Sometimes, when I come to someone’s house, I marvel at the tiny kitchen cupboards and wonder where my hosts put all the stocks, WHICH THEY MUST SURELY HAVE AT HOME, RIGHT? But everyone’s different. One person is happy with flour, pasta, oil, and onions. Another one adds olives, mayonnaise, eggs, parmesan, sundried tomatoes, and bacon. Sure, I could manage with all that for a time, but I like to be able to really spread my wings. So I went through all of my cupboards and drawers, and here are some of my secret weapons.

Salt flakes – I use English Maldon salt, which can be bought at Makro as well as some specialty shops. The small, crumbly salt flakes stand out on steaks, on photographs of anything, and especially on chocolate tartlets and biscuits. They don’t melt easily and aren’t crunchy like salt crystals. They’re smaller than grains of salt, so they’ll blend well with all the other ingredients.

Smoked paprika – dried red paprika with a smoky accent adds an interesting flavour to many meats, but also to soups and spreads. Traditionally smoked in Spain, it’s carried by Marks & Spencer or Koření u Antonína.

Hazelnut oil – can be bought in various places, but I was fooled once, so I now only buy from my trusted source, or when I can sample it. It has to taste like roasted hazelnuts, without any aftertaste, which was sadly the case of the one from a French manufacturer I bought at Country Life. A few drops will liven up a salad or perfect a creamy soup. You can also buy walnut oil, which is excellent, but I find this one to be tastier.

Preserved lemons – I buy these whole lemons preserved in water and salt at the oriental shop Farah in Prague. They’re soft, and are usually chopped before using. I add them to celery salad, couscous, meat, or rice.

Kaffir leaves – or lime leaves, can be bought at Asian grocery shops (in Sapa, for instance). The leaves are about 5cm long and round, with a delightful fragrance. I add them to soups and curries. They’re also great in tea!

Almond and rose extract – natural almond and rose extract is a staple in my baking cupboard. Even a drop can do miracles. I go with the tried and tested Nielsen-Massey brand.

Hibiscus flowers – I add these dark purple flowers to refreshing summer teas. Just pour hot water over them, and a lovely crimson colour and tart flavor will begin to ooze out. I add powder from ground hibiscus flowers to my rhubarb jam with cinnamon.

Lemongrass – I buy it fresh at Asian grocery shops, and add it to curries and soups. I add the dried one to teas.

Tamarind – or tamarind pulp with fiber and seeds from tamarind pods. I add it to curries or exotic sauces.

Palm sugar – most of the time, these are big, sand-coloured pieces which have to be grated before using. If it gets old, you won’t be able to break it with anything. It has a mild taste and is used as an accompaniment to tea (which it is nibbled with) or in Asian sauces.

Chestnut honey – has a distinct and unmistakable taste. Too strong for some. I bring it back from my journeys, mainly from Italy.

Coconut oil – I’ve multiplied its use after visiting Sri Lanka. I put it in curries, but it’s also great in iced chocolate and adds oomph to eggs done sunny side up.

Rice paper – I have the dried round sheets that need to be soaked in water to make summer rolls, but I found frozen square sheets in Sapa which are also fit for frying.

English mustard – nice and yellow and very strong! It can also be bought in powdered form. It adds a kick to burgers or celery salads.

Ghee – I use clarified butter when I want to roast meat, or whole sage leaves. It won’t overheat and won’t form clots. When the one I made at home went mouldy after a week, I stopped bothering and just buy it.

Tonka beans – small, oval shaped things that look like black cardamom. I tried grating them into puddings. A friend of mine adds them to jams. The Chef at Mandarin Oriental sneaks them into ice-cream. Available in French specialty shops.

Rose buds – but not just any old kind. They have to be special, fragrant roses. I use the buds of Moroccan roses from Sonnentor. I cook them in cream to make panna cotta. Alternatively, I add them to tea.

And do you use to “spice up” your cooking?