My Mother, bless her heart, was never an inspired cook. She was constrained by the times she was born into (born during WWI, teen during the Depression, young adult during WWII rationing) and the challenges of kashrut. Salt, pepper, onions, and garlic were about the only seasonings she used, and she insisted that "Jews don't use gravy."
So, shall we say, as a cook I am not my Mother's daughter. While I started slow, by high school I was experimenting with foods from health food stores (Dannon yogurt! Exotic! Yeah, I'm OLD) and started making bread from scratch. My husband, whose Mother had a similar generational if not religious upbringing, came into my life having already broken out into Chinese cooking and always trying new foods at ethnic restaurants.
So today I'm going to share with all y'all two spices that are important in my life. They are cumin and ginger.
Many folks only know ginger from its role in sweet foods. From Red Hots to pumpkin pie to gingerbread, cooks first get to know ginger in powdered form. Big, bulbous, fibrous spicy - these attributes of ginger root make working with it directly a bit intimidating at first. It's used a lot in Chinese cooking to kick things up.
It's easy to start by peeling about a square inch of ginger root and chopping it finely. DO NOT START BY USING A MICROPLANE GRATER ON GINGER. Recipes call for CHOPPED ginger for a reason - microplaned it's stronger than you will expect. Saute' it lightly in some olive oil, then add a pound of green beans and saute' them until done. Experiment from there in other dishes later.
My 'secret' ginger use? I use those peels from the ginger root when I make chicken stock. They add a wonderful depth to the flavor.
I also grow ginger, but .... I'm not good at it. I can't stop it from going dormant in winter even tho' I bring it in, and it starts up LATE in spring. I certainly don't get enough for me to use my own much of the time!
You might now know it, but you've probably already met cumin before. It's one of the ingredients in some good chili, and in some tacos. Which, when you think about it, makes it a pretty NEW addition to actual Mexican food, since it's a native of the middle east and India! You'll use this spice ground, rather than in the whole seed.
To me it particularly shines in middle eastern food. Tzatziki Sauce is one of the staple sauces of my kitchen. A simple mix of yogurt (usually Greek yogurt, tho' 'regular' yogurt is fine if you want a thinner sauce), lemon, salt, garlic, cumin, and chopped cucumber, I use it as a sauce on sandwiches (felafel, gyros), as a salad dressing, as an accent to roast lamb, etc.
I've been failing at growing this, too. Le sigh.
So, go forth and play with your food! It's fun, and alchemical.