For centuries, herbs and spices have been an integral part of most cuisine. When used right, herbs and spices can transform a simple dish into a delicious meal. Don't be heavy handed when seasoning with spices and herbs. A pinch of spice and a dash of herbs - a whiff of the heady aroma is enough to set your taste buds tingling.
Herb and spices don't add just taste and flavor. Their medicinal properties and health-boosting antioxidants are being increasingly recognized. Herbs such as oregano, purple amaranth, Vietnamese coriander and sweet bay are known to contain high levels of radical-fighting chemicals. Exotic herb spice blends allow you to bring added flavor to meat and poultry dishes.
Herbs and spice
Herbs are leaves of small shrubs and can be used dried or fresh to impart flavors and zest to any dish. Examples of commonly used herbs are rosemary, parsley, thyme, basil, sage, dill, oregano and celery leaves. Spices are derived from the fruit, seed, root and bark of tropical plants and trees. Whole spices can be added at the start of the cooking so that the flavor is imparted into the dish. Seed herbs can be lightly toasted to bring out their best flavor.
Herbs and spices are sometimes tied in a muslin bag and placed in the saucepan during the cooking process. The advantage is that the whole spices won't come in the way while chewing and swallowing. Herb spice blend powders can be blended at home. A pinch in your dishes - and you will have everyone asking for more helpings! A fragrant herb spice blend of cinnamon, anise, fennel, pepper and cloves can be powdered and stored.
Pharmacy in your Kitchen: Herbs and most spices from your kitchen can also alleviate many common ailments. For example - a simple Kitchen Remedy for Cold, Sinusitis, sore throat and bronchitis is to crush a clove of Garlic (if you have a small pestle and mortar - it can be put to good use in preparing such home cures) and add the juice of a lemon. Mix well and drink - followed by drinking a cup of hot water. Andrew Chevallier in his book - Herbal Remedies outlines how some of the common herbs can cure some obstinate diseases. We list below many spices and herbs and their medicinal uses.
Ginger: inhibits nausea and vomiting caused by travel sickness and morning sickness. Ginger speeds the body metabolic rate. This spice combines well in curries and soups. Its antiseptic properties have been known to cure colds, sore throats and other ailments. You can use fresh, dried or powdered ginger.
Cinnamon: Used often as an antidote for stomach upsets and diarrhea. This spice is also known to be a metabolic booster. A pinch of cinnamon can perk up your hot cocoa and breathe life into your steamed puddings, custard and pears.
Nutmeg: The flavor of this spice is strong and is used in small amounts. Use it in spinach and white sauce. Nutmeg finds pride of place in Christmas delicacies such as eggnog and cakes.
Mace: This spice is the outer shell of the nutmeg fruit and has a milder flavor. Powdered mace is used in cakes, doughnuts and soups.
Garlic: The distinctive taste of garlic goes well with other herbs and seasonings. Garlic is known to decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Regular consumption of garlic aids digestion and prevents flatulence.
Anise: This spice has its origin in the Mediterranean region and is hailed as a digestive aid. It adds flavor to cakes, breads, cookies and liquors.
Cayenne pepper: This important ingredient in many Mexican dishes has fat burning abilities and can boost metabolism. It is obtained from fruited varieties of capsicum. Very small amounts are used in salad dressings.
Mustard: This spice is a stimulant and is effective against respiratory complaints.
Allspice: Though allspice suggests a mixture of spices, it is derived from the Jamaican bayberry. It is used whole in vegetable and meat dishes. It is ground and added to cookies, puddings and gravies.
Turmeric: Extracted from the root of the Curcuma long plant, turmeric is an essential ingredient of curries and other Asian dishes. It is a powerful antioxidant and helps protect against cancer.
Sesame seeds: The crunchy nutty flavor of sesame seeds adds texture to salads and sautéed vegetable dishes. These seeds are used in bread sticks, crackers and rolls. The oil derived from the sesame seeds is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and is a good choice for salad dressings and cooking.
Mint: A decoction of this herb is known to give relief from headache, nausea, indigestion and cold. Peppermint is used to flavor tea, salads, stews and sweets.
Coriander: This spice with a mild and distinctive taste is another essential ingredient of most Indian curries.
Cloves: Popularly known as the 'flower spice', cloves have been used as anesthetics for dental ailments for centuries. The rich flavor of cloves is used in cakes and pies. Using too much can result in a bitter flavor.
Saffron: The rich and distinct flavor of saffron comes from the dried flower bloom. It is used in rice dishes and cakes. Very little is needed to flavor and color your dishes.
Caraway: These spice seeds have a spicy aroma that lends flavor to soups, breads and baked fruit.
Cardamom: The unique flavor of cardamom is delicate and sweet but powerful. From coffee to deserts, curries to meat loaves, cardamom finds it way into many recipes.
Pepper - Peppercorns are found in black and white color. They are used in meat and vegetable dishes.
Fennel: This spice is used widely in Indian and Egyptian cooking. Its mild flavor is used in Italian sausages too.
Cumin: The strong spicy taste of cumin seeds can be used whole or ground to a fine powder. Use it in soups and meats and pickles.
Fresh herbs can be preserved by cutting a bit of their stems and refrigerating them after submerging the stems in a jar of water. Snip fresh herbs just at the time of adding them to your dishes. Fresh herbs can substitute dried herbs in any recipe, but remember to double the quantity prescribed. Fresh herbs are usually added at the end of cooking lest they lose their flavor and color. Fresh herbs must possess good color and no brown spots.
Dried herbs must be stored in airtight containers away from sunlight and heat. Dampness causes loss of quality. Never store herbs and spices near the stove as the heat will shorted their life. Whole spices and herbs keep longer than ground spices. Leaf herbs keep longer than grounded ones. Besides grinding the spices as needed assures greater freshness.
Never season more than a dish in a meal with the same herb. Do not use too many strong-flavored herbs in the same dish. A herb is used to flavor a dish not overpower it. Certain herbs have a special affinity for certain foods. Combine a strong herb like rosemary, basil or sage with milder ones like chives, parsley or chives. Indian recipes sometimes call for nearly a dozen spices in a single curry. But as a rule, other regional recipes do not use more than 3 herbs or spices in a dish.
Basil: The strong flavor of basil leaves goes well with tomato-based sauces and garlic. Basil is said to stimulate the appetite and relieve kidney and diarrhea problems.
Thyme: This herb is used for everyday cooking and goes well with heavy dishes like clam chowder, stews, roast chicken and pork. Thyme is known to have disinfectant properties and is used as a mouthwash. It must be used in small quantities on account of its sharp flavor. Lemon thyme has a milder flavor and has a lemony tang.
Oregano: Oregano lends pizzas their characteristic flavor. This herb has a pungent odor and flavor.
Bay leaves: This herb is a common ingredient in soups, meat and vegetable dishes and stews. Other than its strong aroma and spicy flavor, bay leaves are a good remedy for earaches.
Cilantro: This herb is the young coriander plant and finds its way into most Asian, Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes.
Rosemary: This herb has a reputation as a memory booster and is a symbol of friendship and fidelity. Medicinal properties of rosemary include increased blood flow and expansion of tissues.
Herb spice blend
Create your own herb spice blend and use them in different combinations. Add herb spice blends to barbecue meats, before grilling or roasting. The heady aroma of the spices over the smoke-flavored meat can be mouth watering. Steaks and meats can be marinated and seasoned with herb spice blends. Rub the surface of poultry or meat with the blended spice mix to get the best flavor.
Cajun herb spice blends are usually peppery hot and can be crumbled over meat or fish while cooking. This blend consists of garlic, onions and salt and red, white and black peppers. A herb spice blend of grated lemon peel and black pepper works well with vegetables and poultry. Pick up herb spice blends off supermarket shelves or prepare them at home.
Bouquet Garni is a blend of celery, parsley, rosemary, thyme and bay leaf. A typical Mexican herb and spice blend consists of chili peppers, dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onions, cumin, oregano, red pepper, bay leaf and paprika. A fragrant herb and spice blend for custards, cookies and apple pie is prepared with cinnamon, fenugreek, lemon peel, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Garam masala is herb and spice powder blend that is used in many Indian dishes. A concoction of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, black pepper and coriander, this condiment blend is a must-have in most Indian homes.
Herb Spice Blend
1 tbs. onion powder
1/2 tsp. sweet basil
1/4 tsp. of dill weed
1/4 tsp. of celery seed
1/4 tsp. of dried parsley
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of thyme
Blend all ingredients in a blender
Herb Blend Mixture
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried lemon rind
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
Mix ingredients together.
Herb Blend for stuffing
6 tablespoons sage
1 tablespoon thyme
2 tablespoons parsley
3 tablespoons sweet marjoram
Chop together and combine. This herb blend keeps for a week.
Zesty Herb Blend
3 tablespoons dried basil
3 tablespoons dried marjoram
1 tablespoon whole oregano
3 tablespoons dried tarragon
3 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried lemon peel
Place all items in a small jar and seal. Shake until well blended. This is great for adding to meat and vegetables