Any kitchen witch worth their salt (sorry for the pun!) will undoubtedly have his or her favorite ingredients—the kind that one's pantry just feels incomplete without—but I venture to guess that there are some ingredients fairly common to us all, no matter where we live and what kind of witchcraft and magick we practice! Here are ten of my favorites (whittled down from a considerably longer list!) and I hope they will strike a chord with you, too; you will also find a lot more ideas and recipes using these ingredients in my new book, The Enchanted Kitchen.
Honestly, I simply can't imagine my kitchen without the basket of lemons sitting on the windowsill; I use lemons every day, and in every way, and I think every kitchen witch probably feels the same! (Please note that I am talking about fresh lemons, that you squeeze yourself; those little bottles of lemon juice may be useful but they just don't have the same healthful or magical properties as the fresh fruit.)
The lovely lemon is packed with feminine energy, both protective and magical, and is a fruit sacred to the moon, unsurprisingly. On a spiritual level, lemon also clears away confusion and helps us focus and clarify our thoughts. And, of course, lemons work so well in the kitchen, from fish to chicken, from baking to desserts, and for all kinds of pickles and preserves. (You'll find a delicious recipe for lemon pickles in Enchanted Kitchen.)
Keeping a supply of dried lemon peel on hand in the pantry lends itself to all sorts of kitchen uses, in particular gremolata, an Italian favorite used for topping meat and pasta dishes, as well as salads. You will need to peel several large, smooth-skinned lemons, ensuring that the peel is free of the bitter white pith. (Use the peeled lemons for juice or in other recipes.) Chop the peel into thick slivers and dry out in a fairly cool oven (250° F) for at least 3-4 hours. Pulse the dried peel briefly in a blender—it should not be completely powdered—and store in a small glass jar in your pantry. To make gremolata, mix 2 tablespoons of the lemon rind with 1 large clove of crushed garlic, and 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs (basil, oregano, or thyme), then sprinkle the mixture over your dish just before serving.
For my Italian father no meal was ever complete without garlic in some shape or form—he even spread a little on his fried eggs in the morning, much to my mother's chagrin! Of course, garlic has powerful magical properties of protection, strength, and healing and for these reasons has long been a witch's kitchen mainstay. Strings of garlic were traditionally hung in kitchens (and often still are) to protect the home and its inhabitants from malevolent spirits.
I always have a few fresh garlic bulbs in my pantry, which I can then peel and use as needed: either whole, with just a clove or two to flavor oils and vinegars, or crushed and added to sauces, marinades, butters, and so on. Allioli is a pungent garlic sauce made by crushing together four cloves of garlic and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir in an egg yolk, and then gradually add up to 1 cup mild olive oil, until the mixture thickens. Stir in a little lemon juice to sharpen and some crushed black pepper. Store in a little jar in the fridge and use with pasta, chicken, seafood, or lightly steamed vegetables.
This magical little herb is full of magical and health-giving properties and is credited with giving greater courage and willpower in difficult situations. And it has so many uses in the kitchen; fresh thyme is wonderful, of course, but since thyme is also one of those herbs that keeps its aromatic flavor well when dried, I always have a large jar of it tucked away in my pantry.
If you have some fresh thyme, place a few sprigs in a glass bottle and fill with olive oil; allow the oil to steep for a few weeks, then strain; you will always have fragrant thyme oil for frying, adding to salad dressings and marinades, and so on. Make a paste of soft butter, crumbled dried thyme and a little crushed garlic, and rub it liberally over the skin of a chicken before roasting. I also love baking with thyme, and it blends particularly well with lemon—for example, mix a little thyme with lemon juice and sugar, and use this as a glaze for a simple pound cake or cookies.
Probably not one of the most familiar spices, unlike cinnamon and ginger, but if you are a kitchen witch like me, who loves to prepare spicy curries and Middle Eastern dishes, cardamom, with its unique flavor of both rose and citrus, is an essential. You can buy the seeds ready-ground, but I keep a jar of the whole seeds in my pantry and grind them as needed in my wooden mortar and pestle. Apart from curries and the like, ground cardamom is lovely in baking and desserts; you can add a few seeds to tea or coffee, too, as they do in the East. Make a tea syrup using Earl Grey Tea simmered with 2-3 tablespoons of cardamom pods and a few tablespoons of sugar. When the mixture is thick and syrupy, strain it and store in a small jar—it can be served over dried fruit, or creamy custard and rice puddings.
Magically, cardamom is known for increasing clarity of thought, and lifting the spirit; it's also a passionate spice, that can draw love to us, or increase the romance in existing relationships.
Really this needs no introduction: not only is honey one of the oldest foods known to mankind, but its health and spiritual properties are unsurpassed, thanks to the magic of the bees! Honey was sacred to the gods of Eqypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as in Hinduism; it's believed to carry messages of spirit and is also beloved of the faeries and their kin.
Honey lifts and sweetens soul, spirit, and life, so I believe it should be used as often as possible, in baking, sauces, desserts, and more; use it to replace sugar as a sweetener in hot or cold drinks. Please use raw, organic honey if possible, and try local honey fragranced by different plants and flowers—it's a true taste experience. (I have a jar of lavender honey in my pantry that is just fabulous drizzled on pancakes, scones, and in tea, too.)
Sage is such a diverse herb, with its various culinary, medicinal, and ceremonial applications. Here I am talking about culinary sage—white sage is the one traditionally used for rituals and ceremonies, but unfortunately has become rather over-harvested in recent years. Sage, like thyme, retains both flavor and taste well when dried, so should be a part of everyone's magical pantry. Earthy and aromatic, I love adding it to chicken or pork dishes, and it's wonderful with rice, pasta, and beans, too.
Magically, sage helps ease stress and tension and helps us feel calm and clear again; it is particularly helpful when made into a tea for this purpose.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar
Although the wine vinegars have their place, I still return, time and again, to the simple and traditional apple cider vinegar, which has so many uses in the kitchen and beyond. (Please try and obtain organic, natural cider vinegar, with the "mother" if possible.) Other vinegars may contain various chemical additions and preservatives.
Making our own fruit, herb, and spice vinegars is a wonderful way of bringing garden bounty and blessings into the pantry; they are wonderful on salads, of course, but adding a spoonful of herb vinegar to soups, broths, and sauces adds a magical new taste dimension. A delicious Italian-style vinegar can be made by steeping sage, black peppercorns, oregano, basil, and rosemary in a small bottle of vinegar for a few weeks. (And vinegar is wonderful for health applications, too, particularly coughs, colds, and infections of all kinds.)
Here I am not talking about the many kinds of fresh chili, which I always have in my kitchen, but rather a jar or two of dried red chilies, which are incredibly useful to have up your (witchy!) sleeve. Anything you create using these little spicy powerhouses will give you and your food a burst of warm, protective energy.
You can make spicy chili oil simply by steeping the chilies in a bottle of olive, vegetable, or sesame oil for a few weeks; add some coriander seeds, cinnamon, star anise, cumin, or garlic to create a more complex flavor. Toss rice, pasta, or salad with a little of this oil for a simply delicious meal. I also like to grind a few dried chiles and mix them with some dried oregano, cumin, oregano, and a little sea salt, and use this mixture (which keeps well in a small jar) as a delicious sprinkle over pasta or vegetable dishes, or addition to sauces and marinades for barbecues or grills. You will find a lot more recipes using the magic of chilies in my book Enchanted Kitchen.
9. Sun-Dried Tomatoes
There is nothing quite like a tomato fresh from the garden, but these tomatoes give a burst of summer flavor all through the year, and just a few make a wonderful addition to pizzas, salads, pasta dishes, and more. I always buy small plum/cocktail tomatoes when they are on special at the market and prepare a few jars of these little wonders! (Actually, they are not dried in the sun, but in the oven; they can be prepared in a dehydrator or microwave, but since I own neither of these, the oven works fine for me!)
Line a large baking sheet with foil, and then arrange the tomatoes, which you have cut in half, on the foil, cut side up. Sprinkle lightly with salt and a few dried herbs like sage or basil, and then leave in a fairly cool oven (200° F) for at least six hours, or until the tomatoes have shrunk slightly, and are dry to the touch. Cool then remove from the baking sheet and pack into sterilized glass jars, leaving space at the top for the olive oil, which should cover the tomatoes completely. Store on a cool shelf in your pantry and top up the oil when it gets low. (These keep for ages, but seldom last too long in my kitchen!)
Sacred to Venus and Aphrodite, the tomato has long been venerated for its magical powers when love, romance, and passion are concerned; however, it also keeps negative energies out of the home, and is known for increasing creativity and inspiration on all levels.
10. Black Pepper
This probably seems a fairly obvious pantry choice, since most of us use pepper on a daily basis in one way or another, but since this familiar spice has so many wonderful and magical uses, I felt it deserves a place in my "essential" ingredients list. Use black peppercorns to repel negative, jealous, or harmful energies and increase your self- confidence—you can add it to protection bottles and simmering mixtures for this purpose, too. And apparently you can get rid of unwanted visitors or entities by sprinkling a mixture of ground black pepper and sea salt around the entrances to your home!
Of course, we probably all already use pepper in our kitchens, but I have a simple pepper blend that I like to keep on hand in my pantry; simply grind some black peppercorns, and mix with some ground paprika, a few dried and crushed chilies, and a little dried rosemary or oregano. Store in a small jar, where it will last for ages. Use this mix as a rub for steaks or chicken before grilling or stir a little into some softened butter andthen spread on grilled meat or vegetables—wonderful!
Happy enchanted cooking in your magical kitchens!