Whether they’re whole or ground, spices generally taste better when they’re toasted. The heat opens up their complex flavors, making them full and smooth instead of harsh and raw. Toasting is quick and easy, as you’ll see in our tortilla soup recipe and in the recipes for Smoked Paprika and Fennel Seed Roast Turkey and Chicken Tikka Masala.
To toast whole or ground spices, put them in a dry skillet over medium-low heat and stir frequently just until they become very fragrant and darken slightly (or pop, in the case of mustard seeds). It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes; watch carefully so they don’t burn. Immediately transfer to a dish to cool (if left in the hot pan, they could burn).
To grind the spices to a coarse or fine powder, use an electric coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle.