Something great happened the day I decided to be brave and begin experimenting with herbs and spices. I still use recipes, especially for baking. But cooking “by guess and by golly” is generally pretty much how I do it. Now I enjoy cooking much more. I also enjoy the results much more.
I never make my famous spaghetti sauce the same way twice. I may be using the same herbs, but never in the same amounts, and it always turns out tasty. When I don’t have a specific herb or spice, I often find I can substitute.
However, knowing a little about which spices and herbs work well with different foods can help. It can also be a boon to have some spice blends on hand to use so you don’t have to buy those small bottles with cranked up cost.
Add These to This to Get That
To enhance the flavor of beef, use bay leaves, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, lemon pepper seasoning, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, or thyme.
When cooking with pork, which has a mild flavor, give it some oomph with basil, caraway seed, ground ginger, Italian seasoning, oregano, savory, rosemary, or garlic powder.
Where I live, we eat wild game. Enhance those flavors with marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, garlic powder, or onion powder.
Chicken and Cornish hens come alive with such herbs as dill weed, basil, ginger, oregano, thyme, chives, bay leaf, garlic and onion powders, paprika, rosemary, sage, or tarragon.
Make Your Own Seasoning Blends
If you need a little jump start to try some new herbs, here are a few blends you can mix up to experiment with.
Salad herb blend: 2 tsp. basil leaves; 1 tsp. dill weed; 1 tbsp. marjoram leaves; 1 tbsp. parsley flakes; 1 tbsp. tarragon leaves. If you like to add protein to your salad, match these ingredients to the list of which goes best with each herb.
Meat and vegetable blend: 1 tbsp. basil; 1 tsp. celery seed; 1 tbsp. marjoram; 1 tsp. onion powder; 1 tsp. thyme.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and tweak the blends to your own taste. There’s no right or wrong combination. An advantage to using herbs and blends is that you can spice up your food without using salt.
What’s That Flavor?
Herbs have different flavors, naturally. In addition, they fall into categories of mild, medium and robust. Chives and parsley are examples of mild-flavored herbs. Some medium-flavored herbs are basil, dill weed, marjoram, and mint. Stronger-tasting herbs are those like bay leaves, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme.
Tips for Keeping Herbs and Spices Fresh
Avoid storing spices near the stove, dishwasher, sink or a window. Dried spices don’t spoil, but they can lose strength. Moisture and heat contribute to this. Be sure to never sprinkle or pour spices directly into a steaming pot since the steam introduced into the bottle hastens loss of flavor and aroma. It also results in caking. For the same reason, if you’re measuring from the bottle with a measuring spoon, be sure the spoon is dry.
Some folks like to use fresh herbs for everything and that’s a great idea. You can always substitute dried herbs for fresh if you know how, and vice-versa. Check it out here.
Next week, Foodie meets herb in part 2 to talk about how to enhance other foods (pasta, vegetables and seafood), helpful substitutions, cooking tips, and a recipe or two.