Toasting spices brings flavors to the forefront, highlights complexity, and adds character and depth. It can also help revive spices that have gone stale, and it fills the kitchen with enticing aromas.
To toast your spices, place whole spices in a dry, flat-bottomed pan. (While all spices can be toasted, it's best to toast each spice individually, as different sizes and shapes can toast at different speeds and ground spices burn easily.) Set heat as low as possible and let the pan with spices warm up slowly, shaking it every minute or so for even toasting. The spices are ready when their fragrance fills the room and their color darkens very slightly. Empty the pan into a bowl to remove them from the heat, and cook with the toasted spices immediately.
TRY IT OUT
Toast 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds until fragrant. Add to a large pot with 1 pound of dry beans (rinsed) and 1 roughly chopped onion, then add water to fill the pot to about 1 inch above the beans. Simmer until the beans are tender, then salt to taste.
Why it works: Bean dishes become savory and fragrant with the addition of toasted spices to their cooking liquid.
Toast equal parts cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds, grind coarsely, and mix with salt. Rub with a little oil onto a piece of fish to form a crust. Roast in a hot oven until the fish is just cooked though.