Here's a cheat sheet to help you put together delicious meals with the spices you already have in your pantry.

August 07, 2019
Credit: Pernille Loof

Let's be clear: We would never purport to distill an entire country's cuisine into a list of spices. Preparing authentic food is much more nuanced than that. But if you're looking to give a piece of meat, a tray of vegetables, or a even a multicooker creation a bit of international flair, you can fake it by reaching for the right spices. Even better, you probably already have them in your cabinet.

For Indian…

When you think of Indian food you probably envision the lush yellow-orange hues of turmeric and garam masala in your favorite curries and other dishes—and you're not wrong! For full, complex Indian flavors, you'll also want to reach for cumin, coriander, and mustard seeds, as well as ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom, which you likely already have on hand for baking. Don't forget plenty of black pepper (or red chile powder, if you like it hot).

For French…

Simple ingredients and lots of fresh herbs give French cooking its je ne sais quoi. Herbes de Provence, a spice blend of marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and lavender, makes an easy shortcut. If you don't have it on hand, experiment with using each of those spices individually—rosemary and thyme, in particular, are often mainstays of French flavor. Finishing with minced garlic and a handful of chopped parsley is also très Français.

For Thai…

For Thai flavors, think sweet and heat. Aside from ingredients like fish sauce, lime, and coconut milk—which you'd be hard-pressed to create Thai flavors without—Thai spice profiles often heavily feature basil, cilantro, and mint in either dried or fresh forms, as well as plenty of chile powder, black pepper, and garlic. To really kick things up a notch, invest in a good red and green Thai curry paste, which will usually feature notes of galangal, lemongrass, and coriander.

For Mexican…

Cumin, oregano, coriander, and plenty of garlic make up the backbone of many Mexican dishes (think taco seasoning, fajita rubs, or a big pot of flavorful black beans). Chile powder is another mainstay—ancho and chipotle chile powders being two of the most popular, each with its own unique flavor. Finally, sweeter spices like cinnamon and even cocoa are used to add nuance to sauces (like mole) and to sweeten traditional desserts (like rice pudding and tres leches cake).


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