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Top 10 spices to have in your kitchen

The Refuge larder: spices

As you can’t come to us right now, we want to help you cook like The Refuge chefs at home. For this session of The Refuge larder, Executive Chef Paul Beckley lets us rifle through his spice cupboard and pick out his top 10: the ones that are always on hand to add a bit of magic to the menu.

His top tip: buy spices in small quantities so that they stay super fresh. That jar of supermarket spices from 2008 is just not going to cut it.

Star anise
You bought a bag of star anise for that festive mulled wine and then it sits unloved at the back of the cupboard till the next Christmas. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Star anise is brilliantly versatile and we think it shines brightest when paired with beef – and that’s everything from braised short ribs and beef stew to a comforting cottage pie.

Smoked paprika
Some like it hot, and some don’t – with paprika you’ve got plenty of choice. We’re big fans of the smoky kind (sweet or hot – it’s your call). Mix this powder—made from dried, smoked peppers—with salt, and then use as seasoning for roasties or chips.

Coriander seeds
Whether you’re using European coriander (intensely citrussy) or Indian coriander (more savoury, and nutty when toasted), these little seeds pack a punch. Gently toast them in a pan, then crush with a pestle and mortar, and use as part of a dry rub for lamb or fish.

Nigella seeds
Nigella might be the queen of home cooking (no, we won’t be taking other suggestions at this time), but the jet black seeds that also bear her name are a secret spice weapon. Sprinkle over grilled white fish or roasted chicken (particularly if they’re going into a curry), or add to flatbread dough for a nutty, earthy flavour.

Garam masala
A classic spice blend from the North of India, garam masala is a naturally great base for curries. But we also use it in shellfish dishes and sprinkled over carrots for Sunday lunch. For an extra spark of aroma, add near the end of cooking.

Cumin seeds
A big key spice in Indian, Mexican and North African cooking, toasting cumin seeds releases warm, earthy notes. Chop up some butternut squash, add some cumin seeds and roast in the oven, then blitz up the flesh with some stock for a hearty soup. Or you could fry a teaspoon in a little oil and sprinkle over mutabal.

Fennel seeds
Widley used in Italian cooking (think fennel and chilli sausage or salami) and a major player in Chinese five spice, the sweet aniseed flavour from fennel seed is a great way to perk up quinoa or rice.

Chaat masala
Another staple blend from the Indian spice cupboard, chaat masala is best-known as the seasoning on the fried street food snack, chaat. In particular, the zingy green mango powder, salt and chilli elements of the blend bring a whole other dimension to potatoes and daal.

The zingy, tart notes of lemon, in a spice – that’s sumac. A key spice of Levantine cooking, it brings a brightness to hummus, fattoush salad and grilled chicken.

Green cardamom
Cardamom (or cardamon) is at home in both sweet and savoury recipes – you can even crush the pods and add to black coffee, Arabic style. Brilliant with rice—either served with a curry or added to a rice pudding—we also think it’s a cracking match with chocolate mousse.