Spice Up Your Life

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Spice Up Your Life

If, like me, you have recently found yourself with excess time that’s resulted in your spice rack being reorganised, you might be staring at some small glass containers and wondering a) what to do with the 3 jars of cumin that have just turned up, and b) does a BBE date of Oct 2016 really mean you should throw it away?

I’m not the best person to advise you on the latter (I’m pretty sure I have some jam in the cupboard made by my Granny, and she hasn't been around for 10 years...) but here are some ideas of what to do to spice up your (isolated) life.


  • Use sparingly (a pinch will do!) to perk up cheese scones or in the roux of cauliflower cheese.
  • Mix with paprika to make your own cajun rub for cuts of meat.
  • For a delicious snack, add half a teaspoon of cayenne to 50g melted butter with 1tbsp sugar, toss through pecans, almonds, or any other nuts you have, and roast in a medium oven (180/Fan 160/Gas 4) for 10 minutes until crisp, turning half way through. Allow to cool before you tuck in!

Chilli flakes

  • Use as a substitute any time fresh chilli is called for, but be careful - they can pack a punch. I like to add them to a broth of veg and noodles along with some soy sauce.
  • You could also make a super simple pasta sauce by gently frying garlic & then the chilli flakes in olive oil (I mean it when I say gently, you don’t want to burn them or they’ll taste bitter), and adding your drained spaghetti to the pan and coating it completely. Perfect topped with some parmesan if you have it lurking at the back of your fridge!

Coriander Seeds

  • Often combined with cumin and used in curries, it also works well as the lead spice in a vinaigrette paired with a pan-fried piece of white fish, or you could blitz a bit with some breadcrumbs, lemon zest, and parsley to create a crust if you wanted to oven bake the fish instead (handy if it’s been in the freezer).


  • Add a teaspoon of toasted, crushed seeds (or ground, if that’s all you have to hand) to a tin’s worth of chickpeas and 2tsp of tahini, blitz up and season with lemon juice and plenty of salt to make your own hummus.
  • Toss aubergine or cauliflower in oil, sprinkle with cumin and salt, and roast in the oven at 180/Fan 160/Gas 4 until tender. This will take longer than you think! At least 30 minutes, but probably more like 45.
  • Use to season homemade lamb burgers or kofte.

Fennel Seeds

  • Toast in a dry pan, crush, and add to your sausage roll filling (or if you can’t face making your own from scratch, add an egg glaze to the top of ready made ones, sprinkle with fennel seeds, and reheat in the oven).
  • Mix chicken thighs with some slices of orange and a sprinkling of fennel seeds, all drizzled with some oil and salt. Bake at 200/Fan 180/Gas 6 for 30-40 mins until the juices from the chicken run clear and the fibres are set.


  • This is fantastic in any milk based dishes like rice pudding, macaroni cheese, or even fish pie.
  • You could also try grating a bit over some roasted butternut squash, or the humble roast potato. Go easy, a little goes a long way, and it can taste a bit medicinal if you overdo it.

Smoked Paprika

  • Make your own delicious baked beans (see Jane’s post from the other day!), or even just upgrade the tin you’ve got in your cupboard by sauteeing some onions, cooking out the paprika for a minute, and then adding the beans in.
  • It’s also brilliant to bring a lovely smokiness to a sausage casserole - another great store cupboard dinner.
  • Or mix a teaspoon of smoked paprika with 30g dried breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt, and use this to coat chunks of chicken breast. Drizzle with a little oil, bake in a hot oven for 10 minutes and you have some homemade chicken nuggets!


  • If you’re after a baking activity to try with the kids, try the classic gingerbread (make sure it’s a biscuit recipe, not a cake one)! Any cutter shape works, so don’t panic if you don’t have people shaped ones. Dinosaurs, teapots, stars, even Christmas Trees. It’s not as if we know what day it is any more, is it?!
  • Spice up your shortbread by adding a teaspoon to the flour, or add a pinch to a crumble topping (a great pudding for using up fruit that’s on its way out, or alternatively you can use tinned or frozen).


  • Not just for apple crumbles! Try adding a teaspoon of this comforting spice to the banana bread recipe that you’ve been meaning to bake for days. You can also add it to pancake batter (I’ll fight anyone who claims these are just a breakfast food). It’s also delicious in porridge, and flapjacks! I’ve yet to try it in any savoury dishes apart from in the depths of a tagine, but who knows what the rest of lockdown may bring…

Some more places I reccommend for store cupboard cooking inspiration:

- Jack Monroe’s amazing book Tin Can Cook. She also has a fantastic website full of cheap and easy recipes (https://cookingonabootstrap.com/) and has long campaigned on poverty issues.

- Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus. This is almost always my first port of call when I have one ingredient I want to focus on (read: use up in a hurry) and am wondering what to pair with it. The only problem is that I find myself lost down a fascinating rabbit hole of information half an hour later, when my hungry tummy is starting to complain.

- Jenny Chandler’s Pulse. Seriously, what this woman doesn’t know about the humble pulse isn’t worth knowing. She puts legumes at the front and centre, and gives them a deservedly starring role in her recipes. She’s also one of the most inspirational people to have come and talked to us at Leiths; I could have listened to her for hours!

- Nigel Slater’s Tender, Volumes I & II. If you’ve been lucky enough to get hold of a fresh produce box delivery but you’re not quite sure what to do with the contents, have a flick through these beautiful books. Nigel devotes a chapter at a time to each fruit or vegetable, chronicling his adventures in growing them, the different varieties available, seasoning ideas, and delicious recipes. He writes in an extraordinarily comforting way, and his carrot cake recipe is the best I’ve ever used.

I’d love to see your store cupboard cooking! Get in touch if you have other ways to use up your spices. You can find me on instagram @maryqueenofscones

Author: Mary Clare


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