Cooking with spices and marinades

spices

Spices

Nothing brings life to a dish like a pinch of fresh spices or herbs. We have dozens in bulk, so you can experiment without having to commit to an entire container of any one seasoning.

Need a teaspoon of turmeric? A dash of nutmeg? No problem, just take as little or as much as you need. From old favorites, such as cinnamon, to exotic fenugreek, we've got what you need to spice up your cooking!

Herbs and spices deliver more than great flavor. Many may help boost the body's immune system, aid digestion, and add vital vitamins and minerals to your diet.

Here's a sampling of some standouts:

Cumin
Added to a pot of beans or curry, cumin has a powerful peppery and slightly citrusy flavor integral to the cuisines of Mexico, India and the Middle East. It's high in iron and has been found to help digestion.
Cayenne pepper
Hot and spicy, cayenne peppers are said to reduce blood cholesterol and clear congestion.
Turmeric
High in manganese, this bright yellow spice is a staple in many curry blends and has been found to be a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Cinnamon
An excellent source of the trace mineral manganese and a very good source of fiber, iron and calcium, cinnamon is wonderful on morning oatmeal or in your favorite recipe for apple crisp. Cinnamon has been shown to help control blood sugar, reduce blood clots, and maybe even boost brain function.

Marinades

A marinade is like a "dressing" for meat, fish, vegetables or tofu. It's composed generally of an acid (vinegar, citrus juice or wine) and a splash of oil, with herbs and aromatics added for extra flavor.

For a delicious all-purpose marinade, combine equal parts balsamic vinegar with olive oil in a large bowl, then whisk in a little mustard. Add a bit of lemon juice and zest for extra acidity if you wish, and whisk in a little chopped rosemary and garlic. Some chopped chives, capers and onion also are nice additions.

How long you marinate will depend on the kind of meat you're using. Marinades don't penetrate too far into the meat, so there's not much advantage to be gained from a long soak.

Fish
Marinate for about an hour, less if the marinade is particularly acidic.
Chicken
Marinate skinless pieces generally for up to four to six hours; skin-on pieces can go for up to six hours or even overnight. (Marinades have trouble penetrating the fat in the skin, thus allowing more time.)
Beef, lamb and pork
Marinate 6 to 8 hours, up to overnight for steaks, chops and kebabs.
Vegetables
Marinate vegetables just a bit before you saute or grill them. Any longer will turn them into pickles!
Tofu
If possible, marinate tofu overnight to allow it to soak up the flavors.

Get creative

After you've mastered a basic marinade, you can experiment with additional flavorings and aromatics. Try drawing from regional or ethnic cuisines for inspiration. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Classic Caribbean Jerk Marinade
Combine rum, lime juice and zest, white vinegar and a neutral oil as a base. Layer the flavors by adding garlic, ginger and finely chopped scallions, then whisk in traditional Caribbean seasonings: peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and a good dash of allspice.

Sweeten the marinade with a little muscovado sugar and add some heat: Scotch bonnets are the classic pepper in any "jerk" preparation, though habaneros will work fine too. Carefully (don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth!) Seed and stem the peppers, then finely chop them and whisk into the marinade, adjusting the heat to your liking. Keep in mind that the heat in the peppers, much like acid, will open the palate to the other flavors in the final dish.

Thai coconut marinade
Start with a can of coconut milk and whisk in lime juice and zest for acidity. Layer the flavorings with bright notes from lemongrass, basil, garlic and cilantro. Add some ginger, but grate it for this marinade — grating the root forces the ginger to expel more juice, resulting in heightened flavor.

Sweeten the marinade with just a touch of brown sugar and balance the flavors with sesame oil to lend nuttiness and depth. Finally, chop a couple of Thai chilis to add some heat.

̵ adapted from The Los Angeles Times

More about: cooking tips, marinades, spices