Spice It Up With Chai!

With 6 days of vacation and TONS of little house projects to finish up, I decided to organize my spices instead.

I know, I know, my shower really needed to be regrouted, but I couldn’t stand having sloppy spices another minute!

(You aren’t seeing things…those really ARE eggs in my spice box.)

(They are keeping my anchovy paste company.)

I tend to get out of hand when it comes to buying spices.  The way I see it, life is too short not to experiment with all sorts of flavors!  Besides, spices are also packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants.  (Read more about their health benefits here!)

Thankfully, stores have been offering  spices by the ounce instead by the jar which means that I can buy a big bag of turmeric for $2 instead of a tiny bottle for $8!

(Insert applause here)

As wonderful as spices are, however, they can be a bit daunting to cook with if you are not familiar with them.

So let’s get familiar with them!  Here are some of my favorite off-the-beaten-path spices……

Leilani’s Mini Off-the-Beaten-Path Spice Tour

Leilani’s Mini Off-the-Beaten-Path Spice Tour

Leilani’s Mini Off-the-Beaten-Path Spice Tour

(Sorry, I dared myself to say that three times fast.)

Spice #1: Cardamom

Cardamom is mostly commonly used in Indian and Scandinavian cooking and is one of the most expensive spices in the world.  These seed pods, which are harvested from jungle plants, are typically ground before using in sweet, and occasionally savory, dishes.

Cardamom has a sweet, almost curry powder-like smell.  Use it conservatively, though.  A little goes a loooong way!

One use for cardamom: Toss a couple of pods into your next pot of chai tea and steep as usual.  (Or better yet, try my homemade chai recipe below!)

Spice #2: Coriander

If you have ever purchased a pre-stocked spice rack, then you most likely have a jar of coriander seeds.  (Lucky you!)  Used in Indian, Thai and other Eastern cuisine, this seed comes from the cilantro plant.  (If you don’t believe me, grow some cilantro, let the plant dry up and lo! all of these little seeds will appear on the stem!)

Coriander is typically ground before using and smells like Trix cereal.  (That’s right, the cereal with the silly rabbit.)

One use for coriander: For an aromatic side dish, add one tablespoon of coriander seeds to jasmine rice and steam as usual.

Spice #3: Fennel

The first word that comes to mind when I smell fennel is, “SAUSAGE!!!”  This is because fennel is the magic ingredient in sweet Italian sausage, and I’ll have seconds, please!

These seeds are commonly used in Italian and French cooking and have a peppery/licorice scent.

One use for fennel: Create a full-bodied spaghetti bolognese by browning meat with 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds before adding the rest of the sauce ingredients.

Spice #4: Smoked Paprika

Plain ol’ paprika = b   o   r   i   n   g

Spiced paprika = VIBRANT!

There once was a time when I only associated paprika with deviled eggs.  (I call this time, “The Dark Ages.”)

Then I discovered smoked paprika!

Whether hot or sweet, smoked paprika adds depth to delicate meats like fish and poultry and adds kick to richer meats like beef and pork.

One use for smoked paprika: Sprinkle over tilapia along with salt, pepper and a dab of Dijon and you’ve got a new favorite dish!


Ahhh, it feels good having my spice collection back in order!

I think I will celebrate with a nice cup of homemade chai!

Homemade Chai

In a medium stockpot, add 1 tablespoon fennel seeds,

6 cardamom pods,

12 whole cloves,

1 cinnamon stick and 8 whole peppercorns.

Pour in 7-8 cups of water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Allow mixture to boil for 10 minutes, then turn off heat and let sit for 10 more minutes.

Add 3-4 bags of Darjeeling or other black tea to the pot.

(Personally, I’m trying to get through this massive box of  PJ Tips so forget Darjeeling!)

Bring tea/spice mixture to a boil.  Lower heat and let tea simmer for 5 minutes.

Carefully strain mixture.

Return strained tea to pot.

Add 1-2 tablespoons sugar to pot and stir.

Drink with or without cream.

As for me, I’ll take cream!

Mmm, warm, sweet and aromatic.  (The pepper adds a nice kick, too.)

This chai is a great way to break in your spice collection.

Happy sipping!  Here’s to spicing it up!


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