Food52 in 5

Got 5 Minutes? Spice (Blend) Up Your Life

February 16, 2018

What can you do with just five minutes? Actually, way more than you think! Introducing Food52 in 5: your cheat sheet for speedy, delicious recipes, fun mini projects, and more.

I grew up when Emeril was still saying, Bam! Bam, bam, bam! on TV. I remember watching with my family, cats included, cuddling on the couch, taking notes in a journal. We had an Emeril cookbook for kids. Emeril pots and pans. Even an Emeril spice blend—Emeril’s Original Essence. We put it on everything.

Since then, I’ve diversified my cookbook and cookware and spice collections. Instead of Emeril’s face, I turn to other, multipurpose spice blends—including DIY blends of my own making. All you have to do is make a large-ish—figure, 1/2 cup—batch, then store in the pantry to cheer up otherwise ho-hum grilled chicken or roasted vegetables, grain salads or savory yogurt.

Photo by Julia Gartland

If you’re worried about exact measurements, don’t be. Consult the usual suspects, pick and choose, combine, grind if necessary, and adjust to taste. If you're unsure, start with a very small test jar (a few teaspoons) to make sure you like your blend before making a large batch; I also usually start with mild spices and seeds—say, smoked paprika or sesame—then build from there with progressively punchier ingredients. Depending on the your time and energy levels, you can start with whole spices (optional: Toast them before grinding) or just start with ground spices.

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The result might not be the most authentic, but if it tastes great to you, great, you’ll use it more—and that’s the whole point, right? A pinch here, a sprinkle there. Bam, bam, bam. Here are a few favorites to try:


Origin: Ethiopia. Potential ingredients: chilies; fenugreek; coriander; cardamom; paprika; ginger; garlic; onion; nutmeg; cloves; cinnamon; allspice; black peppercorns. Perfect for: crusting meat; spiced stews; sprinkling over salted, fresh fruit.

Blackening (aka "Cajun seasoning")

Origin: Louisiana, USA. Potential ingredients: paprika; garlic; onion; black pepper; cayenne; oregano; thyme. Perfect for: pan-seared proteins, especially fish; griddled burgers; grilled anything.

Chili Powder

Origin: Texas, USA. Potential ingredients: dried, ground chilies (usually ancho); cumin; oregano; garlic; paprika. Perfect for: Tex-Mex classics, like chili con carne or steak (or any protein) fajitas; also, grilled fruit, like pineapple or peaches.


Origin: China. Potential ingredients: cinnamon; star anise; fennel seeds; cloves; black, white, or Sichuan peppercorns. Perfect for: proteins, like chicken, duck, and pork; roasted nuts; desserts, from cakes to streusel to caramel.


Origin: Japan. Potential ingredients: sesame seeds; seaweed flakes; bonito flakes; sugar; monosodium glutamate. Perfect for: rice bowls; eggs, especially scrambled; buttery popcorn; pan-seared or grilled fish.

Jerk Spice

Origin: Jamaica. Possible ingredients: allspice; brown sugar; garlic; cloves; cinnamon; cayenne; black pepper. Perfect for: blending with scallions and fiery Scotch bonnet peppers into a wet marinade; low-and-slow cooked meat, especially chicken or pork; grilled fish; fried plantains.

Ras el Hanout

Origin: Morocco. Potential ingredients: cumin; ginger; black pepper; cinnamon; coriander; cayenne; allspice; cloves; paprika; turmeric; thyme. Perfect for: braised meat (are you sensing a theme here?); roasted vegetables; grain salads; plain yogurt.


Origin: Japan. Potential ingredients: dried, ground chilies; Sichuan peppercorns; dried citrus peel; sesame seeds; poppy seeds; seaweed flakes; dried ginger; granulated/ground garlic. Perfect for: grain bowls; vegetables, from steamed to charred; fish, cooked or raw.


Origin: Middle East. Potential ingredients: thyme; sesame seeds; sumac. Perfect for: flatbreads, either as a crust or oily dip; grilled or roasted chicken; savory yogurt bowls; roasted vegetables, especially potatoes.

What are your go-to spice blends? And how do you use them? Share in the comments below.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


AntoniaJames February 20, 2018
And to answer your question about spice blends . . . . I do an English style mixed spice; and a "white curry" blend:
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 very small cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
5 whole cloves, see recipes where I use it here:

and of course, dukkah:

which I use almost every week -- though sometimes I use za'atar instead -- on these ridiculously quick homemade crackers (cheat code: shop-bought lavash): ;o)
AntoniaJames February 20, 2018
I’m glad to see Food52 devoting some editorial real estate to this "what can you do in five minutes?" approach, which I’ve been evangelizing since the earliest days of the site. Several years ago, one of the editors picked up on this to write a short-ish feature on tasks quickly done in the morning, to make the evening meal easier. I created a quick list, just off the top of my head, of the many 2 - 6 minute tasks that I do to take advantage of small “pockets” of time when I’m home. To share it with anyone who might find it helpful, I’ve posted a link to this (still somewhat stream of consciousness) list of quickly completed tasks.

(This general idea is not original to me. I have been doing this in my office since reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done,” which was published the year I started my own law practice. It’s one of the most useful business books out there. But I digress . . . .)

I’ve added this overarching suggestion to the linked Google Doc about a month ago:

When I plan / review my menus for the following week to lay out my prep activities for the weekend and weeknight evenings, I create a list of every small food prep or other task that will eventually need to be done. I put it on a medium index card, which I keep handy to consult whenever I have a few minutes of "downtime,” or to include in my longer prep sessions.

Also, there are quite a few good suggestions of 5-minute tasks in this Hotline thread started last month: I’m guessing that many of these ideas will be the subject of separate posts in the near future . . . . . . .