Let’s talk about your spice cabinet. No? Okay, then let’s talk about mine. I really started cooking when I moved to Oregon, and that first Christmas, coming back home to Northern California after three months of what seemed like non-stop rain, the gift I wanted more than anything else was a spice rack. This, I was sure, would be the essential catalyst in my longed-for transition from college-graduate-experimental-cook to full-scale domestic goddess. Mom and I went to kitchen store after kitchen store, looking for the right one. It needed to hang, so it couldn’t be too big. It had to have a fair number of bottles, but I wanted them empty, not filled, because I wanted to choose my own spices. We finally found it in Cost Plus World Market, which was convenient, because it was immediately adjacent to their spice selection. We picked out ten or twelve of the usual suspects, and then Mom said “okay, now turn around while I put it in the cart, and forget what you saw here,” which has, since the days of Santa Claus, always been our funny way of buying presents for each other in full view of the giftee.
This little spice rack worked fine, and hung proudly from a nail above my stove, until my spice requirements exceeded the twelve little bottles the shelves would hold. Suddenly whole AND ground cumin were necessary. Tumeric and cayenne and cream of tartar and even the dreaded pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice found their way into my kitchen and demanded homes.
So I’ve ended up with something I am going to guess looks familiar to many of you:
This is not a good system. There, I said it. It’s just not! It holds the whole collection nicely, but it’s dark back there, and things fall over, and sometimes I don’t feel like digging around to see if I have any poultry seasoning, and then it’s Thanksgiving and I’m in a dark, cranky place and I think “screw this noise!” and buy a new bottle. So then I have four. What I really need, what I covet and dream about, is something like Aarti’s magnetic spice wall.
In the absence of space or motivation to build something that fancy, though, I stick with my system. Every once in a while, I summon the courage and the patience to investigate the dark reaches of the cabinet, to get a sense of what’s in there, what needs replacing, and what deserves a space in my weekly menu. The early days of summer are a good time to do this, because they offer a prime opportunity to make a smoky, spicy, aromatic rub for grilling.
I started with a recipe from Fine Cooking originally designed for beer can chicken, and then I tweaked and adjusted and adapted for what was, as you might have guessed, in my spice collection. It’s got cumin, it’s got crushed red pepper, it’s loaded with garlic powder and mustard seeds and sea salt and just a hint of ginger for an intriguing and different kind of heat.
This is a tasty rub for grilled meat, obviously (we like it for chicken, patted on before a liberal slather of equal parts Dijon mustard and apricot jam), but I think it would also be great on slabs of pressed tofu, or buttered corn, or potato wedges (you make your steak fries on the grill in the summer, right?). And if you were really feeling adventurous, you might even add some to a light, lemony vinaigrette to carry the flavors through your side salad.
This recipe makes enough for several applications, which means you’ll have enough to last part of the summer. It keeps well in a sealed zip top bag. And in between grilling, you can just store it… in… your spice cabinet. Oh. Well, just jam it in at the front, for easy access. Maybe it will help you forget the
mess nightmare treasure trove behind it. Plus, it’s got so many tasty flavors in it, you surely won’t need anything else for the rest of the summer, right? Right.
Smoky Spice Rub
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine
Makes about ¼ cup
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 TB coarse sea salt
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground ginger
- If you are feeling especially ambitious, toast your cumin, coriander, and mustard seeds in a small, dry pan over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, or until the cumin starts to pop a bit and look just a touch oily. Once that has happened, turn the heat off and let cool before moving on.
- If you are feeling
lazyless ambitious, skip the toasting step and put the cumin, coriander, and mustard into a spice grinder (or your husband’s coffee grinder. If there’s a little residual ground coffee in there, all the better! Extra shot of flavor you didn’t have to work for!) and pulse until the seeds become a fine powder.
- Mix together ground seeds and all remaining ingredients in a small bowl or, if you are
lazyespecially efficient, the zip-top bag you’ll be using to store your mix in.
- Ta-da! Apply liberally, patting and massaging for good coverage and adhesion, to whatever you’ll be grilling for a smoky, slightly spicy kick.