The Most Important Herbs & Spices for a New Cook

My daughter Maya says that most of her friends have no idea what herbs and spices to get when they get their first kitchen. She’s been bugging me forever to help with a list of starter herbs and spices for a new cook, since the spice aisle can be pretty overwhelming.

So here is my list of must have herbs and spices – the ones I reach for most frequently. I’ve also created a second list to add as you can and a list of shelf stable pantry essentials.

7 Absolute Essentials

Kosher Salt
Whole Black Pepper (in a grinder is great)
Red Pepper Flakes
Powdered Garlic
Dried Thyme
Cumin Powder
Dried Basil

These will let you cook Italian, Cajun, Tex-Mex or good old American flavors.

2nd Level to Add

Cinnamon
Whole Nutmeg with a grater
Ground Cloves
Dried Parsley
Rosemary
Chili Powder
Bay Leaves
Paprika (I love Smoked paprika)
Oregano

Adding these spices as you can will open up lots of other possibilities.

Other Pantry Essentials

For Cooking:
Olive Oil (not virgin – just regular, lighter)
Diced, Canned Tomatoes
Rotel Tomatoes
Canned beans (Black beans are my favorite)
Coconut Milk, canned or in a tetrapak
Apple Cider Vinegar
Rice (I like Basmati Rice for general cooking)
Pasta
Chicken Stock in cubes or shelf stable tetra-pack blocks
Fish Sauce (Sounds weird – but it adds so much to Italian food and Thai Foods.)
Dijon Mustard

For Baking or Desserts
Sugar
All-Purpose Flour
Baking Powder
Baking Soda
Cocoa Powder
Corn Starch
Vanilla

DIY Dried Herbs:

Don’t forget that you can always dry fresh herbs. So if you get a nice handful of fresh parsley, use what you need for your recipe, and set the rest on a plate on the counter to dry out for a few days. Once they’re are dry, just crush the leaves and store them in a bottle. You can pitch the stems. Same thing with Thyme and Rosemary – or really any fresh herb.

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