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Herbs and spices make perfect holiday gifts

Herbs and spices make perfect holiday gifts

Fresh herbs and spices add a depth of flavor and color to all kinds of dishes, from bright Indian curries to steaming chai tea. They also make inexpensive, easy gifts for friends. Spice gifts can be as simple as a jar of homemade barbecue rub or as elaborate as a gift basket with multiple herbs, spices, kitchen tools and gourmet goodies. By buying spices in bulk and blending them yourself you’ll be able to make delightful gifts for everyone on your holiday list without an expensive trip to the mall.

Classic combos

“You can group (the spices) in different ways,” suggests Maria Stauffer from Michlitch’s Spokane Spice Company. For a barbecue lover, she suggests giving a collection of roasted garlic, smoked paprika, garlic and onion powder and some jalapeño or red pepper flakes for heat. For someone who likes to bake, choose some vanilla beans, cinnamon, cloves and whole nutmeg and arrange the spice jars with your favorite recipe, a potholder or small cookbook. At Spokane Spice, you can buy individual jars of herbs and spices or buy them in bulk – a definite money-saver, Stauffer says.

Drink mixes

A mug of hot spiced wine is the perfect way to warm up after a long day of skiing or shoveling snow. “We have a Crock-Pot (of spiced wine) on all day,” says Russell Mann, owner of Enoteca Fine Wine and Beer in Post Falls. Any wine-loving friend would appreciate a bottle of wine with a sachet of mulling spices attached with a festive ribbon. Put the spices in a reusable cloth spice bag and attach it to a bottle of merlot or pinot noir with a recipe card. Don’t spend a lot of money on the wine, says Russell, who suggests a $5.99 bottle of Red Halo Pinot Noir.

If you’ve got a tea drinker on your list, consider a small tin of loose-leaf tea in a basket with a delicate China cup, tea strainer and some raw sugar cubes or local honey. Ellicia Milne of Lorien Herbs and Natural Foods likes to add a clear cellophane bag of pretty dried red goji berries to gift baskets. “Toss one in a cup of black or green tea. It’s like eating a yummy multivitamin at the end,” says Milne.

Milne has ideas for homemade cocoa to please just about everyone on your list. Stick to a basic blend for little ones, starting with raw cacao powder and adding a hint of vanilla powder or cinnamon and sugar or stevia for sweetener. For grown-up chocolate lovers, Milne suggests adding a dash of cayenne pepper.

“If you like spicy, it makes a great gift,” she says.

Lavender flowers are good in cocoa too, and can be steeped with a tea ball. Make an elegant gift basket with a clear glass jar of lavender flowers and a tea ball, some cocoa mix, and an organic chocolate bar for an extra treat.

Salt and pepper

Gourmet salts and peppercorns are some of The Kitchen Engine’s most popular spice gifts, says owner Nicole Frickle, and the store has a wide variety to choose from. Frickle suggests the pink Himalayan salt or earthy-toned Murray River salt for gifts, or the classic fleur de sel. She also recommends smoked salts and truffle salts, which are fabulous on popcorn or french fries.

Select a few different salts, and a stainless steel salt cellar or bamboo salt box. “A little salt spoon is a great way to dress up your gift,” says Frickle.

There are also many salt grinders and pepper mills to choose from, and a colorful selection of peppercorns. Pink, green, white and black peppercorns layered in a glass jar or clear grinder make a pretty gift.

Spice rubs

With a little creativity, you can make a signature spice rub for gift giving. Buy the spices in bulk, whisk them together in a large bowl, and use a wide-mouth funnel or paper cone to fill the jars. Main Market carries a stainless steel spice rub shaker for $6.99, or a basic glass jar with cork stopper would work too. “Use salt as your base for a dry rub,” says Frickle. She likes to use flavored salts and add complementary herbs and spices. See the recipes below for some spice rub ideas to help you get started.

Graters and grinders

“The mortar and pestle are always good gifts,” Milne says. Add a collection of rosemary, marjoram and oregano; the flavor really shines when these herbs are crushed just before using, she says. Or choose a Microplane grater paired with cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg or fresh ginger. Mortar and pestle sets are available at kitchen supply stores and range from simple wood for light duty to sturdy marble and granite.

Wrapping it up

Depending on your budget, spice blends or drink mixes can be simply packaged in zip-top bags with a printed label or presented in glass spice or jam jars. Small spice jars with corks or hinged lids would work well for peppercorns or seasonings; select a larger jam jar or decorative plastic container for drink mixes like cocoa.

Cloth spice sacks are nice for mulling spices, tea blends or cinnamon sticks, and round metal tins are just the right size for spice rubs.

A glass jar can easily be dressed up with a square of culinary-themed fabric over the inner lid. Adding a recipe with a ribbon completes the gift. Clear cellophane bags and fancy ties work well for spices like colored salts and peppercorns, especially when paired with a clear grinder or airtight glass spice jar.

Hot Spiced Wine

Adapted from a recipe from Russell Mann, Enoteca Fine Wine and Beer, Post Falls. You could also add a small piece of crystallized ginger or whole star anise.

2 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon whole cloves

4 to 5 green cardamom pods

2 to 3 black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon dried orange peel

1/2 teaspoon dried lemon peel

Mix all of the ingredients together and place in a clear cellophane bag or cloth spice sack. Attach the mulling spices with ribbon to a bottle of inexpensive red wine with the following instructions: Pour wine in large cooking pot with spices and 1/3 cup granulated sugar and simmer for about 15 minutes. Strain and serve warm.

Variation: Use the same spices with 1/2 gallon of apple cider.

Yield: Enough for one bottle of spiced wine.

Courtesy of Ellicia Milne, Lorien Herbs, Spokane

8 teaspoons raw cacao powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon vanilla powder

1 teaspoon stevia sweetener powder

Mix all of the ingredients together in an airtight glass jar and attach the following instructions: For each cup of cocoa, place 2 teaspoons of mix in a mug and add hot water. Stir until dissolved and add coconut milk or half-and-half to taste.

Variations: For a non-spicy cocoa, omit the cayenne. For lavender cocoa, steep 1/2 teaspoon of lavender flowers in each mug.

Yield: Makes one 4-serving jar of cocoa.

Spicy Cocoa Mix

Courtesy of Ellicia Milne, who says this flavorful tea is delicious with coconut milk. A decorative basket with a mug, a clear glass jar of tea with a ribbon and serving instructions attached makes an easy gift.

1 ounce cinnamon chips

1 ounce green cardamom pods

1 ounce fennel seeds

1/2 ounce whole cloves

1 ounce dried ginger

1/2 ounce licorice root

1/2 ounce fenugreek

1 ounce of black or green tea or yerba maté

Mix above ingredients together and store in airtight container. To serve, brew 1 teaspoon mix in 1 cup hot water using a tea strainer or reusable tea bag until desired strength is reached, 2 to 5 minutes.

Yield: About 7 tablespoons of chai tea blend.

Rosemary Rub

Courtesy of Nicole Frickle, The Kitchen Engine, who says this rub would be great on steaks or hamburgers.

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon roasted garlic salt

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

Shake ingredients in a bowl and pour into a glass spice jar with a cork lid for a tasty, inexpensive gift.

Yield: Makes enough to fill one 3-4 ounce spice jar.

Thai Ginger Rub

Courtesy of Nicole Frickle. This rub would be great on chicken or sprinkled into stir-fry dishes. Thai Ginger Salt is sold at The Kitchen Engine.

1 tablespoon Thai Ginger Salt

1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (or to taste)

1 tablespoon basil

Shake the ingredients in a bowl and place in an airtight spice jar.

Yield: Makes enough to fill one 3-4 ounce spice jar.

Herbes de Provence

From “The Barbecue Bible – Sauces, Rubs and Marinades,” by Steven Raichlen. This classic French blend of herbs can be used on roast chicken, lamb or vegetables or sprinkled into scrambled eggs. Don’t omit the lavender flowers – it gives the blend its wonderful floral aroma.

1/4 cup dried basil

1/4 cup dried rosemary

2 tablespoons dried oregano

2 tablespoons dried summer savory (optional)

2 tablespoons dried thyme

2 teaspoons dried lavender

2 bay leaves, finely crumbled

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your fingers, crumbling any large rosemary leaves. Store in an airtight jar.

Yield: Makes 1 cup.

Spicy Pizza Blend

From “Recipes for Radiance,” by Moria Felber. Add a shaker with your favorite pasta recipe or combine it with a pizza pan or pasta bowl.

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon dried red bell pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

Yield: Approximately enough to fill two to three spice jars or one jam jar.

Kirsten Harrington is a Spokane freelance food writer. Visit her blog at or contact her at kharrington67@