Healthy Tip: Cooking with Whole Spices
Holiday time is the perfect time to spice up your menu, but did you know that using spices in their whole form adds a “whole” new dimension to cooking? Many years ago on a trip to India, my eyes were opened to the joys of spicing the “whole-y way.” Whole spices and spices freshly ground from their whole form add depth of flavor to foods that will quickly turn you into a devotee! I can remember being invited to dinner at the house of a well-known movie producer in Bombay (now called Mumbai). One of the many aromatic dishes we were served was a Basmati rice dish laced with whole cardamom pods, whole cinnamon stick pieces and whole cloves. I was used to “dirty” rice in Louisiana, but never had I come across such a delicate dish!
Whole spices keep fresh longer than ground ones, and you can grind as much or as little as you need. To get started, keep the following on hand:
- Cinnamon sticks
- Whole cloves
- Green cardamom pods
- Whole nutmeg
- Whole allspice berries
- Whole star anise
- Whole cumin seeds
- Whole coriander seeds
- Whole black peppercorns
- Whole vanilla beans
There are plenty more whole spices, but this list will get you started. When grinding fresh whole spices, your best results will come with an electric spice grinder or coffee grinder. You can also use a mortar and pestle. Grinding fresh spices releases the delicious aroma and vital natural oils. For greatest results, dry roast whole spices, stirring constantly, in a
dry skillet for a brief 30 seconds to a minute over medium heat. The spices and seeds will become fragrant. Remove from heat, cool, and grind! Remember, it’s best to grind fresh spices just before you use them. The results are worth it! If you happen to have leftover ground spices, store in an air-tight container for up to a month. Here are some recipe ideas using whole spices:
- Make aromatic rice – try brown Basmati – and flavor by adding whole cardamom, whole cloves and whole cinnamon to the rice and water while cooking.
- Make Homemade Chai Tea. Our recipe uses whole cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and peppercorns.
- Whole black peppercorns are excellent with most meat dishes. Here’s one for Corned Beef and Cabbage.
- Allspice is another truly versatile spice delicious in a variety of dishes. Here is a recipe for Poached Pears with Fig Syrup and Blue Cheese that calls for whole cinnamon, allspice, peppercorns and star anise — and even whole vanilla! And here is a recipe for Pork Chops with Cranberry-Pear Chutney that uses whole cloves, peppercorns and allspice.
- Whole nutmeg is perfect in puddings, pies, cookies and even granola. Try this Almond-Nutmeg Granola to see what I mean.
- Holiday breads and pastries deserve the freshest finest ingredients. I love this Finnish Cardamom Coffee Bread.
- Whole cumin and coriander seeds are great in curry dishes, grain dishes and just about any savory meat dishes. Here is an idea for Chicken Curry that uses whole cloves and cinnamon.
- Much like cinnamon, star anise blends beautifully with sweet dishes and fruit dishes. This Poached Grapefruit with Star Anise and Honey also uses whole cinnamon.
- Warm up your holidays with this Ginger Applesauce that uses whole cloves, whole cinnamon and whole star anise.
- Don’t forget the mulling spices. Here is a fragrant recipe for Mulled Cider Spice Sachets. Perfect for cider or wine.
- Cooking with whole vanilla beans is a real taste treat. You can use the whole vanilla in ice cream, puddings, cakes and beverages. An easy way to flavor any holiday baked good is with Vanilla Bean Sugar — great for gift giving too.
For more tips and recipes using spices, check out our Holiday Spice Guide
Do you have a favorite way to cook with whole spices? I’d love to hear about it!