How To Best Use Herbs and Spices
Cooking with Herbs and Spices
Almost everyone I know including myself has an Item at the back of the kitchen cupboard which was bought with great intention but was never used, it sits there with the unused coffee percolator, the unused sandwich toaster and on the shelf above it sits the foot spa that that you used once or twice the week you bought it and now just sits there waiting patiently for the day that you sprain your ankle or hurt your foot and it is brought down out of retirement to ease your pain and become the hero again.
I am talking about that little rack with 10 or 12 different herbs and spices that you bought with the intention of adding extra flavor to your meals but now it sits there in the back of the cupboard simply because you don't really know which herbs or spices go with the meals that you are making.
Fresh or Dried Herbs and Spices?
Herbs and spices add flavor and distinction to any meal they can transform a dish from being bland and tasteless to a dish with an exotic taste and a beautiful aromatic nose.
Herbs and spices both can be bought either fresh or dried, like most of us have at home and are afraid to use, Fresh herbs and spices have a milder flavor to the dried variety.
when cooking with fresh herbs and spices you should add around a tablespoon to the recipe , when cooking with dried herbs and spices you should only use around a teaspoon full.
Freeze Dried Herbs
Cooking With Herbs
Basil There are two types of Basil that are grown, Bush Basil and Sweet Basil which is the most commonly found and used, it has large shiny green leaves and has a strong sweet flavor.
Basil is a great addition to tomatoes, egg dishes, mushroom and is a popular accompaniment to pasta dishes, Basil is a major ingredient used in Pesto sauce and is a main ingredient in Bouquet Garni.
Basil is best used fresh because it does not dry successfully.
Bay Leaves Bay Laurel or Sweet Bay comes from tree in the Mediterranean, the leaves are shiny, smooth and dark and they have a strong aromatic scent.
Bay Leaves are often added to stocks when poaching fish, or for marinades, casseroles, soups and stews, Bay Leaves are also used as a flavoring in milk pudding.
Chervil A member of the Parsley family, Chervil is a favorite ingredient in French cuisine, Chervil has a delicate fern like leaf, with a delicate flavor and a hint of anise.
Chervil is best suited to soups, egg and cheese dishes or added to green salad for extra flavoring, Chervil is also a popular garnish for roasts and soups.
Chives A relative of the onion, Chives have a mild onion flavor and they have long spiky green leaves.
Raw Chives are often used in salads and can be added to omelette's, cheese dishes and mixed with sour cream they make a great topping for a baked potato or as a dip for potato chips or nacho's
Coriander Coriander has a flat feathery leaf and is often confused with flat parsley, it has a spicy flavour and is popular in Southern European, Indian and Asian cooking.
The leaves of Coriander are finely chopped and added to curries, stews, soups and marinades. Also known as Chinese Parsley, Coriander is often used in the same way as Parsley.
Dill A delicate and feathery herb, Dill has an aromatic sharp but sweet flavor.
Dill is a Fantastic addition to fish if added to the marinade, the sauce or even to the pan you are cooking the fish in, it also brings a unique flavor to Vegetables, and to cottage cheese.
Lemon Balm As the name suggests when the leaves of this plant are crushed they give of a wonderful lemony scent making them an ideal ingredient when making salads.
Sweet Marjoram is a plant which grows in the Mediterranean, it has small hairy leaves and a similar flavor to Oregano but it is a little milder and sweeter.
Marjoram is best used with savoury dishes and it tastes fantastic with Marrow, potatoes and rice, it has a strong scent and can be dried easily.
Mint There are many species from spearmint to the fresh tasting peppermint, it is probably the best known and mostly used herb in Britain and most commonly used with lamb or new potatoes.
Mint can be used with vegetables or added to minced beef it can be mixed with yogurt and used as a dip and Mint also mixes well with fruit.
Oregano is wild Marjoram but has larger and darker leaves and when grown in bright sunshine it gives its best flavor, it is popular in Italy and Greece.
Oregano tastes similar to Marjoram but is has a stronger flavor, it is often used in salad, pizza and tomato based dishes.
Parsley There are two types of Parsley, curled and flat. Flat Parsley is is grown in Europe and is said to have a finer taste than curled Parsley. Both types are high in Vitamin C and Iron.
Parsley works great with savoury dishes and is often used as a garnish, chopped Parsley when added to salads, soups, sauces and cooked vegetables enriches the flavor it is also known to take away garlic breath if chewed after a garlic flavored meal.
Rosemary A pungent and fragrant shrub, Rosemary has small narrow leaves which sit densely on the branches.
Most often used with Lamb but can be a good addition to any strong flavored red meats and in vegetable dishes such as Ratatouille, Rosemary is also a nice addition to a marinade.
Sage there are many varieties of Sage which is a strongly flavored herb that has a pale rough textured green-grey leaf, it is most commonly used as a turkey stuffing but can be used with pork and liver.
Sage can be a good addition to any richly flavored meat and in cheese and tomato dishes.
Tarragon Has two varieties, French Tarragon and Russian Tarragon, The french variety is more difficult to grow but it is a lot more aromatic than the Russian variety. Tarragon has shiny Narrow leaves..
Tarragon has a distinctive flavour and it is often used in vinegars, soups, stuffing mixes, sauces and it is a good accompaniment to meat, poultry and fish dishes.
Thyme Is one of the most popular herbs used around the world, and it contains an essential oil called Thymol which helps the body to digest fatty foods, It has small green bushy leaves which have a very strong flavor.
Thyme is used to add flavour to meat, fish, stews and vegetables.
Cooking With Spices
Spices are the dried parts of aromatic plants and they may be the fruit, root, flower,bud, bark or even the seed for the best flavors grind your own spices just before using them.
Capers are the buds of a small Mediterranean bush which are usually sold pickled in vinegar. Capers should not be allowed to dry out as it has a detrimental effect on the flavor.
Mostly used in sauces and salads, Capers are also popular as a pizza topping.
Cardamom is related to the ginger family and is available Whole, in green, black or white, and ground.The most common is the grey green pod which contains tiny dark brown seeds. Cardamom has a distinct bitter-sweet flavor with a hint of lemon and eucalyptus, it is used mainly in sweet and savoury Indian cookery and in the middle east for cakes, biscuits and pickles Cardamom is often used to flavor drinks.
Chili powder Ripe Chili peppers dried out are most commonly used in Chili powder, a very hot spice which is made from a blend of many different chilies that can be found. Cayenne is a very hot, pungent red chili sold already ground. Milder chili powders can also be found.
Chili powder is used in meat, poultry, fish and egg dishes and can be a nice addition to soups sauces and pickles.
Cinnamon These distinctive strips of dried bark from large tropical evergreen trees can be purchased as sticks and can be used whole or ground or can be bought in powdered form.
Cinnamon has a sweet and pungent flavor which works well with both sweet and savoury dishes, it is also use a lot with apples in desserts or cakes and is a great additive to mulled wine.
Cloves are the unopened flower buds of the evergreen clove tree they are dried and turn a rich brown color, cloves are available whole or ground , when used whole they are usually removed before a dish is served up.
Cloves are mainly used to flavour fruit dishes, mulled wines, mincemeat, bread sauce and curries.
Coriander is a spice but it is also a herb for more details check the herb section above.
Cumin Another member of the parsley family Cumin is available in both seed and powdered format it has a sharp, spicy slightly bitter taste and should be used sparingly.
Often mixed with coriander in curry mixes, Cumin also mixes well with fish, casseroles and couscous it can also be added to pickles, chutneys, soups and rice dishes.
Ginger is a root which is distinctively knobbly it has a hot sweet taste and it is sold in different forms.
Fresh root Ginger is included in many Eastern dishes, and it's true flavor is released during cooking, it is peeled and sliced or even grated to be used in curries, Chinese cooking and for marinades for fish meat and poultry dishes.
Dried Ginger is the ground root that has been dried out and it is used mainly in preserves, cakes, biscuits and puddings.
Stem Ginger is normally available preserved in syrup and is used as a sweetmeat, eaten whole,or used in breads, cakes candy or desserts.
Juniper Juniper berries have a pungent flavour with a slight kick,they go well with cabbage and add a light touch to oily or heavy dishes.
Mace is the dried outer membrane of nutmeg, it is sold as blades or ground to a powder.
Mace is used in mulled wines, meat pies, loaves, stews, in savoury white sauces and in milk puddings.
Nutmeg has an uneven brown outer surface with a pale interior, it has a milder taste to mace although it is slightly nuttier, Nutmeg can be bought whole or ground but if bought ground it can lose it's flavour quickly.
For best results you should buy whole nutmeg and you can grate it as required, Nutmeg can be sprinkled on vegetables and is also used in soups, sauces, meat, pate's and puddings.
Saffron is a very expensive spice, and quite often the price of saffron can exceed the equal weight price of gold.
Saffron is the dried out stigmas of the Saffron Crocus flower and it is handpicked.
Saffron is safer to buy in threads as the powder is easy to tamper with , it has a slightly bitter honey like flavour and it really adds to the flavour of dishes such as Paella, Bouillabaisse, rice dishes and the Cornish Saffron cake.
Turmeric is the dried out root of a plant from the Ginger family and is usually available ground up, it has a strong woody scent and a bitter flavor.
Turmeric is used to color rice, pickles, cakes and is widely used in Indian cuisine for curries, because of the color it is sometimes used as a cheap alternative to Saffron but it has a totally different flavor.
Vanilla is the fruit of an orchid mainly found in Mexico, it is mainly used to flavour chocolate, ice cream and as a flavouring for sweet dishes and deserts although Vanilla is quite expensive to buy.