Seasoning Made Easy, and Better, and Healthier and Less Expensive!
Most likely we have all used those seasoning packets we find all crammed together at the grocery store. In fact it is typical to look for one and then pick out a few more for future recipes. For instance, we want tacos so we find the taco seasoning packet but then with it we see the other options and use them to meal plan. Tonight we make tacos, tomorrow night BBQ chicken, next night pot roast, next night chili and on and on. Then we do not go back there until we need another packet. The problem with these packets is that they seem less expensive, and they seem to give us the flavor we are looking for in an easy to use packet.
Actually, most of the packets are primarily salt in one form or another. We get fewer flavors, more salt and in the end it isn’t really very convenient. We will start with the last point first. It may seem convenient to dump a packet into a pan and call it good but how inconvenient is it to not be able to make chili because you have to run to the store to get the packet? They seem less expensive, after all a jar of chili powder is a couple of dollars and this packet is only 75 cents. In reality the $3 bottle of chili powder will make a hundred times as much chili as the 75 cent packet which means the packets are actually pretty pricey when you think about it. The ingredients of the packet are listed in order of weight starting with the heaviest weights first. Most likely you will find some form of sodium at the top of the list followed by a few fillers or chemical additives and then trace amounts of the flavors you were looking for in the first place.
The true convenience is to pick up one or two spices or herbs when you are at the store. This will spread out the cost of stocking your spice rack over time. If you are purchasing the packets then you are spending more money than if you added the spices yourself. Now we will look at the convenience of adding the flavors. It is easier to add one spice or herb at a time and stir it into the pot or pan. This also makes it easier to adjust the recipe for individual tastes. Does Dad like his tacos hot and the kids like them mild? No problem, fix the recipe mild and after the food is cooked add a dash of cayenne pepper to his in another dish. You may think that you do not know what seasonings to use. I will include a couple of recipes below to help you get started.
Chili – possibly the easiest because the primary ingredient is strangely enough chili powder… Some you in the know may be thinking “Hey, chili powder is one of those pre manufactured concoctions of several spices!” and you would be correct but chili powder is mainly spices and little or no filler. So back to the recipe, the chili powder will give you the chili flavor, then to add some depth and smoky flavor we will add ground cumin, then you can add dehydrated onions, garlic powder, and any other ingredient you think would fill out the flavor profile that you want to create. There are a lot of recipes for making “chili” seasoning online.
Spaghetti – These are basically the Italian herbs and spices. In fact for most recipes you can just think about what flavors are usually in the finished dish. As for this one you will be looking at Italian parsley, rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, black pepper, garlic and cilantro. Once again for personal preferences you can leave out an ingredient. There is a certain percentage of the population that can not stand cilantro because it tastes like soap to them. So if you love cilantro and your guest hates it then you can cook it without and then add the cilantro only to your serving. If you were using the packet then everybody gets the offending spice or herb.
Pot roast – For a crock pot version you really do not need anything more than water and maybe some bouillon or beef stock. The main flavors come from the roast cooking into the liquid and releasing its flavor into the liquid while taking on the flavors of the liquid. Fresh onions, celery, carrots and potatoes will add their flavor to the meat as it slow cooks. The meat will add its flavor to the vegetables during this time too. The flavor packet adds unnecessary seasonings which is why they are mainly salt and a little ground bouillon. So skip the packet all together and add a little salt and pepper and that is about all you need.
BBQ – there are literally millions of recipes for this but most of them are catsup based. Find a recipe you like and play with it. The majority of the recipe will be catsup and add a little vinegar, garlic, cayenne or red pepper flakes, oil and a sweetener such as honey or molasses. Some unexpected ingredients would be mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and maple syrup. You can play with the ingredients to make your own special sauce that will have your friends telling you that you should bottle and sell it! Who knows they may even ask you to buy your sauce or your recipe!
Taco – This is similar to the chili seasoning with some slight differences. You will use less chili seasoning, more cumin, garlic, onion, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, black pepper, paprika, oregano and sea or kosher salt. The onion and garlic powder or salt can be exchanged for fresh onion and garlic which will taste better and lower the sodium content.
I hope that you are inspired to stock up and use your spice rack. It will end up being less expensive, tastier, and healthier plus it will be a lot more fun! Remember to be creative. If something doesn’t work then you will know for next time!