Adding a fresh herb or a dash of spice to an everyday dish can transform it into something intriguing. But how do we know what and how much to use?
For each four servings use about 1/4 teaspoon of a dried herb or spice, and one to two teaspoons if fresh. Invest in a mortar and pestle to crush and grind your dried spices, releasing their fragrance before using them. Some seeds like carraway, cumin and sesame can be lightly toasted to develop their flavor before adding them to your dish. Dried spices should be added early during the cooking process, shaking them first into your hand to keep the container away from heat and steam.
Add fresh herbs after the dish has been removed from heat. For uncooked foods like salad dressings and cold soups and sauces, add your herbs and spices at least four hours before serving, or overnight.
You can buy most spices in bulk at natural or whole foods stores. This will allow you to purchase small amounts to store in your own containers away from heat and light. Most dried whole spices will keep their flavor up to two to three years, leafy herbs and ground spices a little less. Before using, crush a little in your hand to check its fragrance. While a spice will not go bad, it will eventually lose its pungency after a period of time. You be the judge, just use more of it and replace it with a fresher spice the next time you are out shopping.
A premixed combination of spices can save you time and it is very easy to do. Just combine any or all of the following, and store in airtight jars:
Italian (for tomato sauce, meat sauce, poultry, artichokes, pasta, etc.) 1/4 teaspoon each ground oregano, ground basil, paprika, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, marjoram.
French Provencal (soups, vegetables, poultry, fish, etc.): 1/4 teaspoon each chervil, basil, rosemary, tarragon, garlic, lavender, marjoram, thyme, parsley.
Wine: While wine is not technically a spice, its use can greatly enhance your vegetables, meats and desserts. When sauteeing chicken or fish, a dry white wine added to the pan will blend the various flavors of your meats, herbs and spices. Think of robust reds in root vegetable and meat casseroles and stews. The alcohol in the wine dissolves during the cooking process leaving behind the essence of the fruit and creating a marvelous harmony of flavors.
A comment about sugar: Because of the controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners we do not use them (if you have specific health concerns, check with your physician before replacing your artificial sweeteners.) Consider using natural, unrefined sugars like malt and rice syrups, dehydrated cane juice, dehydrated fruit juice concentrates, pure maple syrup and the sweet herb stevia. Unlike refined sugars, date sugar and honey, these do not result in rapid blood sugar fluctuations when eaten. Experiment to find the right amount for each dish.
Remember! Have fun and be adventurous. You will gain confidence as you experiment.
Here are some suggestions for adding herbs and spices to your creations:
Fish and Shellfish: Basil, curry powder, dill, marjoram, mustard, onion, oregano, paprika, parsley, white pepper, tarragon, thyme, dry white wine.
Beef: Bay leaf, garlic powder, marjoram, nutmeg, onion powder, oregano, pepper, sage thyme, robust red wine.
Lamb: Basil, curry powder, garlic, rosemary, mint, white wine.
Pork: Dill, garlic, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, white pepper, dry white wine.
Chicken: Basil, bay leaves, cumin, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, tarragon, thyme, dry white wine.
Carrots and squash: Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, parsley, thyme.
Green Beans: Curry powder, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, thyme.
Tomatoes: Basil, chervil, cumin, marjoram, parsley, paprika, thyme.
Rice: Onion, paprika, parsley, saffron, savory, tumeric.
Fruit: Basil, cinnamon, marjoram, mint, rosemary, savory, thyme.