppers
- 1 tsp Kosher salt or ¾ tsp unrefined sea salt
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
- Heatproof bowl for soaking chiles
- Skillet for toasting spices
- Spice grinder, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle for grinding spices
- Knife for stemming and seeding chiles
- Gloves for stemming and seeding chiles (optional but recommended)
- Food processor or strong blender (or mortar and pestle for grinding)
- Airtight jar for storage
- Prep chiles: To soften: Place chiles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 30-60 minutes before draining (reserve liquid). Then stem and seed the chiles: Remove and discard the stems and seeds from the chiles. (Wearing gloves is optional but recommended to protect your hands). NOTE: If you prefer, you can stem and seed them before softening them.
- Prep spices: While the chiles are soaking, toast the caraway, coriander, and cumin in a dry skillet over low-medium heat 2 – 3 minutes, occasionally shaking or stirring to prevent burning. When the spices are fragrant, remove them from the pan. Grind the spices in a mortar and pestle, spice grinder, or coffee grinder.
- Combine the chiles, optional red pepper flakes, ground spices, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. (Alternately, you can use a mortar & pestle for this step, then stir-in 1 Tbsp of the reserved straining liquid before transferring to a blender and adding the olive oil in next step).
- Paste: With the food processor/blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and process to form a smooth and thick paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. If a thinner paste is desired, blend in reserved chile soaking liquid 1 Tbsp at a time, until the paste has reached your desired texture.
- The flavor of the harissa will deepen over the next day or two, but you can taste it now and add more salt or other optional ingredients to your liking.
- Store: Transfer the harissa to a jar and cover the surface with a thin layer of olive oil. Cover the jar and refrigerate for up to a month, adding a fresh layer of olive oil on the top each time you use the harissa.
Herbes de Provence
This popular European herb mix typically includes equal amounts of chopped fresh or dried leaves (11a, 12):
- Summer Savory
May also contain:
- Dried bay leaves
- Cracked fennel seed
- Fennel stalk or frond
Italian Herb Blend
This is my own blend of herbs, developed for my Dried Plum & Olive Chicken Braise recipe (without the fennel seeds). You get the best flavor when you use minced fresh herbs, but you can also use dried & crushed herbs. I don’t recommend using commercial ground herbs as they have a very short shelf life. It is better to use whole dried herbs and then crush them using a mortar & pestle.
I have a food sensitivity to the combination of oregano and basil (I get very sleepy), so I don’t usually use basil, and when I do, I omit the oregano.
- 2 parts marjoram
- 2 parts oregano
- 2 parts parsley
- 2 parts basil (optional)
- 1 parts thyme
- 1 parts rosemary
- 1 part crushed fennel seeds (optional)
- black pepper & red pepper flakes to taste
While this is not really a curry, it is a spice mix from Jamaica (with East African influence), so may well have curry influences.
According to Wikipedia (8), the two required ingredients in jerk seasoning are allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers (very hot). Other ingredients may include: cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. If you can’t find Scotch bonnet peppers, use any hot pepper (deseeded and crushed or minced), or cayenne pepper.
This recipe is adapted from All Recipes.com (9) and Wise Geek.com (10).
- 1 Scotch Bonnet pepper (or other hot pepper)
- 2 Tbsp dried minced scallions
- 2 or more cloves garlic, minced
- 2 ½ tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp Rapadura sugar (optional)
- 2 tsp ground allspice
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp Unrefined sea salt
- Wearing gloves, wash, dry pepper, then remove the seeds unless you want a really hot rub. Then crush the pepper.
- Combine all ingredients in mortar and mix well with pestle. To use: rub meat with oil and then rub on the seasoning. Or combine seasoning with flour to coat the meat.
- To use as marinade, use fresh herbs rather than dried, and add a little rum to make a thick paste to rub over meat.
Moroccan ‘Ras el Hanout’ (‘head of the shop’)
This particular spice blend varies from kitchen to kitchen and can have 100 or more ingredients! The following combination is adapted from The Epicenter Encyclopedia of Spices (6).
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground ginger root
- 1 tsp ground turmeric root
- 1 tsp Unrefined sea salt (Celtic or Himalayan are recommended)
- ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp ground white pepper
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp ground cayenne
- ½ tsp ground allspice or cardamom (or both)
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
You may also consider adding:
- ground lavender
- ground dried rosebuds
- ground cloves
If you have garam masala, you could take about 1 Tbsp of that, and then add the ginger, turmeric, salt, pepper, and nutmeg per the amounts above to approximate the Ras el Hanout recipe.
See also OChef (7) for another version, perhaps more authentic, because whole spices are ground together, for richer, fresher flavor.
This recipe is adapted from one on TheKitchn (20a).
- 2 Tbsp whole mustard seed
- 2 Tbsp whole coriander seed,
- 1 Tbsp whole cloves.
- Optional (to taste and ethnicity of recipe) (20,21):
- Allspice berries
- Bay leaves
- Cardamom seeds
- Celery seeds
- Chili peppers (dried whole or flakes)
- Cinnamon sticks
- Coriander seeds
- Cloves (whole)
- Dill seeds
- Fennel seeds
- Ginger (dried)
- Juniper berries
- Mace blades
- Star anise
Pumpkin Pie Spice
This is delicious not only in pumpkin pie, but also for many other uses including muffins, coffee cakes, and hot beverages. This version, adapted from a Betty Crocker cookbook by Jeanmarie Brrownson of the Chicago Tribune (and reprinted in our local Daily Inter Lake paper) uses ground spices. See also Five Delicious Spice Blend Recipes from Learning Herbs (232).
- 3 Tbsp cinnamon
- 2 Tbsp ginger*
- 2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 ½ tsp allspice
- 1 ½ tsp cloves
Make up a batch, store it in a lidded jar in a dark place for a month or more for the flavors to blend.
Of course you’ll get the best result if you grind them yourself right before making up the mix, but the ginger can be a bit if a challenge if you start with fresh ginger-root. You can grind it, but it won’t be a powder like the other spices, so the amount will be different.
‘*OR you can dehydrate ginger root and then grind it. See Fresh Bite’s Daily blog (17) or Mom with a Prep blog (18) for details.
Za’atar, a Middle Eastern Spice Blend
This spice blend is Arabic in origin, and is used throughout the Middle East. One of the original herbs used in this spice (known as Lebanese oregano or Syrian oregano, and believed to be ‘hyssop’ referenced in the Bible) is also called za’atar. The combination of oregano and marjoram in this spice blend recipe approximates the flavor of this herb.
Sumac is a reddish-purple fruit when dried and ground, and is used in many Middle Eastern recipes; It has a light lemony flavor, so in a pinch, if you cannot find dried sumac, you can use lemon zest, but it won’t be the same.
If you cannot find toasted sesame seeds, you can toast raw sesame seeds; see WikiHow (14) for three methods. Or you can use toasted sesame seed oil; use about 2 teaspoons of sesame oil to replace 1 ½ Tbsp of sesame seeds (15). However, if you use the oil, you must store the spice/herb mix in the refrigerator.
- 2 Tbsp dried thyme
- 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- 1 Tbsp dried sumac
- 1 Tbsp dried oregano
- 1 Tbsp dried marjoram
- Mercola (articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/06/23/This-Potent-Spice-Taken-as-Little-as-Once-a-Week-Can-Fight-Dementia.aspx)
- Mercola (articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/05/08/adding-spices-to-meat-helps-decrease-damage-when-you-cook-it.aspx)
- Indian Food on garam masala (indianfood.about.com/od/masalarecipes/r/garammasala.htm)
- Chinese food about.com on five-spice powder (chinesefood.about.com/cs/sauces/ht/fivespicepowder.htm)
- Wikipeda, on five-spice powder (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five-spice_powder
- The Epicenter Encyclopedia of Spices (theepicentre.com/Spices/raselhanout.html)
- OChef recipe (ochef.com/587.htm)
- Wikipedia on Jamaican Jerk seasoning (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_jerk_spice)
- All Recipes.com recipe (allrecipes.com/Recipe/jerk-seasoning/Detail.aspx)
- Wise Geek.com recipe (wisegeek.com/what-is-jerk-seasoning.htm)
- Fine Cooking: (11a) Herbes de Provence (finecooking.com/item/5420/herbes-de-provence); (11b) Harissa (finecooking.com/recipe/harissa)
- Wikipedia on Herbes de Provence (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbes_de_Provence)
- Chow.com curry powder (chow.com/recipes/10576-curry-powder)
- WikiHow on toasting sesame seeds (wikihow.com/Toast-Sesame-Seeds)
- Dr. Gourmet on toasted sesame seed oil (drgourmet.com/askdrgourmet/foods/sesameseedssub.shtml#.VZiBS2BUNjE)
- Wellness Mama’s Chili Seasoning (wellnessmama.com/2170/homemade-chili-seasoning)
- Fresh Bites Daily (making ginger powder): freshbitesdaily.com/ginger-powder
- Mom with a Prep blog (making ginger powder): momwithaprep.com/dehydrate-ginger-root-make-ginger-powder
- Creole Seasoning recipes: Epicurious (epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/creole-seasoning-104679); All Recipes (allrecipes.com/recipe/38214/creole-seasoning-blend) and copycat version of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning: food.com/recipe/tony-chacheres-creole-seasoning-copycat-500434
- The Kitchn: (20a): Pickling spice (thekitchn.com/inside-the-spice-cabinet-pickling-spice-63744); (20b) Harissa (thekitchn.com/how-to-make-harissa-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-190188
- All Recipes pickling spice (allrecipes.com/recipe/231256/homemade-pickling-spice)
- Fine Cooking’s Make it Tonight for Week of October 9, 2017: s3.amazonaws.com/finecooking.s3.tauntonclud.com/app/uploads/2017/10/04120550/MIT-10-09-17.pdf
- Pumpkin Spice on Learning Herbs (https://learningherbs.com/remedies-recipes/spice-blend-recipes/