We are so excited to see restaurants opening here again! But I am not ready for my newly refined cooking skills to go waste. I recently explored stores across Birmingham to stock up on spices for Latin American, Pan-Asian, and Mediterranean dishes. Here are the spices you need for the backbone of these 3 cuisines and where to find them locally! (Btw, garlic, onion, and cilantro are in all these cuisines so make sure to have plenty)
Latin America dishes will differ depending on the area. But there are a few flavors that stay the same across all boarders: cumin, Mexican oregano, adobo, sazón, chilies, sofrito, and mojo marinade. You may be familiar with cumin, but some of these seasonings need a short intro.
Mexican oregano isn’t even oregano! Instead it comes from the verbena family, giving it citrus undertones. You will find this spice in adobo seasoning as well. Adobo is a dry spice blend made with salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, turmeric, oregano, and onion powder.
Just slightly different from adobo, sazón is another all-purpose dry rub. All the same flavors, sazón adds cumin, coriander, and achiote to the mix. To add more color and heat, you will need chilies. Stock up on the dried, powered, and canned kind to maximize your flavor profile.
Sofrito and mojo are wet seasonings. Sofrito is a tomato based sauce with all the veggies blended and mixed in. It has many of the seasonings mentioned above plus parsley and bell peppers. This blend makes Spanish rice ridiculously easy. Use mojo if you want a citrusy flavor! The main flavors of this marinade are garlic, onion, orange, lemon, and lime.
All of these spices are at Mi Pueblo in Homewood! Mi Pueblo is a huge supermarket catering to Latin American needs. There are aisles after aisles of new products to try. They also have fresh produce, a bakery, and fresh and seasoned meats. The best part about shopping here is the restaurant and snack bar. If you can’t wait to get home to start cooking, you can enjoy what the store has to offer!
Ginger, curry powder, turmeric, sesame seeds, and lime juice are ingredients that appear in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese cooking. But what you really need to have is all the sauces.
For many dishes, you will need a light soy sauce and a dark soy sauce. Light soy sauce is saltier and thinner than the darker one. Dark soy sauce is sweeter and thicker, giving it a fuller body. I recommend getting a mushroom soy sauce!
A chili oil or sauce is also important for cooking. Chili garlic sauce, sriracha, or gochujang (a Korean chili sauce) are easy to find and add great flavor. If you like heat and want something different, try chili crisp.
Hoisin is a thicker, sweeter salty sauce that appears in a lot of dishes and condiments. It pairs well with chili sauces and can tone down their flavor. Fish sauce is another salty pairing that makes its presence known. Its strong odor can be off-putting, but it adds umami to a dish and can usually replace salt.
Another essential for Asian cuisine is rice vinegar and a cooking wine. Rice vinegar is less acidic than white vinegar and has a slightly sweet taste. This type of vinegar is less overpowering, allowing other flavors to shine. You will also need a rice wine, often called shaoxing wine, to make many beloved Chinese dishes, like kung pao chicken.
Mr. Chen’s Supermarket not only has all these spices, but they also have the necessary utensils to cook with. You can get a cast iron wok there for just at $20! If you are ever trying to make an Asian dish and can’t find the ingredient, bet Mr. Chen’s will have it. They have one of the best Chinese restaurants in the Birmingham area too. Did I mention they have bubble tea too?
Many spices come from the Mediterranean. If you have basil, sage, mint, parsley, oregano, rosemary, lemon juice, and paprika, you’ve got most of what you need. However, there are other spices and ingredients that elevate your dishes.
Baharat is an all purpose seasoning blend popular in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking. This blend has allspice, chili peppers, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, and pepper. Its a warm blend that is less aromatic than ras el hanout.
Ras el hanout is a spice blend made with at least 11 different spices (sometimes more). Some key spices in this blend are allspice, cardamon, and mace. You can make it yourself…or you can find it at the Halal Supermarket.
Za’ atar is a spice blend that differs a lot depending on the region. A basic recipe for za’atar has oregano, thyme, marjoram, sesame seeds, and sumac. It mixes well with olive oil, makes a great hummus, and spices up everything perfectly.
Speaking of hummus, tahini is a pantry staple that makes for an easy one. But you can use it to make desserts too! This slightly bitter paste has endless possibilities as long as you are creative.
You can find these spices and more at the Halal Supermarket! This market is attached to the Red Sea Ethiopian and Mediterranean restaurant. There are rows at this store with more spices than what I listed here. They also have fresh meats and naan! If you really like tea or coffee, I recommend wandering down that aisle of the supermarket. You won’t be disappointed.
Do you have a favorite tienda or local grocery store? Let us know @bhamnow on Facebook and Instagram!