Spring is Here! Cooking With Herbs

Spring is here! What does that mean for me? Clean up all those empty planting containers from the garage that have laid dormant during the winter and start planting my favorite cooking herbs.

I can think of 2 happy memories that hooked me to use herbs. The first was when my husband and I started dating and he showed up at my doorstep with a bunch of fragrant basil instead of flowers. What a great idea…my heart was instantly taken! The second was when I caught an awful stomach bug and couldn’t keep food down. At the end of the second day I was so desperate that I took the advice of a co-worker to mix equal parts of cardamom, fennel, and mint. It tasted awful but it did the trick in just a couple hours. There are so many useful properties of herbs that go beyond potpourri, aromatherapy or garnish. For cooking, herbs can be used as a tenderizer, coloring, flavoring, and to improve health. It’s a smart substitute for individuals that need to watch sodium, sugar, fat, and cholesterol intake. For home use, an elaborate flower garden can get a bit expensive so herbs can be a wonderful replacement or natural accent. Guests will appreciate the natural look and aromas as they walk up to your front door….and what better way than to just step outside your door and pick your own herbs for dinner!

When it comes to cooking, I use the terminology of herbs and spices interchangeably since both come from aromatic plants. The difference is the botanical composition and culinary use. Spices come from the aromatic part of a woody plant, retain its strong fragrance, and are low in moisture. The fact that it comes from a tough part of a plant makes it more difficult to digest. Spices should be used with moderation because of the strong aromatic and digestive properties. Some examples include ginger, cinnamon, bay leaf, nutmeg, mace, cloves, anise, and juniper. Spices are ideal for recipes that require longer cooking time, marinating, or tenderizing.

Fresh herbs come from the aromatic leaves of a plant and the stems that never develop into tough bark. As a result, it is much more delicate and sensitive to heat. High heat or long exposure to it will cause the herb to turn black and lose its flavor so herbs should be added to a dish at the last minute or toward the end of cooking. Examples of herbs include basil, cilantro, oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and dill. This applies to fresh herbs. Herbs can also be dried which means that it has a longer shelf-life than fresh ones. Since it is dry, longer cooking time brings out the flavor of dried herbs. It can also be used for dry rubs or marinades.

So now that Herbs and Spices 101 is covered, what recipes would make sense for each one? The answer can be very subjective and challenging. For example, I cannot stand anything floral or even a pinch of sage in ANY of my food. It smells great as a room freshener but I really don’t like to taste anything floral. Also, some people love handfuls of herbs in their dishes where others are fine with just a pinch. Another thing to consider is just like wine pairing, certain herbs and spices fit well with specific ingredients. Oregano and tomato sauce, dill and fish, chile powder and chile con carne. Though these can be typical pairings consider chile powder as a great marinade for fish and scallops while adding a great color to the dish. Sprinkle it over eggs or potatoes. Try to experiment, think outside the realm of traditional dishes and be creative when it comes to accenting a dish.

Below are some herb or spice blends that lend a new level of flavor for various dishes. You can incorporate multiple herbs to one dish depending on what you want to accomplish.

Herb Citrus Blend: reduces the need for strong salt and fat flavors. Good for vegetables, fruit salads, fish, lentil, and grain dishes.

1 tbsp dried thyme

1 tbsp dried oregano

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp ground dried rosemary

1 tspn ground dried sage

1 ½ tsp ground dried orange zest

1 ½ tsp ground dried lemon zest

1 tsp ground fennel seeds

All-Purpose salt-free herb seasoning: substitute for salt

2 tbsp dried thyme

1 tbsp dried marjoram

1 tbsp dried lemon verbena

1 tbsp celery seeds

1 tbsp dried minced garlic

1 tsp paprika

Herb blend for soups:

½ cup dried parsley

¼ cup dried lemon thyme

2 tbsp dried marjoram 1 tbsp dried rosemary

1 tbsp dried tarragon

1 tbsp dried lemon verbena

Thai Herb Blend

½ cup dried thai basil

½ cup dried lemon basil

¼ dried peppermint

¼ cup dried cilantro

¼ cup dried chives

2 tbsp dried lemon zest

2 tbsp dried minced lemongrass

2 tsp five spice powder

2 tsp crushed dried mild chile peppers

Chef Luella Semmes

RSS 2.0 | Trackback | Comment

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.