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Monday, September 23, 2019

The Basic Seasonings Associated with Different Cuisines and How I Use Them to Menu Plan


I have a list that I keep in my mind of the different seasonings that I can use which offer flavors of different cuisines. My personal list on includes seasonings or foods that I am likely to keep on hand. I reference this list almost every day, as the chief cook in our household who needs to dream up dinner menus on a budget. 


Having a cuisine in mind helps me organize my thoughts about each night's meal and bring varied ingredients together with a theme. The most recognizable example would be a Mexican meal. I may be planning on using beans, rice, meat, tomatoes, and any of various veggies. Without adding Mexican seasonings, this would make for a rather bland dinner. By adding chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic, and onions, a flavorful and cohesive menu bursts forth.


As a frugal cook, I skip commercial seasoning blends and packets, as I feel they are expensive for what you get. So my list of seasonings is basic. Many of these ingredients appear in several cuisines, which makes for more condensed storage. 


Speaking of storage, I don't organize the seasonings in my cupboards by cuisine. Instead, I organize the herbs and spices by savory vs. sweet, the size of container, and whether the seasoning needs refrigeration or freezing. This just works best for me and my household of cooks with various interest in keeping things organized.

As a note, I don't use every seasoning in a cuisine category for each meal. This is merely a list to get me thinking.

Mexican
  • garlic
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • oregano
  • cloves
  • cinnamon
  • cilantro
  • lime juice
Italian
  • basil
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • garlic
  • red pepper flakes
  • fennel (or anise)
  • savory
  • bay leaves 
Mediterranean/North African
  • lemon
  • oregano
  • garlic
  • rosemary
  • mint
  • dill
  • cumin 
  • plain yogurt
  • Harissa chili paste (sometimes called Tunisian chili paste) -- a spicy blend of dried chilis, olive oil, garlic and spices (thanks Mrs. Armstrong)
Middle Eastern
  • Za'atar -- a spice blend used as a condiment, rub, or sprinkle, typically containing toasted sesame seeds, dried sumac, oregano, marjoram or thyme, cumin, coriander, and salt (thanks Mrs. Armstrong)
Indian
  • curry powder
  • cumin
  • cinnamon
  • coconut milk
  • cilantro 
  • bay leaves
  • Garam Masala
Asian (generic for stir fries)
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • soy sauce
  • sugar
  • red pepper flakes
  • sesame oil
Chinese (see comment by Allie)
  • garlic
  • ginger (fresh preferred)
  • soy sauce
  • sugar
  • red pepper flakes
  • black vinegar
  • hoisin sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • Sichuan peppercorn
  • broad bean paste (or red bean paste or doubangiang)
  • star anise
  • cloves
  • white pepper
Korean
  • fermented products, such as soybean pastes like mild doenjang, spicy gochujang, and ssamjang
  • gochugaru (mild pepper flakes)
Japanese
  • miso 
  • kombu (dried seaweed)
  • mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • katsuobushi (shaved dry fish flakes)

French
  • thyme
  • mustard powder
  • tarragon
  • chervil
  • rosemary
  • lavender (as in herbes de provence) 
Thai
  • coconut milk
  • lemon grass
  • lime
  • dried red chili peppers 
  • basil
Jamaican (such as for Jerk)
  • scallions
  • Scotch Bonnet peppers (substitute jalapenos or serranos)
  • thyme
  • allspice
  • ginger
  • nutmeg
Creole
  • paprika
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • cayenne pepper
  • black pepper
  • thyme
  • white pepper
  • basil
  • oregano
  • roux made with butter/flour
  • tomatoes
  • creamy sauces
Cajun
  • above Creole seasonings along with
  • additional cayenne pepper
  • ground allspice
  • ground cloves
  • onion, celery, bell pepper in a mirepoix
  • file
  • green onions 
  • parsley
  • roux made with oil/flour
Hawaiian
  • fruits such as pineapple, guava, passion fruit
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • sea salt
  • Chinese five spice 

It's nearly 2 PM and I'm still working on tonight's menu. Having a list such as this one is especially helpful when I have no idea what to make for my household's dinner. I have some leftover cooked pinto beans, leftover cooked rice, canned corn, red cabbage, tomatoes, corn tortillas, cheese, and salsa. I think I'll make a Mexican-inspired, mock bean/rice/corn/veggie enchilada casserole for tonight's supper. See how easy I find this? Meal planning solved. Now to go and actually make this.


I'm looking to expand my list. You may have noticed that there are several blank spots. What seasonings would you add to any of these cuisines? (I'll update this main post as we generate an additional ingredients' list.) What other cuisines do you like to use for home-cooked meal preparation?



15 comments:

Allie said...

I cook a lot of Chinese food, because that's my heritage, and I find sesame oil indispensable for getting the flavors right, in addition to what you have listed. Fresh ginger is crucial, we never use dried. I also use a lot of black vinegar, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, Sichuan peppercorn, broad bean paste (or chili bean paste or doubanjiang), star anise, clovves, and white pepper instead of black. There are 8 main regions of Chinese cuisine, and each one would have a very different pantry, where the eastern seaboard would have much simpler, clearer flavors and the western inland regions love spicy foods. These are some of the basics though.

However, pantries for Korean and Japanese cooking would be very different, so it's hard to generalize. Korean cooking relies on a lot of fermented products, namely soybean pastes like the mild doenjang, spicy gochujang, and ssamjang (a mix of the previous 2), as well as gochugaru (mild pepper flakes). Japanese cuisine uses a lot of miso, kombu (dried seaweed), mirin (sweet rice wine), katsuobushi (shaved dry fish flakes). Japanese cooking uses very few spices, and kombu and katsuobushi are used to make dashi, a Japanese stock that forms the base flavor for much of the cuisine. Cuisines from Asian countries hav as much nuance as French cuisine to Italian to Greek.

live and learn said...

Seasoning is a weak spot in my cooking. However, when I look at your lists, maybe I know more than I think. I tend not to be very adventurous with seasoning because I don't want to buy a whole bottle/jar of something we might not like. Spices are expensive, but I think you said that you can buy some of them in bulk. So far, I haven't found that around here.

ruthie said...

Thank you for the list of seasonings! I often can't figure out what to make for dinner, but having a list of spices by cuisine will get my brain thinking. Spices make the meal! As do sauces. How about doing a post on different sauces you like? (just a thought) by the way - I tried the link to your carrot peanut salad and it didn't take me to a recipe (unless I pushed the wrong link). It looked delicious.

thanks for all the information you dispense!

Kris said...

Allie, you have so much information! Wow! I started using sesame oil in my cooking in the past 2 years and you are right, it makes a tremendous difference, flavor-wise.

Lili, you hit on the herbs/spices I use .... I think the only ones I would add would be bay leaves (for soups and stews) and garlic powder (for when I'm too lazy to use regular garlic). I also find myself using lemon and lime juice frequently in my cooking.

Lili said...

Thank you, Allie! Your information was exactly what I was looking for. I've incorporated your info into the main post now.

Lili said...

live and learn said...
Seasoning is a weak spot in my cooking. However, when I look at your lists, maybe I know more than I think. I tend not to be very adventurous with seasoning because I don't want to buy a whole bottle/jar of something we might not like. Spices are expensive, but I think you said that you can buy some of them in bulk. So far, I haven't found that around here.


Hi live and learn,
my cooking is very basic, as far as seasonings go. But I do find that what I know helps me get started on putting together a meal.

You're right, when bought in those little bottles, spices are very expensive. Plus, they lose some of their flavor if kept a long time. So, my feeling would echo yours, in your position. Don't forget that the Hispanic section of the grocery store may carry little bags of spices and herbs, for what may be a lot less than the regular spice section of the grocery store. This likely varies based on whether or not there is an Hispanic culture in your area. Also, if you have any ethnic markets in your area, they may carry some spices in cellophane packets for less than the grocery store.

I guess I am lucky to have bulk bins as an option for my shopping. I have 3 different stores that have some foods in bulk bins. One store has a large bulk bin area, another store just a moderate-sized section, and the third, just a tiny bulk bin area for spices and coffee only, in with the baking aisle.

Lili said...

ruthie said...
Thank you for the list of seasonings! I often can't figure out what to make for dinner, but having a list of spices by cuisine will get my brain thinking. Spices make the meal! As do sauces. How about doing a post on different sauces you like? (just a thought) by the way - I tried the link to your carrot peanut salad and it didn't take me to a recipe (unless I pushed the wrong link). It looked delicious.

thanks for all the information you dispense!


Hi Ruthie,
I'm sorry about the gingered carrot salad link. You're right -- there was no actual recipe in the link. Sorry about that. For that salad, I used about 3 tablespoons of chopped/minced crystallized ginger, added to 3 cups of shredded carrot, 1/3 cup of peanuts, dash salt, 1 teaspoon honey, and mayo (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup, not sure) and vinegar (roughly 1 tablespoon) to taste.

Thank you for the suggestion of sauces that I use. I'll write that up soon, and I'll include the sauces that I make as well as buy, plus what I would buy if my budget was a bit bigger. Thanks for the suggestion.

Lili said...

Kris said...

Lili, you hit on the herbs/spices I use .... I think the only ones I would add would be bay leaves (for soups and stews) and garlic powder (for when I'm too lazy to use regular garlic). I also find myself using lemon and lime juice frequently in my cooking.


Hi Kris,
I use garlic powder or dried granules, too, a lot. And they are my preferred way to use garlic, simply for their ease. I grow garlic, so I'll use the fresh when that's what I have. Besides ease, there's another application for garlic powder that is excellent -- when you want a sprinkle of garlic flavor across a broad area, like a bowl of popped corn or on a batch of oven fries. You could use minced garlic on either of those, but then you'd get sharp tastes of garlic in some bites and none in others.

Do you have favorite cuisines for the lemon and lime juice?

Kris said...

Lili--

I use lime juice for Asian/Thai-inspired foods (that makes me sound like I'm a more knowledgeable cook than I am!). Lime juice is also good in some Mexican meals. I use lemon juice more in baking than in cooking, but any time I feel I need a little acidic addition to a meal, lemon juice is my go-to.

Lili said...

Hi Kris,
thanks for adding this. When you mentioned the lime juice, I guessed it was Thai and Mexican, as I use it in those cuisines when I have it on hand. (You'll see I added the lime to both types of meals.) I put the bay leaves in with Italian, as this is where I've used bay in the past. Bay leaves are especially nice in tomato sauces. Also, I like bay in stews and pot roast. I think I have the same thoughts about using vinegar as you do with lemon juice. Whenever something just needs a little tang or zip, a spoonful of vinegar seems to perk it up. I'll try lemon juice more often, since you mentioned it. I do use it in Mediterranean or North African salad dressings.

Thanks again for the input.

Unknown said...

Fresh cilantro in indian and mexican, fresh basil in italian and thai. I second the suggestion of bay leaves for soups and stews...we really like it added to curry. Chives in everything, haha. We also love a glug of vinegar in bean or lentil soup.

Saryn

Lili said...

Hi Saryn,
Oh, thank you! I'll add these to my list. You know, I like a bit of vinegar in minestrone soup. I will sometimes add it to other soups, just to add a little something extra in the flavor. I'll remember for the bean/lentil soups.
Thanks for your info!

Allie said...

Happy to contribute! :D And I'm with Kris on the lime--I'll add that I often use it for Vietnamese cooking too. In particular, I love making spring rolls, which are wrappers of translucent rice paper (you wet them to make them pliable) filled with fresh vegetables (shredded lettuce or chard or kale), herbs (cilantro or thai basil or mint), rice noodles, and often some kind of protein, like shrimp, or thinly sliced grilled pork or sausages or anything really. I fill them with whatever I want, but I always make a peanutty dipping sauce using peanut butter, hoisin sauce, fish sauce, and lime juice! They're so fresh tasting and healthy.

Mrs. Armstrong said...

In addition to your excellent list, I would add cinnamon and (maybe) Zatar to the Mediterranean and North African list and Harissa chili paste.

Also, I use Garam Masala in many of my Indian inspired dishes. I love it!

Lili said...

Hi Mrs. Armstrong,
Thank you, thank you for this -- it's just what I was looking for. I've incorporated your information into the main post. The Za'atar sounds very interesting and flavorful. I'll have to seek that one out.

Enjoy your weekend, Mrs. Armstrong.

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