Making spice blends at home can transform your meals—in minutes.

There’s magic when you blend aromatic spices together—cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, fennel seeds, aniseeds, cardamom.

Plus, they are extraordinarily healthy. Turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and promotes a healthy heart…cinnamon lowers blood sugar…black pepper protects against cancer…and aniseed, fennel seeds and ginger all improve digestion.

Here are two versatile blends created by food writer Debby Maugans—Sweet Asian Spice Blend and House Curry Blend—that you can whip up quickly in the kitchen.

Then try either one in this easy, aromatic recipe—Coconut-Spiced Fish and Roasted Green Beans.

First, a few tips…

• Buy spices whole when you can. They’re fresher.

• Toast before grinding them for more complex flavors.

• Grind a small batch for one meal with a marble or ceramic mortar and pestle.

• To make a larger batch, use a spice grinder, coffee grinder or handheld blender, and store in small glass jars away from heat—not in the cupboard next to or over your stove! Remember to label and date: Under ideal conditions, ground spices can last up to one year…whole spices, up to two years.

Sweet Asian Spice Blend

Chinese five-spice blends typically contain star anise, which can be pricey. We substitute less expensive aniseeds and add fennel to get the sweet, licorice flavor. Roasting these two spices draws out the aromas and adds a mellow, toasty complexity—transforming the “green” taste of the raw seeds. This is enough for a few meals, but you can make a large batch and store it.

2 teaspoons aniseeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger

Place a dry, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Add aniseeds and fennel seeds.  Cook, gently moving the pan back and forth over the heat, until they are fragrant and a shade or two darker, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and pour the spices onto a clean plate to cool completely.

Pour the spices into a mortar and pestle. Add peppercorns, and grind until fine. Add cardamom and ginger, and grind until the spices are powdered. Transfer to a small jar, and cover tightly. Makes about 2 tablespoons.

Use Sweet Asian Spice Blend to…
• Dry-rub grilled pork tenderloin or skinless, boneless chicken breasts before grilling.
• Brush with hoisin sauce after grilling.
• Mix with ground chicken or turkey, cook, stirring to crumble, and serve on warm tortillas with slaw.
• Mix into stir-fry sauces.
• Spice up maple syrup—for breakfast pancakes or French toast…or to pour over frozen yogurt.
• Stir into mashed sweet potato.
• Toss with roasted cauliflower.
• Mix with a little brown sugar, and sprinkle over grilled pineapple and peaches.


House Curry Blend

The mustard-yellow, grocery store bottled curry powder is most often a generic blend manufactured to suit Western tastes and recipes. True Indian curry-spice blends vary from region to region, and recipes are based on distinctive blends of spices made to match regional ingredients and cooking techniques. When you make your own blends, you learn how spices complement each other, and you can experiment to find the flavor combinations that you like best. This is enough for a few meals, but you can make a large batch and store it.

2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground white or black pepper

Combine all spices in a small jar, cover tightly, and shake to blend.  Makes 2 ⅓ tablespoons.

Use House Curry Blend to…
• Mix into rice.
• Add to salad dressings.
• Stir into chicken salad.
• Add to sautéed spinach.
• Dry rub shrimp before grilling.
• Toss with carrots before roasting.
• Add to egg salad.

Now that you have the blends, here’s a recipe that works well with either one…

Coconut-Spiced Fish and Roasted Green Beans

½ teaspoon sea salt
1 Tablespoon House Curry Blend or Sweet Asian Spice Blend
4 (4- to 5-ounce) white-flesh fish fillets, such as cod or halibut
¼ cup lite coconut milk
1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 Tablespoons coconut oil, divided
¼ cup unsweetened grated coconut
¾ to 1 pound thin green beans, ends trimmed and halved

Rinse fish fillets, and pat dry. Sprinkle evenly on both sides with salt and the spice blend.  Combine coconut milk and soy sauce in a small bowl, and blend well.

Heat a large heavy skillet (such as cast iron) over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon coconut oil, and let melt. Add the grated coconut and cook, stirring, until most of coconut is lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove from skillet.

Return skillet to heat and increase heat to medium-high.  Add 2 teaspoons of the remaining coconut oil, and melt. Add beans, and toss to coat them. Cook, turning beans occasionally, until slightly browned and just tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from skillet.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil to skillet and melt, swirling to coat the skillet.  Add fish fillets and cook 3 minutes. Turn the fillets and drizzle coconut milk mixture evenly over the fillets.  Cook until the fish flakes with a fork, 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer the fish and the green beans to serving plates and sprinkle with toasted coconut.  Makes 4 servings.