How To Rock a Spice Rack on a Budget

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I've always felt that having a fully stocked spice rack was a mark of sophistication and grown-upness, like having a nice oak coffee table in the living room or original artwork hanging from the walls. While I've definitely not hit that level of adult-ness, I have discovered that having a decent spice rack makes it a lot easier to cook well, and not just for vegan diets.

Having an array of spices to hand makes it easier when experimenting with new dishes and adds layers of flavour to otherwise bland food like tofu.

However, it can be super daunting when staring at all the spices piled twelve high in the supermarket; how are you supposed to know exactly which ones to go for? 

When I first started building up my spice collection, I consulted a load of articles that  all told me I absolutely could not live without at least twenty different types of seasonings.

That’s all shit, of course. These are ­– hands down – the ten seasonings you need to embark on a glorious, taste-filled future without spending half your food budget.

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The Basics

Sea Salt Flakes & Black Peppercorns

It sounds obvious, but if you’re still using table salt and ground pepper to season your food then you’re really missing a trick. Splurge on some quality sea salt flakes – Maldon is a firm favourite in the Omnom kitchen – and get yourself a peppercorn grinder, then wonder why your avocado on toast tastes at least 55% better.

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Mediterranean FOOD

Basil

Essential for most Italian dishes, as well as absolutely perfect with anything that has a tomato base underpinning it. It’s also vital if you’re making up a vegan pesto, pizzas or pasta dishes.

Oregano

Great for Italian and Greek cooking; also a good substitute for Thyme if you don’t have any fresh to hand. Oregano combines brilliantly with chilli and paprika for Mexican-style dishes.

Smoked paprika

The spice of all spices. For me, this is by far the most important seasoning in the kitchen. As well as being vital for tons of South American and Spanish dishes, it also finds a place in everything from winter stews to Pad Thai. There are loads of types of paprika to choose from, but as long as you’re not going for anything super-hot or super-sweet, you’ll have a great, adaptable spice to add to loads of dishes.

Chilli flakes

You can always go for a chilli powder, but these can often include a mix of other stuff – like cumin, salt and oregano – that you’ll have in the kitchen anyway. Chilli flakes add a pure dose of heat for any meal and are incredibly versatile to boot; depending on when you add these, they can either heat the whole dish up or just add bursts of spicy flavour.

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Asian FOOD

Cumin

A surprisingly versatile spice, cumin is used widely in all kinds of cuisines, making its powder form an essential for the kitchen. Vital for curries and great in chilies and stews, cumin pops up in all kinds of recipes and adds a subtle earthy, peppery element to meals.

Garam masala

This is a blend of herbs and spices much like chilli powder, but as it serves as the base for loads of curry dishes and often needs to be combined with several different ingredients, it’s useful to have some around to save time on the preparation.

Turmeric

Part of the ginger family, turmeric is an important part of a lot of South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking and is a staple of many curry powders. While it doesn’t necessarily taste great on its own, it’s delicious when combined with things like pepper, cumin, coriander and ginger.

Winter FOOD

Bay leaves

While rosemary and thyme are absolute staples for roasts and other winter dishes, these tend to be better if used fresh because the flavours spread more widely. However, for stews, soups and sauces one or two bay leaves can add a huge amount of flavour and richness. Just always make sure you remove them before you start eating; no-one likes a stray bay leaf lodged in their throat.

BUY fresh

While the above will give you a spice rack to deal with almost anything a recipe book can throw at you, you should definitely supplement these with fresh herbs and spices.

Beyond the obvious like garlic, chilli peppers, rosemary and thyme, the likes of fresh coriander, lemongrass, ginger, lemons and limes are all super easy to find in any supermarket, reasonably cheap and can add a whole new dimension to loads of different meals.

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