I'm allergic to garlic and onions: talk to me about your other favorite spices!

November 6 2013 | Guest post by Alissa
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
By: Sudhamshu HebbarCC BY 2.0
My diet has gotten a bit more challenging lately: I've identified that I'm allergic to onions and garlic. A moment of silence while we mourn the loss of so much yummy Italian food…

I read a critique recently that said cooks are too dependent on garlic and onion to spice dishes. I know I've been quite guilty of that, as both flavor-wise and cost-wise you can get a lot of bang for your buck with these staples. While it's annoying to work around this new limitation — in both eating in and eating out — I'm also trying to look at it as an opportunity to break out of a rut and try out some new flavors in my kitchen. (And, you know, not getting sick any more will be awesome.)

So Homies, tell me about some of your favorite spices and how you use them! So far I'm getting more adept with cumin and red pepper, but I know there's more out there.

    • Smoked paprika is $2 at Trader Joe's, y'all!

      I also love liquid smoke, for almost any soup and especially for vegetarian dishes that you would otherwise flavor with bacon/ham.

      1 agrees
  1. Maybe not so much about the other spices, but I use leeks if I'm out of onion as it does a similar job! Not sure if your allergy will be a problem.

    Otherwise, paprika, cumin, thyme and basil are staples in our house! Good luck 🙂

    2 agree
    • while i can't speak for the person who asked the question, most folks who are allergic to garlic and onion tend to be allergic to the entire allium family, which includes leeks and other similar items.

      13 agree
    • Yeah, unfortunately it's the whole garlic/onion/lily family that I'm allergic to – which includes leeks, shallots, chives, and scallions. Certainly makes things interesting! 🙂

      6 agree
  2. I cook with ginger and lime together on nearly everything. Chicken, tofu, rice, grilled veg (particularly carrots yuuummm).

    In terms of getting some bang for your buck try keeping a few fresh herb plants in the house. A fresh basil leaf or sprig of thyme goes a whole lot further than the dried stuff. Even you have no green thumb and they die off in a few months, it's still a better deal than spending nearly the same price (in my grocery store anyhow) on some packaged cut fresh herbs that will be rotten within the week.

    12 agree
    • I'm gonna add sesame oil to the ginger and lime combo – I only started using it this month but now I fry everything in it! And especially fried up with ginger and vegetables, or on noodles, then a squeeze of lemon or lime (or from a bottle!) to give it a last hit of freshness.

      Is celery part of the allium family? If not then I love celery salt to add the sort of sharpness again that you'd be missing from garlic and onion.

      Also seconding smoked paprika, along with coriander, cumin and chipotle for that mexican style flavour.

      Also, do you like mushrooms? Dried mushrooms are fantastic for giving you a rich stock (as I'm guessing commerical stock powders are out) that you can then add other flavours to. They're also really deep and rich flavour themselves to chop up and add to food. They can be expensive but they're really cheap in my local asian supermarket – which you'll find with all spices and herbs so look them up!

      10 agree
      • Mushrooms are a staple in our house, too. Although they can be expensive, dried mushrooms often offer a really good bang for your buck. You can soak them in hot water and then save the broth for other dishes. Alternatively, if you re-hydrate them in the juices of whatever you're cooking, they can add a really nice flavor.

        Another spice to try is cinnamon. Persian cuisine makes great use of cinnamon in savory dishes, and it's something I'm trying to experiment with a little more myself. Good luck!

        4 agree
        • Yes! Cinnamon in savory foods is wonderful! I like it best on chicken or beef, paired with allspice, cumin, ginger, and lemon juice. It also pairs well with cayenne red pepper, cumin, and chili powder.

    • Anyone else with an onion allergy, can't have curry powder and stock. I got so excited at finding an onion free chicken stock. I ecxiterlly got to work making pumpkin soup, I had missed. Only to have an reaction. Found that curry powder has cumin in it, which contains onion powdwer. That makes me really sick. Double antibiotics and still stick and in pain.
      Chicken and Beef stock G F and animal freelo by Massel at New World in the GF section. Check what you buy they do have one with onion in as well.

  3. While not allergic, my otherwise very adventerous daughter doesn't really care for garlic or onions, so a lot of the time I just leave them out and compensate by adding extra of other spices. I adore cumin, and find you get a lot of flavor with the whole seed rather than ground. Fresh cilantro is great too. These are good for both Mexican and Indian dishes. Fresh basil is always good for Italian, of course. You can flavor a lot of meatier things with thyme or rosemary (fresh or dried). For Asian flavors, soy sauce and ginger are great, as is a dash of hoisin sauce. Also consider using citrus as a flavoring, rather than an ingredient itself (lemon on chicken or pasta is a lovely light flavor, orange goes well with pork). Good luck, and I hope you feel better soon!

    6 agree
  4. And I thought my mom was the only one! I grew up in an onion and garlic free home, thanks to Mom's allergies.
    My dad is a big lover of spice, and has distilled that love onto me. So here's my list:
    Rosemary. When I ate meat, chicken. Now, potatoes, bread – basically any starch goes well with rosemary.
    Fresh basil and I are BFFs. If you forget the garlic, pesto can still be pretty delicious.
    Smoked paprika. It's kind of pricey, so I don't have any in my home (broke Master's student, yo), but when I visit my parents, I cook with it every chance I get. I particularly like it on roasted chickpeas.
    Roasted red peppers. While they're not technically a spice, they're loaded with flavor. I love it in soup, and it pairs well with red pepper flakes. With a jar of roasted red peppers, some chili flakes, two sweet potatoes, and some coconut milk, you can make a banging soup in the crock pot.
    On a similar note to red peppers, sun dried tomatoes and pine nuts impart a lot of flavor on pastas and veggie dishes. Also, if you're blender happy like me, create a similar to pesto sauce (leaving out the garlic, of course) using pine nuts and either sun dried tomatoes or roasted red peppers. It makes my tummy happy.

    3 agree
    • Dang, I want to know more about that soup. Do you just cube the sweet potatoes and toss everything in on low? Drain the red peppers?

      1 agrees
      • Yep, cube the sweet potatoes and throw it in for 4-6 hours, and blend when done. The original recipe called for chicken broth (which I don't eat as a vegan) so I just throw the entire jar of red pepper in – juices and all. If you want, you can drain it instead, and add extra coconut milk. Either way is great.

        2 agree
        • Ooo, I make something similar sometimes but instead of red peppers I use kale. And make it on the stove top. And you serve it over a little mound of rice in a bowl. Thank you for inspiring my next dinner!

  5. Chipotle is amazing! And roasting or caramelizing your veggies will give them a deeper, more complex flavor. Caramelized fennel bulbs are awesome! Fennel seeds are great too, as well as curry spices such as allspice, clove, ginger (fresh ginger root = my true love!), cardamom, and coriander. Instead of sauteeing onions in your dish, you could steep fresh herbs such as basil, sage, rosemary or mint in oil before cooking veggies or meat in it. Lemongrass is an interesting addition to any dish – you just lightly bruise it with the side of a knife and let it release it's natural aroma as the food cooks. And a good strong broth will add oomph, but if you use canned broth or bullion, just be sure to check the ingredients for onion or garlic! Food can be flavorful and fragrant without those two items, and the fresher herbs or ingredients you can get, the better they'll taste! Happy experimenting!

    5 agree
  6. I use a lot of curry spices (garam masala, vindaloo, the list goes on…), as well as ras el hanout (a N. African spice that is AWESOME). I'd also look into some salt-free spice blends if you want a more complex flavor profile. You may be able to find one that omits garlic and onion!

    3 agree
    • Same here! I generally make my mixes from scratch so here's the common spices you could use for a curry:
      coriander, cumin, fenugreek, Vietnamese cinnamon, cinnamon, red chili powder (hotter than "Amercian" chili powder and as red as paprika!), coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ginger, turmeric, hing/asafoetida, curry leaves, black cardamom (smoky!), green cardamom (citrusy!), cloves, star anise, fennel, and tamarind

      A relatively easy dish you could make and omit garlic & onions, but get that Indian goodness, is poha!

      5 agree
      • I learned the hard way that red chili powder is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay hotter than "American" chili powder!

        1 agrees
  7. How do you feel about chilies? Do you react to those as well? I would try using some mild chili as a replacement to onion and garlic.

  8. My "spice" suggestion is actually not spices at all–it's chopped celery and carrots! In a lot of various recipes, you can sauté them up in place of onions and garlic and come out with a totally tasty result (which won't be exactly the same, of course, but will most likely be delicious.) I had a friend who made bolognese this way and she'd just add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar at the end to add a little twang.

    5 agree
  9. I just love a good quality garam masala. It's the smoky flavour in Indian cuisine and I've been using it everywhere: pan fried potaoes (add cauliflower for a homemade gobi masala!), carrot ginger soup, roast chicken or beef, tomato sauce based dishes, stirfries, squash. It's super versatile and really warm and comforting this time of year. Can be spicy, but you can cut it with tumeric or paprika if the heat is too much.

    3 agree
  10. Cloves, cardamon, ginger, chili powder, curry powder, dried mustard, fenugreek powder. I'm a spice hoarder (as in I have a huge drawer full) and those are what I go for the most after garlic.

    I recommend hitting up your nearest Middle Eastern or Indian market and start sniffing. Most spice mixes are probably a no go for you, but there's plenty of recipes online and you can omit what you can't have (bonus points of way less salt).

    1 agrees
    • Curry powder is actually a mix of spices too that can sometimes (but not often) contain garlic, but you can easier find a recipe online to make your own.

      • Curry is a single plant from which you get curry powder. Which in no way means that we haven't bastardized the word, but yellow curry powder usually is just that–the powder of curry leaves. If the ingredients say "spices," it's a mix. If it says "curry" or does not have ingredients (as single-ingred packages of spices do not require separate labeling, thanks for the confusion FDA) then you're probably getting the leaf.

        • Yes, curry leaves are dried leaves of a plant in the citrus family. And I agree that we've bastardized the word, but I'm still pretty sure that in practice "curry powder" does not equal powdered curry leaves. Silly, right? I tried to figure this all out when someone gave me a huge book of recipes from different parts of India. So what I've come up with is that when a recipe says "curry powder" it means the mix of spices, but when they say "powdered curry leaves, or dried curry leaves, or curry leaf powder" they mean just the leaves and it looks kind of greenish. Is that what other people have found when following recipes from India?

          I have bought "curry powder" in bulk from spice shops, and it was the blend of spices that's very yellow due to the turmeric I believe. I am curious what the exact words are on the packaging, since what you said about FDA mandated labeling. So maybe the shop labelled it wrong.

          3 agree
          • Curry powder is a creation back from when the British colonized India and was beginning to experiment with its food culinary wise. It was a quick and easy way to imitate the flavors without necessarily learning the cooking process that enhanced those spices. It's generally a mix of other powdered spices, but rarely contains powdered curry leaves. I vaguely recall reading that it's because the leaf doesn't work as well dried. If someone knows otherwise, please guide me!

            It's also worth noting that when it comes to gardening there are TWO "curry" plants! One is a true curry plant and is generally referred to as a "curry leaf" plant (murraya koenigii). The other is often sold as a "curry" plant, but it's not the plant that most recipes refer to. It smells similar but the taste is bitter and barely suited to cooking. And sadly you'll still see stores or even groceries sell that herb to the unsuspecting. Like me.

            I only linked to Wikipedia, but I've spent a year researching the murraya koenigii plant. I'm not in the right region or position to grow it yet, but that's my long term goal! EAT ALL THE CURRY LEAVES.

            1 agrees
          • From my memories of shopping in India, "curry powder" is not something you would normally see anyway, since "curry" basically just means "sauce".

            I'd expect something labelled "curry powder" in the UK to be a blend. In India, those spice mixes normally have more specific names, like garam masala, channa masala, etc. That's how my "curry" mixes I bought in India are labelled, anyway.

            If I were allergic to anything, I'd definitely find out the normal constituents and make my own, as recommended above!

          • So I checked my spice box when I went home, and this is what I found:

            I had two different "curry powders." They definitely say curry powder on the front, but on the back they also list the ingredients, none of which are curry leaves. They are both yellow due the the turmeric, but honestly my American tongue can't taste the difference between the two mixes.
            And I've always seen "garam masala" labelled just like that, not labelled as curry. My packages of that also have the separate ingredients listed on the back. I make a dal palak with garam masala, and I liked the mix, so I didn't feel the need to make my own garam masala.

            Thanks for the info about the plants, Claire. I don't live in the correct climate to grow my own, either!

          • I know the one I grew and dried and powdered gave me the same flavor as one of the yellow curry powders I bought from a bulk bin, and the same flavor as what a friend brought back from India. Definitely different than the spice mixes with turmeric, which to me smell different enough I can usually pick them out in store. That's actually how I figured out the labeling trick, and have since discovered that curry powder from curry leaves is usually about twice as expensive as the flavored turmeric. But since I can't seem to keep a leafy plant alive without my mother's help I've gone back to buying my herbs in the bottle. Thankfully my rosemary is sticking around quite happily!

  11. My go to spice is coriander. You can add it to just about anything in fairly large quantities (I buy it in bulk at Indian/Asian groceries), it gives really good underlying flavor that can then be adjusted or spiced up with whatever other things you're using.

    2 agree
  12. Garam masala is my favorite too. I make it myself using a recipe I found online and keep it in big quantities so I always have some ready. One of the perks of homemade mix is you can adjust the levels of seasonings, so if you like it heavier on, say, cinnamon or black pepper, boom, done.

    2 agree
  13. I have a packed spice cabinet and I make my own spice blends, I'm a nut for spices.

    You'd be amazed how far sea salt and freshly ground pepper can get you.

    I use a lot of lemon in my cooking too, although that's not really a spice unless you use powdered lemon peel. Basil is a favorite of mine (INSTANT ITALIAN. To me, pasta is not complete without a chiffonade of basil up top), so is cilantro, but I only use those fresh, never dried. Bay leaves are great in almost any kind of sauce or stock. Coriander seeds are really nice too, especially in chili. For baking and in tea or cider (since it's that time of year) I love using star anise, either ground or whole, depending. Thyme is amazing on poultry. Dill is really good on fish. Rosemary is another good one, but a little goes a real long way.

    See if there's a specialty spice shop near you, those are awesome for getting ideas and picking up new yummies.

    2 agree
  14. We use ginger in green leafy veggies. You can get it fresh, powdered, or in a paste. I love the convenience of the paste if I don't have fresh around. If you use fresh, you can either grate it, or use large slices that you can pick out later.

  15. Saw that you are looking for a chicken broth w/out onions. I can say I've recently stumbled into making my own. I made a crock pot chicken the other day with lemons, lemon pepper, rosmary and let it cook on low for about 6 hours. The meat literally fell of the bones and I was left with an amazing chicken broth in the crockpot. I poured it into an ice cube tray and just used it the other day as a base for soup. Turned out amazing and it didn't require a single lick of effort on my part.

    4 agree
    • I make my own veggie broth, but I don't do chicken, so I was hoping someone would suggest this for her!

    • Yep, I've just started making my own! Sadly, most-recently it was when I was sick and really wanting chicken noodle soup so soup-making turned into an all-day process. In the future I'll have to make it in advance to have on hand. 🙂

  16. I'm surprised no one has mentioned flavored sea salts, yet! They can have a huge impact on flavor. My two favorite ones are bourbon smoked sea salt and regular smoked sea salt, but they have so many kinds out there.

    In soups, ginseng can add flavor to the broth. I also love adding in fresh lemon thyme to my soups.

    I'll second some of the other things people have mentioned: fresh basil, fresh cilantro, chili peppers fresh or powdered, black pepper, chipotle peppers, rosemary, lemon grass, ginger, cloves, allspice, curry…

    The suggestion for sauteed celery and carrots is a good one. So is adding a squeezed lime or other fruit on top of a dish as you're almost done cooking it. For the sweetness sauteed onions can add to a dish, try substituting in a chopped apple (not granny smith or red delicious – something more neutral like fuji or gala).

    Also, try cooking with different kinds of wine. And don't forget to play around with different oils as they can add completely different flavors to your dish! At my house, we pair up what we're cooking with butter, saved grease from meats we've cooked (bacon, sausage, chicken, steak, etc), duck lard, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and sesame oil.

    I live near DC, so I'm lucky with lots of spice shops; but there are some online, too. You may want to talk to someone who works in a spice shop to get more ideas.

    3 agree
    • I second the wine cooking!

      I always have a plastic water bottle with white wine, rosemary and thyme in the fridge (it has garlic too but it can go without, definately). It gives a very nice "woods-style" flavor to meats and some fish (salmon, for example) 😀

  17. Cumin, oregano, rosemary, thyme, ginger, chili, all some of my faves. It can be worth visiting a specialty spice shop if there is one around you and asking there for suggestions for the types of cooking you do. I have a jar of some kind of ground red pepper that is more sweet than spicy. I don't notice it much but I do sometimes add it to tomato sauce.

    Oregano is super popular in Greek and Italian cooking.

    Ground pepper helps too. And salt. Love sundried tomatoes and goat cheese. Lemon.

  18. Herbes de provence is my "secret" in everything. It's a bit more delicate than Italian seasoning and is good in just about anything you put it in (meats, bean soup, roasted potatoes, you get the idea). A tiny pinch of cinnamon in savory dishes, especially long cooking dishes like pulled pork or chili, adds a nice dimension as well.

    4 agree
    • love herbes de provence! I make a super tasty baked tilapia with tomatoes and bread crumbs and it totally delicious!

      I would take a look at some Indian recipes. They tend to have tons of spices, and omitting the garlic or onion from them won't matter as much. I love black mustard seeds, whole cumin seeds, curry, and nutmeg.

      1 agrees
    • Revisiting this thread and I have to chime in that our Thanksgiving turkey this year was rubbed in herbes de provence and HOLY FREAKING COW it was amazing! I'm gonna have to remember that.

  19. Mustard – in either seed or liquid form. If you go for liquid, I prefer either Dijon or whole grain mustard. It makes a wonderful sauce for meat, veggies, or anything else.

    6 agree
  20. I have been onion free my whole life. My father, sister, cousin and I are all deathly allergic so we have gotten creative. We use a lot of garlic so I can't help with that, but as onion replacement we use choyote, celery, fennel, potatoes, daikon, ginger, green chile, or just extra veggies. It was a bigger adjustment for my husband who does most of our cooking and came from an onion eating household, so I'm going to invite him to chime in. The hardest part for me is eating prepared or prepackaged foods. Canned soups or frozen dinners are all out which means taking lunch to work is a pain if I don't prepare ahead of time. I can't use bottled sauces like barbecue or ketchup so we go without or make our own. It's definitely healthier since I avoid a lot of excess sugar, HFCS, sodium etc, but way, way more time consuming
    I'd love suggestions if anyone has found premade foods that are onion free!

  21. Asafoetida! Used sparingly and heated in the pan at the beginning of the cooking process, it gives a bit of a garlicky flavor. Emphasis on sparingly–it's strong stuff.
    I second Claire on the fenugreek. It's another one that benefits from toasting before use, even if you're using ground. It has a round savory flavor that I think goes really nicely with chicken.

    3 agree
    • I second the asafoetida. Its aroma when it's being cooked is pretty much identical with that of onion and garlic. It has a very strong smell when raw, though. You might find it a bit unpleasant, but the smell goes away when cooking. And you'll only need max. 1/4 teaspoon for most 2-4-person dishes, so one of those yellow jars (you'll see them if you do a Google search) goes a long long way.

      There's a religious sect in India that's all vegetarian, and the members don't even eat onion or garlic because those are usually prepared to go with meat. Asafoetida is what they use instead.

      So yes, I'd really recommend asafoetida. It's not just for Indian food, by the way.

      Oh, and if you miss a bit of onion texture in a dish, you can use some finely chopped celery (or other vegetables). No one will even believe you there's no onion or garlic in there wih the combination of asafoetida and chopped celery. 🙂

      3 agree
  22. I'm a little obsessed with dill. I love it on basically everything, but I think it works best on salmon, in canned tuna, and in deviled eggs. Throw some capers, lemon and olive oil into the mix (or maybe just some cheese), and you're good to go! Sometimes, you get a tasty Greek flavor out of it, but other times, it just adds a little savory, tart punch.

    3 agree
  23. Oh man, cooking without onions would make me an unhappy panda. I'm unhappy enough without celery which my husband HATES (although I still use it for mirepoix).

    I have waaaaay too many spice jars from Penzeys, and a lot of my go-to's have already been mentioned (finishing salts, fresh pepper, ginger, lime, coriander, fresh herbs, basil, rosemary, chiles. smoked paprika, cinnamon). The only ones that are missing from the list that I use are Mexican oregano and fresh thyme.

  24. Lemon! So underrated in cooking.

    And Thai basil. Yummm. Doesn't get any better. Embrace fresh herbs!

    Get yourself to ethnic food shops – African, Chinese/Asian, Indian – and shop around. I always ask for advice at my local Indian shop. Indian cooking to generalize tends to use tons of onions but it can be skipped and there are so many other flavours that it wouldn't be missed.

    And I'd echo mushrooms simmered down with balsamic, olive oil, or red wine. Adds a huge depth of flavour.

    1 agrees
    • Thai Basil is amazing, I have a small plant that I use in curry dishes and on it's own with fresh fish.

      Cinnamin Basil is where it's at. I'm serious, this beautiful plant tastes exactly how it sounds and is my very favorite spice for cooking autumn veggies. It's flavour lends itself to anything you might use ground cinnamin in, namely squash, beets, carrots, cranberry sauce, pork and apple dishes, and pot -purri.

      Best Beets and/or Carrots
      Boil veggies to fork tender in a large pot and drain, reserving 2-3 tbsp of the water. In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil with 1/3 cup orange juice, 1 tbsp honey/brown sugar/maple syrup. Stir in a tsp butter, a heaping helping of fresh chopped cinnamin basil, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/4 tsp ginger. Cook liquid until it reaches a caramel like saucey-goodness, and toss veggies in sauce untill warmed and smothered. Tastes like candy and heaven.

      2 agree
  25. A cinnamon/cumin combo is one of my favorite go-to spices. Even if you're just eating straight rice, it makes the meal feel incredibly savory and hearty. Definitely kicks the plain tomato sauce up a few notches.

    Also, simmer things in wine, red or white. You can never go wrong cooking with wine. Or a well-chosen beer. Possibly any brown liquor would do as well. It adds so much flavor and none of the sodium, if that happens to be an additional concern.

    1 agrees
  26. If you are new to using spices, I would also start with a few blends. I too prefer Penzeys – even if they are more expensive, they are usually much higher quality than grocery store spices – you can really taste the difference. Try:
    Berbere: http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/C13Berbere.html
    Maharajah Curry: http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeysmaharajah.html

    They also have the world's BEST cinnamon, the Penzey's cinnamon ground:
    http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeyspenzeyscinnamon.html

  27. I'm a spice fiend, and all I can say is use your nose! Smell the spice while you're cooking, and if it seems right, toss it in! You'll find yourself experimenting with offbeat flavor combos that might just blow your mind. Also, dry spices and seeds release their flavors over time, so throw those in somewhere at the beginning, whereas fresh herbs like basil and cilantro don't need all that time and can lose their flavor if you cook them too long, so use those near the end. Same goes for fresh hot peppers. The longer you cook them, the more they lose their spiciness, which may or may not be what you want.

  28. I sprinkle everything I cook with a mix of ground nutmeg, mild chili, pepper, curry, ginger, sometimes with cumin seed and/or cinnamon (basically, what I have in my pantry at the moment). It gives every savoury dish an indefinite but highly-seasoned and tasty flavour, and goes well with pretty much everything, from quiches to savoury muffins to gravy dishes and or even soup.
    Coriander is also a staple here.

  29. I found that omitting garlic or onions for a lot of recipes isn't as big of a deal as one might think. But my boss is allergic to everything in that family (aka she can't have garlic, onions, leeks, scallions, etc) but one trick she found is parsnip. If you are making a pureed soup, she tosses a chopped parsnip in it. She says it kind-of adds a little bit of some of the "onion flavor" to things.

  30. Most of my favorite tips, herbs and spices have been mentioned already but here are three unique ones:
    Tarragon. Totally underrated herb. Fresh, dried, whatever. It's great.
    Fennel pollen. Worth the price.
    Garum colotura. It's the liquid that drips off the chestnut barrels of traditionally cured anchovies and it is deeeelicious. You can totally have Italian food without the stomachache.

  31. Has nobody mentioned sumac??

    Get it at the middle eastern grocery – it's fantastic on savory yoghurt dishes or anything with yoghurt sauce, grilled/baked/BBQ meats, grilled vegetables, popcorn with butter, salt and pepper, pumpkin-tomato dishes, couscous…it's actually just all around great.

    I am a big fan of tarragon as well as dill – both have such distinctive flavors that you don't need much else besides salt and pepper to season a dish (in fact, it's smarter not to use anything else as other herbs and spices tend to clash with whichever one of the above you're using). Tarragon tastes great on everything – I've used it in risotto, creamy sauces, sauteed veggies, roast veggies, salad, chicken (with veggies). It's distinctive but delicious on almost everything. Try white bean tarragon salad – yum!

    I also use a lot of:

    Cardamom – great for baking, milk tea, Indian desserts

    Saffron – it seems like such a subtle flavor, but if you use it right it can change the whole feel of a dish and has such a delightful aftertaste

    chaat masala – totally different from garam masala (which is also great). You can leave out the garlic. Try it with chickpeas, chopped tomato (leave out the onion that would typically be there), lemon juice, salt, and grab a bag of "sev" from the Indian grocery (or you could use puffed rice/unsweetened Rice Krispies). Top with yoghurt, tamarind date masala and coriander masala if you want

    South Indian hot lime and sweet lime pickle – both fantastic

    Rosemary and thyme – I like these best when they infuse vinegar or olive oil – drizzle rosemary thyme infused good olive oil on goat cheese and eat like that with fancy bread and a glass of wine – amazing! Can easily be mixed.

    Sichuan flower pepper – but only in Sichuanese food

    Pomegranate molasses – technically not a spice, but try adding it to yoghurt for breakfast, drizzling it over grilled meat, or making muhammara (roasted red pepper, hot cayenne-like pepper, walnuts, bread crumbs, salt and olive oil – you can leave out the garlic – with some pomegranate molasses, ground up into a spicy red dip with hummus-like consistency).

    mahleb – technically ground up St. Lucia cherry pits – great in Middle Eastern baked goods

    bere-bere/berbere – it's the garam masala of Ethiopia. Mostly paprika with some other additions, like allspice. Cooking with it calls for garlic and onions but you could sub those out.

    young ginger – ever since I realized I preferred it strongly to mature ginger it's made its way into many of my dishes

    kaffir lime leaf – NOT JUST FOR THAI FOOD ANYMORE! (although I could wax rhapsodic on the wonders of Thai seasonings for awhile – like whatever sorcery causes shrimp paste and fish oil to make food so tasty). I sliced some up, fresh, to add flavor to a couscous and salmon floss with red and yellow bell peppers and julienned carrot dish I was making and it was amazing

    mustard – not mustard seed or mustard oil (although you can make some nice Bengali curries with a good mustard oil, there's a coconut milk and fresh coriander one I am partial to), but regular high-end comes-in-a-jar fancy mustard. Try cooking up some beef and butternut squash or some nice sausages with veggies – think mushrooms and peppers – with dill, lemon, a bottle of decent beer. So good. You can even casserole that and do a beef and vegetable casserole with beer, lemon, mustard and dill. Then slather breadsticks (the big bready kind, not the thin hard kind) in mustard towards the end of cooking and lay them across the top until they brown nicely.

    Capers – I put capers in lots of stuff – try a rosemary-thyme-basil mix on halved cherry tomatoes with a touch of salt, lemon juice or vinegar, olive oil and capers.

    Dried mint – add this to yoghurt with sliced cucumber and salt (typically you'd also add raw garlic but you can skip that). Or mix it with cumin, paprika, allspice, black pepper and salt (throw some sumac in there too, why not) and rub down your meat with it before cooking. This mix is also good tossed with couscous. Also good if you're going to make stuffed peppers (any color but green) with a Levantine flavor (think southern Turkey, Syria)

    lemongrass – but I still just use it in its traditional contexts – I make a mean red curry, green curry and Indonesian rendang daging.

    hibiscus – I'm still experimenting using it as a spice rather than to make iced tea, but I assure you when I succeed it will be amazing. It's popular as a blood pressure lowering medicine in China and Taiwan and as a drink in Egypt

    kokum – sour like tamarind and hibiscus, fantastic with fish or anything where you need to add something tangy to a red wine-imbued sauce, very hard to get (try your local Indian grocery)

    Fresh ground nutmeg – the pre-powdered stuff may as well be sawdust next to a freshly cracked nutmeg nut.

    Instead of the usual Italian spices, try red wine and a touch of cinnamon in your next tomato-based pasta sauce.

    That's all I can think of for now, but I can assure you it's not everything on my spice shelf.

    Oh yes, and I am pretty sure bacon counts as a spice. Bacon counts as everything.

    6 agree
    • I forgot to mention truffle oil – a bottle of it so small it could stand in for a normal-sized bottle of nice olive oil for a doll costs about $10, but for any given dish it only takes a teaspoon or so to turn it from "this is good" to "THIS IS AMAYZING! WTF DID YOU DO TO THIS, SEASON IT WITH THE TEARS OF A VESTAL VIRGIN??"

      3 agree
    • Late to the party, but I was thinking my cooking had hit a rut, and along comes this post! This comment alone is like a crash course in how to use spices I either never use or have never heard of. Looking forward to trying your suggestions when I get back from Thanksgiving travel. Thank you!

  32. Fermented bean pastes (black bean paste, miso, gochujang which is korean bean and chile paste). Of course, these have to be checked for sneaky garlic, but they can make very good asian sauces when they are primary ingredients or add richness and complexity of flavor to anything from enchilada sauce to pizza sauce. Gochujang is my favorite.

    Sesame anything (oil, paste/tahini, toasted seeds). A little drizzled sesame oil or a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds can really liven up a dish at the last minute. Furikake, a seasoning salt with sesame seeds and seaweed is also excellent.

    Layering other vegetable flavors in the backgrounds of dishes: celery, less fruity chiles (avoid the bell peppers, they're too sweet), shredded zucchini, finely chopped spinach, and finely chopped mushrooms (ground dried mushrooms, too) can all make things like tomato sauces much more interesting. Just lightly cook them at the beginning before you add in the other ingredients.

    As for spices, I'm a huge fan of smoke paprika, Korean chile powder, Indian chile powder (yes, they are very different both from each other and from American "chile powder" blends that often contain too much salt and probably some garlic. I'm a huge fan of fennel, coriander, nutmeg, and homemade garam masala are some of my other favorites.

    Basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and all kinds of fresh herbs are also excellent.

    I'd also like to suggest looking into traditional Buddhist recipes since alliums are avoided by monastics.

  33. Slightly off topic, but how did you figure out you were allergic to them? My husband has been having some strange food reactions lately and my best guess is that it is too a spice of some sort.

    • I used to get sooo many sinus infections for years and years; I had chronic sinusitis for six months my senior year of college. After a while I noticed that my sinus infections were always preceded by a sore throat for a few days. Then I noticed that I always seemed to get this sore throat after eating something with onions – usually a burger or sandwich with slices.

      Stopped eating onions completely and, what-do-you-know?, no more sinus infections. Ever. Unless I accidentally ate something. Once I got sick from just breathing in the fumes of freshly sliced onions. Later I found that I had the same reaction after eating something super garlicky so stopped that as well.

      Also, my problems with IBS pretty much ceased as well once I cut them out. Some internet research confirmed that others have dealt with that, too.

      For the longest time it was just a reaction from raw or barely-cooked onions or garlic, but I got sick two months ago from eating something cooked with just the spices. Which then made me realize how much food is made with one or both of those two. Eating at a restaurant is quite challenging! Burgers and sandwiches and salads are okay, but anything with sauces or marinades is questionable.

  34. I didn't see it mentioned too much, so I wanted to add the flavors and spices in a lot of Japanese and Southern Chinese cooking are done without onions and garlic.
    Chinese broccoli, or American broccoli, with oyster sauce is popular at Dim Sum, and easy to make at home.
    The Japanese have a lot of recipes for things that are flavored with Miso. I like Miso glazed fish especially.
    There are really easy soups that are great for weeknight meals, like cold Japanese Soba soup.
    Sesame oil, ginger, cooking wine or sherry, are also all great flavors. It is really easier than a lot of people think to put together a Japanese pantry, and then you are ready for almost any vegetable or meat that catches your eye.

  35. Most of the meals I'm "attracted to" are southwest-inspired, which have a TON of flavor. Cumin and coriander are the PB&J of my spice shelf with a chili powder kicker. I'll also second the other person who mentioned sun-dried tomatoes. Oils, vinegars, and wine give great depth- rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and balsamic vinegar are my favorites. There's a whole realm of things you can use outside garlic and onion- good luck!!

  36. Holy crap you guys, I don't have an allergy but have just been in an onion and garlic rut lately and reading through these comments has been a good reminder of all the other spices that I love… wow…

    So since I don't have much new info to add – I will toss in my votes for sesame oil, ginger, citrus fruits, dill, tumeric, cumin, coconut milk, raisins, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne red pepper, roasted red peppers, chipotle, allspice, celery salt or dried celery, rosemary and beer/wine/whiskey… also for the cumin, you can change the flavor by using whole seeds and toasting them first.

  37. I've been allergic to onion and garlic for about 15 years, it's progressively gotten worse over the years. "Natural flavorings" is one of the scariest things to read on a food label. Watch out for canned tuna packed in vegetable broth….. It's most of them….. I find I can eat the "better than bullion" brand chicken base, it has the scary words natural flavorings, but I've has it and not gotten ill, their beef base has the words onion on the label. Companies change their recipes all the time and it sucks…

    • Hello, fellow sufferer! It's crazy, isn't it, how many things have onions and garlic as flavoring? My sensitivity is getting worse, too. It used to just be raw onion – like on salads or sandwiches – but progressed in the last few months to where I had a reaction to spices used in my own cooking. So I had to go on a big ol' purge and donate half my canned goods.

  38. While I do have garlic salt and onion powder on my shelf of spices and herbs…. I tend to use tumeric, chili pepper, pepper, salt, oregano, rosemary, cilantro, cinnamon, and my favorite, BASIL! – I actually hate onions, so I generally don't add them to my meals… but various combinations of the others, go into everything. 😀

  39. I have nothing to add that hasn't already been covered – ROSEMARY! OREGANO! BASIL! PLAIN OLD SALT AND PEPPER! – but I just want to say that I feel like I have found my tribe on this thread.

    It's easy to cook without onions and garlic at home, and I am a whiz at it, but eating out sucks sometimes. It's amazing how often something on a menu will list every single ingredient EXCEPT onion or garlic, and you'll check with the waitperson, and even request no onion or garlic just in case, and still have something come out with onion finely chopped through it or reeking of garlic. Recently I ordered cheese bread, and the moment they put it down in front of me the smell of garlic whacked me over the head. It's CHEESE BREAD. Take some cheese, slap it on some bread, no need to add hidden garlic to it!

    I'm also recovering from the Friday night fun that was finding onion on a Margherita Pizza that had been ordered with the "no onion or garlic" request. In the first bite. In my mouth. True, I should know better by now and should have checked under the cheese before I bit in, but seriously, it shouldn't be that hard to make it without.

    Anyway. Enough ranting. I'm off to dream about the rosemary potatoes I'm going to make for dinner. Cos that's how I roll.

    1 agrees
  40. I was on vacation last week (thankfully the cruise chefs were AMAZING and made me special allium-free meals :)), and I can't tell y'all how chuffed I was to come home last night and find this post with SO MANY suggestions and ideas for me to try – some that I had heard of and want to revisit, and some that are completely new to me.

    Thank you, homies! *mwah!*

  41. Here's a link with a few suggestions: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/mar/30/best-foods-for-ibs (Short version: green parts of spring onions, rocket pesto, fennel)

    I have two friends who can't have garlic and onion. I bought one of them some of this wild garlic salt http://www.amazon.co.uk/Falksalt-Natural-Garlic-Sea-Salt/dp/B0046HNXRK – the flavour in wild garlic is in the leaves so it doesn't seem to be so problematic – you could also just use wild garlic fresh leaves when they're in season. (Nigel Slater has some great wild garlic recipes online, but I think if I post the link I will get stuck in the spam filter! Just google it.)

  42. You could get some new hints for your cooking from ancient roman cuisine, often with onions as well, but many spices and new taste- experiences!
    I promise, fish sauce sounds disgusting, but it is really delicious with almost everything 🙂 Like Soj sauce I guess: http://pass-the-garum.blogspot.co.at/
    They love sweet and sour tastes in a mix.

    And my new favourite: vinegar, especially balsamic vinegar.

  43. Stay with me here… I just found truffle-infused olive oil at Trader Joes for only $6 per decent-sized bottle. And guess what? It tastes and smells distinctly like nice, roasted garlic, though perhaps with a bit of mushroom or earthiness. It is delicious and highly flavorful, so a little goes a very long way, stretching out that high price point a little bit. It goes on everything savory: pizza, eggs, potatoes, other vegetables, risotto, garlic toast, salad, and the list goes on. I highly recommend this if you have a TJ's nearby!

  44. I'm not sure if you've heard of a FODMAP diet. It's recommended for IBS sufferers (like me) and garlic and onions are on the "no fly" list. There are some work-arounds like garlic oil, something about the way the particles merge with the oil makes it okay. Also chives are okay. You may find it's not a trigger for you? Anyway look on Pinterest for FODMAP recipes, there's a pretty good assortment out there. And smoked paprika is the bomb!

  45. First, someone mentioned truffle oil and I have to say, there tends to be a huge quality difference between the expensive stuff and the cheaper stuff (the bargain bottle I bought was nearly inedible and nothing like the deliciousness of the good stuff!)
    Along those lines, there are a lot of really great infused oils and balsamic vinegar options…I pretty much love everything from this company http://www.greatlakesoliveoil.com/. They are a little pricey, but well worth it for the quality (and if you happen to be near a location, their stores are set up to let you sample everything!) If you're on a budget, I'm sure there are some great directions online for infusing your own oils as well.

    I'm also a huge fan of avocado oil…it's not an overpowering flavor, but it has a nice finish/sear on meat that is a bit different than olive oil, etc. I especially love it with pork!

    Other than that, I absolutely love jalepeno powder! Be careful that you buy one that truly is 100% ground jalepenos though, because there are definitely some "blends" out there with garlic. I currently have this one & it's great: http://www.amazon.com/Sonoran-Spice-Jalapeno-Powder-Oz/dp/B008EQM1YU/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1436354984&sr=8-3&keywords=jalapeno+powder
    It seems expensive, but it's a really big container and a little goes a long way!

  46. My mum is allergic to alliums. She still eats garlic at her Drs suggestion so just in case one day she eats some onion by accident her body is used to it. She's VERY allergic to onion. My aunt read somewhere that if you take the inside stem bit out of the garlic it is easier to digest. Food for thought.

    I grew up never eating onions etc so I couldn't begin to tell you what is a good replacement because I've never cooked with onion myself. Ever. This post is just to say, I bet you don't miss them as much as you thought you would 🙂 I've always just left it out of recipes with no issues, and no onion tears.

  47. It's been a while since this was posted but I just stumbled across it today. I have an allium allergy as well (and it has gotten progressively worse in the last few years). I use a ton of cumin, paprika, smoked paprika, celery salt, ginger, and coriander. Also l'Ecuyer's Gourmet ( http://www.lecuyersgourmet.com/ ) in South Carolina has been a lifesaver for spice blends and her seasoned salt, pizza mix, and fajita blend are pantry staples in my home. The owner has multiple food allergies including alliums and uses top quality organic spices in her blends. She is also making body care products. Not all products are listed on her website but she is very helpful and quick to respond if you contact her with questions.

    Also, if you haven't already figured this out, steer clear of ANY food with ingredients listed as SPICES, FLAVORING, NATURAL FLAVORING, and anything made with Broth or Stock (including meat, especially poultry, that is packed in broth for flavor).

  48. Our company, Casa de Sante has just launched onion and garlic substitute spice mixes (Mexican, BBQ Rub, Tuscan Herb, Lemon Herb, Indian Spicy Hot) and vegetable stock powder. Our seasoning mixes contain no onion or garlic, we use hing instead, and we are FODMAP Friendly Certified. We are available at casadesante.com and on Amazon.
    Thanks!

    1 agrees

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