People who love to cook tend to have fairly well-stocked pantries and spice cabinets, but there may be some seasonings they don't have yet—especially unique or interesting blends. Making your own herbed/spiced peppers, salts, and sugars is incredibly easy, and the foodies who receive these as gifts can get super-creative with how they use them. A quick trip to a bulk food store and an assortment of pretty glass containers are all that's needed to make these simple, lovely gifts, which are as perfect as hostess gifts as they are for holiday presents. If you're lucky, the recipient may invite you over for tea later and serve you something fabulous that they've made with them!
- Freshly ground pepper
- Fresh grated lemon zest
- Salt (I like to use black or red salt for the sake of eye appeal)
Although this is a classic seasoning for chicken and fish dishes, it’s also fabulous on grilled pineapple rings, roasted vegetables, corn on the cob, and a variety of salads. I love to sprinkle it on grilled zucchini and asparagus, and it’s great on pan-fried leafy greens too.
The ratio for this is the zest of 4 lemons to 1/3 cup freshly ground pepper. With regard to the salt content, it’s really up to you how salty you’d like this to be, but I’d add 1 tablespoon to the ratio mentioned above and then adjust to personal taste.
Zest the lemons with a very fine grater and combine the zest with the pepper. Preheat your oven to its lowest setting, and then line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the zest-pepper mixture across the parchment, and bake (still at low heat) until the zest is completely dry. Depending on how much you’ve used, this could take an hour or so. Check on it often and tossed it around as needed to ensure that it dries evenly.
Once it’s all dry and amazingly fragrant, pour it into a spice grinder (or clean coffee grinder) and pulse a couple of times until the mixture looks like fine sand.
Pour that into a bowl, and stir in the salt (if desired), tasting it until it suits. Decant into pretty glass jars.
Herbed Seasoning Salt
Similar to Herbamare, this is an all-purpose seasoning salt that can be used for pretty much everything. Add it to sauces, sprinkle it on popcorn… It’s actually fabulous on open-faced tomato sandwiches—but don’t take my word for it.
- 1 cup sea salt
- 1 teaspoon each of at least 5 of the following: thyme, oregano, basil, summer savory, dill, garlic powder, chives, sage, paprika, marjoram, celery seed, fennel
- 2 teaspoons dried onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary
- 1/4 cup dried parsley
- 1 to 2 teaspoons dried, ground seaweed (I like dulse, but if you have nori in the house, use it)
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional: If you don’t want a funky, cheesy smell or flavor, omit this)
When it comes to the herbs you choose, choose the ones that you like best, and feel free to adjust the ratios if you feel that the recipient would favor one over another. For example, if the person receiving this really enjoys Italian cuisine, you can stick with thyme, oregano, basil, savory, and garlic, but skip the dill. For French foodies, focus more on thyme, savory, garlic, sage, fennel, and marjoram.
- Chipotle chili pepper powder
- Grated zest of 1 lime
- Flaked sea salt
This seasoning is a perfect addition to guacamole, or for sprinkling on rice that’s destined to be used in Mexican dishes. To make it, the ratio is 1 part chipotle chili powder and 1 lime to 3 parts flaked sea salt.
Zest the lime with a fine grater and then spread the zest on a baking sheet. Use the same technique for drying out your lime zest as for the lemon-pepper recipe above. Combine the zest with the chili powder and salt, and pour into a festive glass jar.
If you’ve never heard of this seasoning, prepare to be amazed: it’s popular in macrobiotic cuisine, and adds a savory “umami” flavor to foods that salt alone doesn’t quite achieve. If someone you know loves Japanese food, they’ll adore this—it’s as good on rice as it is added to soups or even just sprinkled on vegetables.
- 1 cup sesame seeds
- 1 small handful of Dulse seaweed
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt (optional)
Heat a nonstick pan on medium heat until warm, then add the sesame seeds and stir. Rip the dulse into small pieces and add to the pan along with the seeds. Turn the heat up to medium-high, and keep stirring frequently to toast everything in the pan for about 5 to 7 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the dulse has turned brown and the seeds are fragrant and beginning to pop. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Add the seeds, dulse, and salt (if you like) to a food processor, hand blender with a grind attachment, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle, and grind it all up until it’s a crumbly powder.
If the gift’s recipient is on a low sodium diet, feel free to omit the salt—this seasoning already has a briny flavor because of the seaweed.
- Granulated sugar
- Dried lavender flowers
This beautiful, fragrant sugar has been used to flavor and decorate desserts since the Medieval era. To make this, the ratio is 1 teaspoon dried lavender buds to 1 cup white granulated sugar.
Pour enough sugar into the bottom of a decorative glass jar to fill it 1/4 of the way, and then sprinkle a few dried lavender buds on top. Continue alternating layers of sugar and lavender until the jar is full, and then if you like, slide a whole stalk of dry lavender down one side of the jar’s interior so it’s visible from the outside. This should be allowed to rest for 48 hours for the scent to distribute before using (or giving as a gift). The sugar will keep for 6 months, and it’s best to shake the jar occasionally to disperse the oils in the sugar.
Ideal for all manner of holiday baking, as well as sprinkling on muffins and adding to coffee, this is a classic combination that never goes out of style.
- Granulated sugar
- Ground cinnamon
- Cinnamon stick or star anise (optional, for extra flavor and visual appeal)
You can be a bit more liberal with this spice than with the herb above, and use 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon for every 1/2 cup of granulated sugar (turbinado is lovely to use for this). I like to layer the sugar and the cinnamon as above, but then use a spoon or chopstick to swirl it around a little bit, just to create an interesting effect. As with the lavender, you can slide a small cinnamon stick down one side of the jar as a decorative element, and it’ll add extra strength to the cinnamon scent and flavor. You can also take the flavor up a notch by adding a tiny bit of ground star anise or cloves to the mixture.
- Granulated sugar
- Brown sugar
- Vanilla bean pods
Sweet, simple, and elegant, vanilla sugar can be added to any baked good, or spooned into coffee to give it extra fragrance. To create this, the ratio is 1 vanilla bean per 3 cups of granulated sugar (cane or white). As a tip, using different colored sugars can create a really beautiful effect.
Chop a whole vanilla bean into 3 or 4 pieces. Sprinkle some sugar into the bottom of your container, place one piece of vanilla atop it, and then fill most of the way with sugar. Poke the remaining beans into the jar, and then fill to the top with any remaining sugar. If desired, you can also slide a whole vanilla bean down the side as with the cinnamon and lavender, or just lay a segment of it on top.
All images via Shutterstock