A blog about spending wisely in your twenties, with advice on everything from cooking to saving money on gas; how to teach yourself to save money instead of spending it, traveling without breaking the bank, and much more.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Spice Must Flow

Once you've acquired some cooking equipment, a cookbook you like, and you've gotten used to the idea that sometimes you're going to have to clean up after other people, you'll want to start stocking up on some essential ingredients, specifically- spices. The 'spice rack' in my first apartment was salt, pepper, lawry's seasoning salt, jambalaya mix, and unused ramen flavor packets. Yikes.

A spice rack doesn't need to be gorgeous or full of Every Spice Ever. I keep mine stocked with the spices I use most often, and I buy spices I might need only once or twice in very small quantities. Here's the list of essential spices for my kitchen, yours might be different, and it might evolve as time goes on. More seasoned cooks might look at might list and say, "OHMIGOD! You skipped _____!" But remember, this isn't about how to be a gourmet cook, it's about how to cook pretty well for a fraction of what you might be spending on eating out.

Black Pepper
Cumin (a must for me, I put cumin in nearly every soup I make)
Basil (I usually use fresh basil from the container garden, but I do have a stash of the dried stuff)
Bay Leaves
Dill (I usually buy it fresh instead of dried)
Cilantro (I generally use it fresh from my garden, but you can keep dried cilantro [coriander] on hand just in case)
Ground Cloves
Ground Nutmeg
Onion Powder
Garlic Powder

I don't recommend buying spice mixtures (chili powder, taco seasoning, pumpkin pie spice), as most of these are simply combinations of other spices (which is another post). I can make just about anything I want with the spices on this list, though I'm sure that the more I cook- the bigger my spice rack will get.

Buy a spice rack with empty jars and then fill the jars with spices. Buying pre-jarred spices is insanely expensive (not to mention really cluttery after a while), try buying them in bulk or in bags. If you live in California, Stater Brothers has bagged spices (brand: Sunripe) that are generally $2 or less, and much cheaper per ounce than the stuff in jars. Try the ethnic foods aisle, or an ethnic grocery store. If you can't find anything but over-priced pre jarred spices, try googling "mail order spices."

I sometimes see unopened, well stocked spice racks at Goodwill, obvious wedding gift cast offs. Obviously if you score one of these, double check the jars to be sure all safety seals are intact before you eat any of it.


DerekL said...

Ick! The spices in those wedding gift packages are almost always low quality krep. As you say, you might as well burn $5 for all the taste and value you'll get out of them.

klm said...

Mail order spices:

or they have a store in Torrance, if you are ever in Torrance

Margaret said...


Yes, but when you make $1400 a month or less, having any semblance of spices at all is a Good Thing. And if you got that spice rack for $5 or less, not a bad buy. Definitely a cas of getting what you pay for.