House Spice, Ginger-Garlic Purée, Curry Powder, Green Seasoning, and Peppa Sauce form a powerhouse pantry in 2019 F&W Best New Chef Kwame Onwuachi's kitchen, adding savory depth, refreshing piquancy, and a cooling herbal bite to any dish.
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Green seasoning, house spice, peppa sauce and curry powder
Credit: Photo by Greg Dupree / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

In some cases, the spices we celebrate today are a direct result of persecution. The cayenne-flecked hot sauce that my taste buds crave—and the use of chili peppers in general in the United States—has its roots in slavery. Cayenne and later tabasco peppers—and hot sauce in particular, though at the time it was called pepper vinegar—was given to Africans as a tonic to keep them healthy enough to work. The pantry has given us the power to transcend these rotten roots. The pantry is the soul of the diasporic kitchen, where hardship has been alchemized into, for my money, the richest, deepest, most delicious flavors of the world. It all begins here.

The pantry is my secret weapon. Know these [pantry] recipes and you'll know my cooking from the inside out. There are two pantry elements that make their way into almost every one of my recipes: House Spice and Ginger-Garlic Purée, or GGP. The first is traditional, the second isn't. House Spice, a blend of cayenne, Worcestershire powder, salt, garlic, and paprika, is what my mom kept in her pantry. If there's a bit of Kwame, and by extension my mother, Jewel, and her mother, Cassie, and so on and so forth, in my cooking, it's found here. GGP is an expression of my culinary peregrination, which I picked up from a friend in India. The combination of the wake-up-your-mouth zing of ginger and the slightly softer garlic is common throughout the Caribbean.

Curry is also at the heart of Caribbean cuisine, and at the heart of curry is, naturally, curry powder. Caribbean curry has developed an identity of its own; in contrast to Madras curry powder, which was the most popular variation in the eighteenth century, this one features the distinctive flavor of anise seeds. Green seasoning—also called marination or blend up in Jamaica—is a bright, vibrant, and versatile ingredient. I use it like an aioli, as a base for my curries, and to marinate everything from cucumbers to meat. In my Peppa Sauce, a fiery but fruity hot sauce made with the Scotch bonnet pepper, I use spice pickling liquid, or an infused vinegar touched with ginger, thyme, and coriander. I use Peppa Sauce all the time, in jerk paste and curried chicken, as a marinade and as a finishing sauce. It is always on my kitchen table and always in my pantry.

Jamaican Green Seasoning

Total: 10 min; Makes 1 1/2 cups

"Green seasoning—also called marination or blend up in Jamaica—is a bright, vibrant, and versatile ingredient. I use it like an aioli, as a base for my curries, and to marinate everything from cucumbers to meat," says 2019 F&W Best New Chef Kwame Onwuachi. "For me, the mix of culantro (or shado beni, as it is also called), celery, and herbs, together with the kick of heat from the peppa sauce, define the core flavors of Caribbean cooking."

3/4 cup packed fresh culantro (may substitute cilantro) (from 1 medium bunch), roughly chopped 

1/2 cup canola oil

1 medium (2 1/2-ounce) celery stalk, roughly chopped (about 1/3 cup) 

1/3 cup roughly chopped yellow onion (from 1 small [5-ounce] onion)

2 medium (3/4-ounce) scallions, roughly chopped (about 1/3 cup) 

2 1/2 tablespoons Ginger-Garlic Puree (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Peppa Sauce (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh thyme

Process all ingredients in a blender until smooth, about 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. —Kwame Onwuachi, My America

Make Ahead: Green seasoning can be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week or in freezer up to 2 months.

Caribbean-Style Curry Powder

Active: 10 min; Total: 30 min; Makes about 2 1/2 cups 

"What we call curry is at the heart of Caribbean cuisine. And, at the heart of curry is, naturally, curry powder," says 2019 F&W Best New Chef Kwame Onwuachi of this fragrant spice blend.  "Brought to the Caribbean not by indentured Indian laborers themselves but by their colonial employers (curry powder, though obviously not curry, is a British, not Indian, creation), over time Caribbean curry has developed an identity of its own. In contrast to Madras curry powder, which was the most popular variation in the 18th century, this one features features the distinctive flavor of anise seeds."

1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon coriander seeds (about 3 ounces)

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon anise seeds (about 1 1/4 ounces) 

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cumin seeds (about 1 1/8 ounces)

1/4 cup whole allspice (about 3/4 ounce) 

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds (about 1/2 ounce)

1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds (about 1/2 ounce) 

3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric (about 3 1/8 ounces)  

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread coriander, anise, cumin, allspice, mustard seeds, and fenugreek in an even layer on a baking sheet. Toast in preheated oven until fragrant and deeply toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, and immediately transfer spices to a medium bowl. Let cool slightly, about 5 minutes. 

2. Working in batches as needed, transfer toasted spices to a spice grinder or a blender; process until mixture becomes a fine powder, about 30 seconds. Return to bowl. Add turmeric, and whisk to combine. —Kwame Onwuachi, My America

Make Ahead: Curry powder can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place up to 4 months.

Ginger-Garlic Puree

Total: 5 min; Makes 2 cups

"Together with Peppa Sauce, ginger-garlic puree is a key ingredient in the majority of dishes that come out of my kitchen," says 2019 F&W Best New Chef Kwame Onwuachi. "The combination of the wake-up-your-mouth zing of ginger and the slightly softer garlic is common throughout the Caribbean, but I owe this particular preparation to my friend and former co-worker, Alex Sanchez, who developed it while running his fine dining restaurant in Mumbai."

Process 1 1/2 cups peeled garlic cloves (from about 4 garlic heads), 3/4 cup canola oil, and 2 large (3-inch) pieces peeled and thinly sliced fresh ginger in a high-powered blender or a food processor until smooth, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape down sides as needed.

Make Ahead: Ginger-garlic puree can be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week or in freezer up to 6 months.

House Spice

Total: 5 min; Makes about 3 3/4 cups

"Nearly every kitchen I've been to in that stretch of Louisiana and Texas known as the Creole Coast has, somewhere in it, a jar of house spice," says 2019 F&W Best New Chef Kwame Onwuachi, who shared this recipe. "This mixture, made with varying degrees of heat, goes on everything: into the flour with which you fry chicken, onto a steak before it's seared, into the eggs in the morning. Growing up in the Bronx, we had it, too, made from scratch by my mom, whose roots are in the marshes of southern Louisiana. These flavors are the underpainting for my palette. House spice is as elemental in the kitchens I love as salt. This version is based on my mom's but kicked up a notch with Worcestershire powder for a touch of acidity and umami."

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon black pepper (about 3 1/4 ounces) 

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons kosher salt (about 3 ounces)

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons granulated garlic (about 3 1/4 ounces) 

1/2 cup Worcestershire powder (about 2 1/2 ounces) 

1/4 cup plus 3 1/2 tablespoons granulated onion (about 2 1/8 ounces)

5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (about 1 ounce) 

5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika (about 1 1/4 ounces) 

Whisk together all ingredients in a large bowl until combined. —Kwame Onwuachi, My America

Make Ahead: House spice can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place up to 4 months.

Note: Worcestershire powder can be found at spices.com.

Peppa Sauce    

Active: 15 min; Total: 45 min, plus 24 hr standing; Makes about 2 1/2 cups

"The Scotch bonnet pepper is the star in this fiery but fruity hot sauce," says 2019 F&W Best New Chef Kwame Onwuachi. "Like most hot sauces, this one relies on the alchemy between vinegar and heat. To bump up the flavor, I use spice pickling liquid, an infused vinegar touched with ginger, thyme, and coriander. This recipe makes a quart, which is a lot, but trust me, this stuff goes fast. The French have their five mother sauces; I have my peppa sauce. I use it all the time, from jerk paste to curried chicken; I use it as a marinade and as a finishing sauce. It is always on my kitchen table and always in my pantry. And the best part is, like so many vinegar-based infused sauces, it gets better with age."

Spice Pickling Liquids

1 3/4 cups white wine vinegar 

1 1/4 cups water

1/4 cup granulated white sugar 

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons chopped fresh habanero chile (from 1 stemmed and seeded small [1/3-ounce] habanero chile)  

12 (4-inch) thyme sprigs 

2 (2- to 3-inch) slices unpeeled fresh ginger

Additional Ingredients

25 fresh red Scotch bonnet chiles (about 12 ounces), stemmed and roughly chopped (about 1 1/2 cups) 

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons peeled medium garlic cloves (from 1 to 2 garlic heads)

1. Make the spice pickling liquid: Combine vinegar, 1 1/4 cups water, sugar, salt, coriander, habanero, thyme, and ginger in a medium pot; bring to a boil over high. Remove from heat; let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Pour through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl. Transfer to a sterilized 24-ounce jar with a tight-fitting lid.

2. Process Scotch bonnets, garlic, and 1 cup spice pickling liquid in a food processor until smooth, about 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Transfer mixture to a separate sterilized 24-ounce jar with a tight-fitting lid. Place a sheet of wax paper on top of jar; seal lid. (The wax paper prevents the vinegar from reacting with the lid.) Let peppa sauce stand at room temperature in a cool, dark place 24 hours. Transfer jar to refrigerator. —Kwame Onwuachi, My America

Make Ahead: Spice pickling liquid and peppa sauce can be kept in airtight containers in refrigerator up to 6 months.