Homemade Chili Powder

Homemade chili powder recipe.To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Until last week I actually didn’t know what all was in chili powder and since that’s a bit embarrassing for someone with a spice food blog I finally went ahead and educated myself. I found many different chili powder recipes and almost all of them called for cumin, garlic, oregano, and, of course, a variety of chili peppers. For my recipe here I chose ancho chili (which is dried poblano) and half-sharp Hungarian paprika for some good flavor, and chipotle chili for some spici– and smokiness. Recipes with the blend in action coming soon!

Homemade Chili Powder
Prep time
Total time
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon roasted dehydrated garlic
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground Hungarian paprika*
  • ½ teaspoon ground chipotle chili
  • 1½ teaspoons ground ancho chili pepper
  1. Put all ingredients together in a mortar and grind with a pestle until you have a homogeneous spice blend.

Food Photography and Styling: I got the pretty metal plate at an antique store the other day and immediately thought it would look good with spices on it so I chose it for this photo. My favorite tarnished spoon was a good fit for the plate so that’s where I put the finished spice blend on. I missed the rule of thirds by 100 miles, the spoon almost runs down the middle of the frame and the bowl of the spoon is nowhere near an intersection point, but I still thought the composition worked well. I lit the set from the side and used a lot of flags to block the light in the top and bottom parts of the frame to create almost a spotlight to illuminate only the spices.
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/8, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.

This entry was posted in spices.

Homemade Seasoning Salt

Homemade Seasoning Salt Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Although I have long aimed to cook completely from scratch there are still a few items that I habitually use in their pre-prepared version without even thinking about it. One of those guys is seasoning salt. I don’t use it often but every once in a while when I put a chicken breast in the oven or want to jazz up some vegetables I reach for the container of Lawry’s that’s been in our cabinet ever since I can remember. After taking a look at the ingredient list the other day I realized it should be easy to put a few spices and dried herbs together myself and toss the pre-made stuff that’s laden with anti-caking agents and “natural flavors.”

It turns out it was easy. My final mix consisted of only six ingredients (one of them salt) and was bursting with great flavor. I tried it on poultry, fish and vegetables and it was fantastic on all. Definitely way better than the store-bought stuff. :)


Homemade Seasoning Salt Recipe

by Nicole Branan


  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika*
  • 2 teaspoons dehydrated roasted garlic**
  • 2 teaspoons dehydrated toasted onion**
  • 1/2 teaspoon French thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon marjoram



  1. Grind all ingredients in a mortar with a pestle until you have a fine salt.



*I used Penzey’s Hungarian style half-sharp paprika.

**You can find these items at a spice shop. If you want to make them yourself, you’ll need a dehydrator.


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Next Up: Chili Peppers

Next on The Spice Train will be chili peppers! I’ve been experimenting with the whole rainbow of chilies – cayenne, ancho, jalapeño, etc. – and have concocted some tasty recipes. Stay tuned for chipotle shredded pork tacos with raspberry habanero jam, spicy shrimp lettuce cups and more!

Dried Chili Peppers

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

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Next up: Thai and Indian Curries

Thai Curry

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Curries are one of my favorite dishes. I make (or at least eat) a curry once a week and can’t imagine that I will ever get tired of that routine. The basis for Indian curries is dried spices that are fried in oil or ghee (which is clarified butter). Thai curries, on the other hand, get a lot of their flavor from fresh herbs and vegetables, such as various types of peppers, lemongrass and cilantro. Thai curries also typically contain coconut milk.

What is labeled “curry powder” in the western world is just a mix of turmeric, chili peppers, fenugreek, coriander, cumin and sometimes additional spices. I recently learned that there is also a curry tree; that’s where curry leaves are harvested from. Stay tuned for some flavorful recipes!
Indian Curry

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

This entry was posted in spices.

Next Spice: Sesame

Next up on The Spice Train will be sesame! The tiny seeds are one of the oldest known spices and sources of oil, dating back to at least 3,000 B.C. Their high oil content makes sesame seeds delicious but also causes them to go rancid after a few short months so be sure to keep them in the fridge. Recipes coming soon!

white sesame seeds

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

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Next Spice: Sumac


To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Middle Eastern flavors are rumored to become a hot thing in 2014 (along with pigeon meat !?!) so I figured I’ll jump a month ahead of the trend and experiment with sumac.

The dark red spice is widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine, packed with healthy flavonoids, and has a citrusy flavor. (In fact, sumac was apparently the Romans’ acidic ingredient of choice before lemons arrived in Europe).

Even though sumac is probably best known as one of the main components in the spice blend za’atar (a mix of sesame seeds, various dried herbs and sumac), it also works well as a spice rub or sprinkled on hummus and even salads. Recipes coming soon!

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Next Up: Cassia/Cinnamon

Cassia Bark
To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

I learned something interesting recently: what we have been buying here in the United States as cinnamon for the past century is actually not cinnamon but cassia, a reddish-brown bark that comes from a different tree than actual cinnamon does.

As long as you’re looking at whole sticks of the spice you can easily distinguish the two. Cassia sticks (in the top photo) are rolled from individual thick layers of bark and have a hollow inside, like a straw. Cinnamon sticks (also called Ceylon cinnamon) are made from several thin layers of bark and are much more brittle (and for some reason also longer).

Both spices contain the same main oils but in different proportions and that causes their flavors to be quite different. I bought a jar of each and could already tell them apart just by taking a whiff. Cassia is warmer and sweeter than cinnamon but also less complex; cinnamon has an evergreen tree aroma that cassia is missing. I’ve started to experiment with some savory cinnamon dishes and will post recipes soon!

Cinnamon Bark
To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

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What is a spice, anyway?


The above question popped into my head while I was zesting a lemon the other day. Taking a look around the internet I came across several slightly different definitions and I chose to present to you the broadest one I found: The American Spice Trade Organization defines a spice as “any dried plant product used primarily for seasoning purposes.”*

I was pleasantly surprised that this and nearly all other definitions I saw included herbs, opening up more opportunities for this blog. Bay leaves, lemongrass etc., you’re no longer excluded! (However, fresh lemon zest is unfortunately out).

*Essentials of Food Science

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