Part of a whole foods pantry is kitchen staples, spices, and seasonings. Many pre-made mixes these days contain gluten or starches as fillers, not to mention spices that were ground up who knows how long ago and have lost their oomph. By mixing and grinding your own, you can create flavors and aromas for your foods that take your dishes to a whole new level. Also, buying bulk of individual spices to create your own blends can give significant savings over time, and come in much more affordable than the tiny individual jars at the store. Here are a few seasoning blend recipes to get you started.
Make enough for yourself, or double/triple the quantity and make to give. A coffee grinder dedicated to spices is great for creating fine blends from woody herbs and spices. Just use one dedicated to spices. If you don’t have that, a pestle and mortar will work, as will pulsing with a food processor (just might require a combination of both to get it fine).
Whether you use these to make a primary flavour or to sprinkle over the top, your dishes will never be the same. Plus, many spices and herbs have other properties that boost nutrition, digestion, and are anti-inflammatory. All a plus.
Garam Masala is a blend of spices often found in Indian and South Asian cuisines. Each region has their own blend, but the basics are fairly similar. This is a flavorful blend made with spices that can be found in most grocers or spice shops. Everything is listed by tablespoon and teaspoon because it doesn’t have to be exact. Use this as a guide. Garam masala is so good in rice dishes; added to soups and stews, and sprinkled over anything you roast in the oven.
3 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 ½ Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp sweet cinnamon chips (or a soft woody cinnamon stick)
2 tsp cloves
3 bay leaves
1 tsp cardamom pods (green)
½ tsp peppercorn (I like a variety of peppercorn types)
1 tsp dried ginger
½ of a nutmeg
Optional: 1-2 juniper berries
Toast all of the spices together on a medium-high skillet, gently, stirring. Be sure not to burn but just toast to release the aroma. Once the spices are warm and toasted, pour them into your spice blender and whiz until you have a powder. Store in an airtight container.
This lemon pepper is more than just the generic salt from the store. This is a blend of salt, pepper, rosemary, lemon zest and peppercorns. It is very aromatic and is fantastic over meats before grilling or in a salad dressing.
Zest of 3-4 lemons (if tiny, use 4)
1/3 cup/80 mL of various peppercorns
5 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
½ cup/120 mL of celtic sea salt
Zest your lemons. Whiz your pepper, rosemary, and lemon zest in a food processor to crack the peppercorns and blend. Spread onto a parchment lined sheet and place into a 225ºF/100C (Gas Mark ¼) oven for 20-30 minutes until dry. Once the lemon zest and rosemary are fully dry, pour into a food processor or spice grinder and blend more finely before stirring into your ½ cup of sea salt. Store in an airtight container.
Dukka is an Egyptian mix of herbs, nuts, and spices. This version is nut free so it is safe for nut-free homes. This uses pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds instead of the nuts, giving the dukka a rich, deep, flavor. It is delicious as a crust for meats, as a dip with bread and olive oil, or simply sprinkled over vegetables, salads, or soups.
1 tsp sunflower seeds
¼ cup/60 mL white toasted sesame seeds
½ cup/120mL pumpkin seeds
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
In a dry skillet on medium-high, toast your coriander, peppercorns, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame, cumin seeds, and bay. Stir often, so they don’t burn. You are toasting to warm to release the aroma and oils. Pulse all of your toasted ingredients in a food processor or spice grinder with the smoked paprika. Pulse until you have the consistency you prefer. Coarse is great for dishes, more fine is wonderful for bread and olive oil appetizers. Store in an airtight container.
Making your own spice blends and pantry staples can be very easy and the reward is so much more flavorful than you can find in most grocery stores.
It felt so odd typing 2020 into the title. Can you believe we are almost at 2020? That is amazing. I am excited to enter this new decade in our space, expanding and honing our vision for this land.
This is the time of year where any spare time is spent looking throughout seed catalogs, comparing the seeds I purchased last year with my notes on how things did where, seeing what I still have some seeds for, and what I need to purchase. We had so many things do so well last summer, and we had a lot of new things go into the ground we won't see a harvest from for several years. Some of our woodland medicinals fall into that category as they take several years from seed - and we have some from bare root and some from seed. We may not see Goldenseal for awhile, but we know it is there.
The plan for 2020 is to expand all of the garden areas, increase the forest guilds, plant around the whole back garage building, plant more natives and water loving plants in the moist areas, and more drought tolerant natives where it is dry. I love posting my lists to the blog because is it a great thing to have when I look back next year, comparing notes and memories. It also makes me feel more accomplished when working on a few acres, because when you don't plant in rows, sometimes it looks like not a lot is there, when in actuality it is a vast amount of plant materials, but spread out over land as plant do naturally in the wild.
2020 Medicinal Perennials
It feels like we have a small part of the acres planted, but when I look at that list I feel pretty satisfied that we have been working forward in our 15 months living here. One thing we are working towards is creating a botanical sanctuary space where we can give plant walks and where we work to preserve wild plants from our region and county. We are lucky to be very near a large state wildlife area that is several thousand acres with no trails, no parking (other than a few gravel spots on the highway). In studying some of the rare Wisconsin plants found in that area, I am able to focus also look to grow some of these endangered plants that are found within a mile of our land. Our area is a part of the wetland drumlin complex left when the Wisconsin glacier receded, and we have tamarack and mixed deciduous forest, drumlins (our house is along the edge of a drumlin), and the wildlife area even has a tamarack bog. Yes, I am a botany geek. It has so many unique grasses, sedge, and plants such as sensitive fern, marsh ettle, bellwort, bloodroot, blue cohosh, rue-anemone, canada mayflower, and even a rare bog rosemary. Wisconsin even has an orchid species, that has been reported in that area. We know that area also has muskrat, otter, mink, deer, cranes, wood ducks, fish, and many other animals and species that reflect how amazingly diverse this area has always been. If we can plant and diversity even a few acres of land, we will have a pretty spectacular place here. Big goals. One step at a time.
This has been our first growing season at this property. It was a good idea to start smaller, and build a few garden areas first, and see how the wind, water, sun, animals, and insects are. Some things did amazingly well - we still have tomatoes up to our eyeballs in late September - and some things, meh (beans? where are the beans?). The medicinal herbs bed was a good start as well. It was enough to manage 5 different locations of herbs as I went through a summer finding an amazingly wide variety of medicinals growing wild on our land or road.
As we wander towards October, things are winding down and and yet we also still have so much happening. I love the location of the main food bed, and it will be easy to expand along down the side every year, and to slip a greenhouse in that area as well. I can tell what herbs I need to grow more of next year, what I should pull, and where to transplant out some of the bush seed starts that will be ready to upgrade to their own areas next year (St. John's Wort!).
Draper, our dog, and I, have walked miles and miles this summer on the land. My step tracker says I hit 40-50K a week, and that is mostly here. Back and forth, up and down, side to side, all the way around. I am so happy at how many medicinals and natives we have growing here, and am pretty happy with the start of both the front and back orchards. We had one tree seller that had a horrible die rate (and a really ridiculously work-intensive hoop jumping return guarantee), but other plants have all done really well. WE have apple, plum, peach, pear, cherry, elderberry, nannyberry, aronia, goji, raspberry, currants and more - all that will hopefully have fruit by next year.
I am especially happy that I still feel good here, like walking, rarely see another person, haven't had any issues with animals, only minimal insects (deer flies in July - I'm talking about you - and I haven't missed since you disappeared). It still feels right and good. And beautiful and big. The views are still wow, the smell of the air and the wonderful blue skies and light breezes are amazing.
We will now start thinking about prepping the chicken coop and run for winter. I have some ideas that I need to test out - I want some areas sheltered from huge snowdrifts, but also want to still be able to see them so if anything gets in there with them, I know. I want to rig an insulation panel system that uses velcro for panels that go up and down for ease of cleaning (and there is rafter ventilation). The solar light system is good, and we had an outlet put along the back wall so we can run a water de-icer out there and a light for winter. We have great motion sensor lighting system, but want more inside the coop light. My husband wants to move them against the house for winter, but I don't want mice and think they should stay where they are, so we shall see.
I can't wait to pick all our pumpkins we grew, see the leaves change, and pull in for fall and winter. I am in need of a nice winter of fireplaces, baking, and working on my writing projects. Here is to a good first year. xo
I am a certified aromatherapist, clinical herbalist, organic gardener, plant conservationist, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, whole foods maker, and mother of two unschooled boys in south central Wisconsin.