This is a frugal tip, but it’s also just good practice in the kitchen. If you like to cook, and you buy spice mixes, you’re missing out on a lot of fun. Making your own spice mixes is easy, fun, and the results are much better than the storebought kind. As far as frugality goes: it’s cheaper even if the mixes seem cheap enough. Here’s why: if you buy whole spices and toast, combine, and grind them yourself in small batches, they’ll always be fresh when you use them. As a result, you’ll use less. There aren’t that many spices out there, but spice mixes are endless. Instead of having to buy fifty spice mixes, or feeling defeated when a recipe calls for one you don’t have, if you have the ingredients and can make your own, the sky’s the limit, but you don’t have to buy that many things, and if you don’t like something, you just don’t have to make it again. So save some money, have some fun, and get better tasting food!
We’ll start with the most basic spice mix of all: Curry powder. Some people run the other way when a recipe calls for it. But if you make your own, there’s no reason to turn up your nose at a simple recipe with curry powder on the ingredient list. But there are 90 different kinds of curry, you say? Not a problem – use your favorite.
I am using Alton Brown’s recipe with minor alterations. He wisely suggests that you make up a big batch of the stuff but don’t grind it until the day you want to use it; then only grind the amount you need. I take a middle-of-the-road approach with this. Many curries are meant to be quick and easy. If I have to grind my spices every time, that might not work so well. So instead of making a big batch and grinding every time, we’ll make a small batch and grind the whole thing. It’s a compromise between very fresh and very convenient that I think we can all live with.
So, let’s take a look at the ingredients:
There are three kinds of whole seeds in this: cumin seeds (top), coriander seeds (bottom), and cardamom (right).
There are three kinds of pre-ground spices: dry mustard (top), turmeric (bottom), and hot paprika (right). Alton Brown uses cayenne, which I don’t buy; I use hot paprika instead of cayenne in everything and while I can tell the difference, it’s too difficult to get quality cayenne here.
Gently toast the whole spices in a dry non-stick pan. I move them around pretty regularly so they don’t burn. When they start to smell really good, transfer them to your spice grinder, along with the ground spices, mixing everything up really well.
Grind in your spice grinder. You can use an actual spice grinder, a coffee grinder that you’ve designated as a spice grinder, a grain grinder (as I do), or some other grinding apparatus of your choice. I wouldn’t recommend a mortar and pestle because we want a very fine powder.
Keep it in a glass jar in your spice cabinet (the recipe makes more than what you see there – I used a bunch of it for dinner). Try to use it within about two months.
A note on measurements: if your measuring spoon collection doesn’t include the rare 1/2 tbsp spoon, remember that 1/2 tbsp = 1 tsp + 1/2 tsp.
Basic Curry Powder
1/2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tbsp whole cardamom pods
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp hot paprika or cayenne pepper
1. Measure out the whole spices. Toast in a dry, non-stick pan on medium heat, moving around the pan frequently, until fragrant.
2. Measure out the ground spices. Combine with toasted spices. Transfer to grinder. Grind on a very fine grind. Store in a glass jar.