Let's face it, sometimes cooking is hard. Especially in a dorm room with little more than a microwave and basic dishes to work with. But all does not have to be lost, even the most basic easy mac or ramen noodles can be made into something delicious and new, given the right spices. So here's a list of some of my favorite versatile spices you should have in any kitchen, even if that kitchen is just a microwave and a mini-fridge.
1. Garlic Powder and Garlic Salt
These two go in the same position on this list because one is simply the other but with salt added. Garlic is such a wonderful ingredient in so many dishes, and due to its global popularity, it can be used to liven up any kind of cuisine without tasting out of place. But, fresh garlic is a bit expensive and can be a hassle. While the real thing has a long shelf life, the powder is much easier to work with and store, and one jar of it goes a long way. Sprinkle a little or a lot of garlic on almost anything and it immediately improves the overall flavor.
2. Chili Powder
There are few things more wonderful than knowing you have the ability to immediately give even the most bland foods prepped in your room into something with a nice amount of kick and a complex flavor palate. And there are even fewer things that make it easier to do this than chili powder. Whether you buy some that's just powdered peppers or you buy a chili powder that's a blend of different herbs and spices all in one bottle, the possibilities of what you can do with chili powder alone are practically endless.
3. Seasoned Salt
Lawry's Seasoned Salt is a fantastic kitchen staple, consisting of a blend of different seasonings that, much like the other items on this list, is extremely versatile, it's a fun spice to play around with. But don't let the name brand be necessary, many other companies also make fantastic seasonings just like Lawry's, any pre-mixed seasoning, whether it's from your favorite burger joint or a local farmer's market or even just another big name on the supermarket shelves, is sure to be a big hit, so don't be afraid to buy a few different kinds and play around with em.
Not all of your spices need to be savory or salty, because not everything you're gonna cook is going to be those things either. For your dishes on the sweet side, whether they be from trips to someplace with an oven or you're making a mug cake, cinnamon should always be handy. Even toast is turned into a great snack when you add butter, cinnamon, and sugar. Many hot drinks can be made better by the addition of some cinnamon as well. Any kitchen without cinnamon handy is a kitchen that's incomplete.
5. Crushed Red Pepper
Finally, we have another super-versatile spicy addition to the list: Red Pepper Flakes. This spice can go on just about anything you want to add spice to from Asian cuisine to basic American cuisine to Mediterranean, almost anything.
Of course, you'll probably be using it sparingly on the basic soups and things you can make in your dorm, but that doesn't change its fantastic usage.
The best part of this spice is in many cases, you won't even have to buy it, many pizza joints throw it in for free, along with the Parmesan cheese, when you order a pizza, so you'll likely always have more than you need on-hand if you make sure to stockpile it like you do the extra sauce packets you get from fast-food restaurants.
So there you have it. Cooking in a dorm may be limiting, but it never has to be boring. Take a trip to any grocery store near you and pick up these spices as well as others you may recognize, familiarize yourself with them, and liven up everything you eat, no matter how basic.