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Unmasking the Mystery of Cooking with Herbs

Updated on August 15, 2012

Unmasking the Mystery of Cooking with Herbs

I don't know about you, but I didn't always cook with herbs because I didn't really know which herbs went with what. Now I use herbs, some because they are tried and true for me, but others, I still try with the cautious trial and error approach, which sometimes yields excellent results and other times leaves me wondering what went wrong. Here is a little bit of information on common cooking spices that may help you determine what you want to experiment with to enhance the flavor of your cooking.

You should always add herbs and spices in small amounts. It is recommended that you add 1/4 a teaspoon per every four servings. If you are using dry herbs, they should always be crushed prior to using. Fresh herbs should always be snipped prior to use. If a recipe calls for dried herbs, and you want to substitute fresh, be sure to use three times as much to be sure your flavor is enhanced.

Here is a little information about some of the more common herbs and spices. I hope it helps you to choose the right ones for whatever you may be cooking.

*Basil - This herb has a pleasant smell. It also has a warm and sweet flavor. Basil can be used in both whole or crushed form. It is typically used in things such as lamb, roasts, stews, fish dishes, ground beef, vegetables, dressings, and also omelets or quiches.

*Bay Leaves - This herb has a bitter flavor. To flavor dishes, use whole, however, remove prior to serving. Bay leaves are typically used to season vegetable dishes, seafood dishes (I use in my low country boil), stews, and pickles. I also use bay leaves (about 3) in spaghetti or lasagna sauce.

*Caraway - These seeds are somewhat spicy in taste. They are also very aromatic. Typically they are used in baking cakes or breads. They are also used to season saurkraut, soups, or cheeses.

*Chives - Have an onion like flavor that is very mild and sweet. They are often used in soups and salads. They make an excellent topper for baked potatoes. Chives are also good cooked with fish dishes.

*Cilantro - Fresh cilantro has a better flavor than dried. It is used in many Mexican dishes including many pico de gallo and salsa recipes. It is also used good with chicken and fish and good with salads, rice, or beans.

*Curry Powder - This spice is used to season various meats and poultry. It is also quite good on fish and vegetables. This is one of the main spices used in Indian Cuisine.

*Dill - Both the seeds and the leaves of this herb can be used to spice up food. Leaves are often used as a garnish. Often the leaves are used to flavor potatoes, beans, soup, fish, or salad dressings. This spice is also used to flavor pickles.

*Fennel - Has a hot but sweet flavor. Both seeds and leaves are used to flavor food. Leaves are often boiled with fish. Fennel is sometimes used in small amounts in baked goods.

*Ginger - A delightful smelling spice that has a strong spicy but sweet flavor. Ginger can be used in fresh, dried, or ground forms. It also comes in a candied form. Some of its typical uses include: pickles, preserves, baked goods, soups, and meat dishes. It also is great in tomato sauces.

*Marjarom - Often used to flavor fish, lamb, and poultry. Also used in stews, stuffings, omelets, and tomato juice. It can be used as a dried herb or in fresh, green form.

*Mint - Very heavenly scent. It has a cool flavor. Good cooked with lamb and fish (especially salmon). It also makes a welcome addition to soups, sauces (mint mustard sauce, yummy), peas, carrots, cheeses, and also fruit desserts. Don't forget how yummy it tastes in beverages, like mint juleps.

*Oregano - Very strong pleasant odor. It can be used whole or crushed up in sauces, stews, gravies, or tomato juice. Oregano also enhances the flavor of fish, chili, eggs, pizza, omelets, chicken, and vegetables. Remember, it tastes great sprinkled on sub sandwiches too.

*Paprika - A very light tasting bright red pepper. It is used to spice up eggs (especially good on deviled eggs) and salads (potato salad). It can be used in meat or vegetable dishes also. Because of its vibrant color, this spice makes an excellent garnishment.

*Parsley - Tastes best fresh but can be used dry. It is good in sauces, omelets, soup, stuffing, or salads. It is also a good seasoning for fish or meat. Parsley can also be steeped with water to make a tea which is used to help expel excess water in the body, because parsley is a natural diuretic.

*Rosemary - Smells very good. It is used in both fresh and dry form. It is a good seasoning for meat and makes an excellent addition to dry rubs. It also is good with eggs, onions, stuffing, breads, and potatoes. Many salad dressings also include rosemary.

*Saffron - This spice has a nice orange-yellow color. It is used not only to flavor foods, but to add color to them also. It is often used to spice up rice, soups, chicken, or breads.

*Sage - Sage flowers are sometimes added to salads. Dried and fresh versions of this spice are used in cooking. Typical foods seasoned with sage include: beef, omelets, poultry, stuffing, tomato juice, fish, cheese spreads, and fish.

*Tarragon - Has a hot, pungent taste. Used to flavor sauces, eggs, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, fish, and poultry. It can be used to flavor salads and dressings also.

*Thyme - Often sprinkled on poultry or fish prior to broiling or baking. Also can be thrown on the hot coals of the grill a few minutes before the meat is ready to take off the grill.

Hope this helps you decide what spices and herbs to use and when. Hope it makes cooking with herbs and spices a little less scary.


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    • lisasuniquevoice profile image

      Lisa Brown 4 years ago from Michigan


      I'm just learning what spices and herbs go with different dishes. I will refer back to this hub when I'm cooking so I can learn more each time I make something.

      Thank you,