My husband is from Minnesota, and he tells a joke about Minnesotan cooking. He jokes that a REALLY exciting recipe in Minnesota uses both salt AND pepper. Unfortunately, salt and pepper are the spices that most Americans, not just the friendly folk in the North Star State, know how to use on a regular basis. And even then, only black pepper and so-called "table salt."
With the right spices, you can live forever on a limited diet. Having a good spice rack is essential to cooking. You don't need to start collecting every flavor in the spice world, but there are a small collection of spices that you probably don't realize are in just about every delicious food you love.
There are more spices than those listed below that you should consider keeping around, but they are certainly better fresh. Stay tuned for a word of Fresh Spices!
Staple Dried Spices
Oregano: This is one of those New World spices that changed European cooking forever. Most people think of oregano as an Italian spice, but it is just as constant in Latin American cuisines. It's a primary ingredient in chili blends, as is...
Celery Seed: Much like fresh celery, you'll be amazed at how many dishes can be improved with the simple application of a little celery seed. Celery Salt can also be very useful, as you add more flavor when you use it instead of regular table salt. Any vegetable heavy dish can be made to taste somewhat heartier with a little celery seed.
Garlic Powder: You can use it in all sorts of situations where you could use fresh garlic, but it has additional flexibility. I like using toasted garlic powder, you get a richer flavor as the garlic is already cooked when it's dried. This makes it much better for adding to, say, a grilled cheese sandwich.
Fenugreek Seeds: You can get both the leaves and the seeds of this spice, and both have an excellent flavor, but the seeds are definitely the bolder taste. Fenugreek is the flavor that makes curry taste like curry, so if you like Indian food, Fenugreek is a must have.
Thyme: This spice is one of the few that is pretty much as good dried as it is fresh. What you may not know is that there are two major varieties of Thyme, French and Mediterranean. French Thyme is the more common, but when you go out to get your spices, consider the Mediterranean Thyme. It has a slightly spicier flavor, so if you substitute Mediterranean for French, you create a more unique flavor that stays just as familiar and delicious.