Experimentation is the way to go when it comes to spices and herbs. Dried spices work well when you are using dry heat, ovens, barbecues and the like. Fresh herbs are best used in fresh foods like salads or in the fry pan, soups, stews by the sprig or leaf. It’s best to add a little at the beginning of your cooking with your aromatics (onions, fresh garlic, ginger). Then add some at the very end to finish. You want to keep the integrity of the delicate fresh green herbs by not cooking them longer than a minute or just as garnish on your final product.
With dried spice buds, seeds, bark, and the like, it is the best to buy whole and crush, grind, or bang with a pan to release the best flavour. Repeat after me, “I solemnly swear, I will not buy a powdered spice when I can grind my own.”
When storing powdered spices for an extended period of time, they lose their flavour quickly and end up tasting like sawdust. There is no substitution for a freshly ground spice. Grinding devices include, mortar and pestles, coffee grinders, or a machine like a Vitamix, or I kid you not, banging with the bottom of a heavy pot, rolling pin or frypan can do the trick.
With dried herbs, leaves, flower petals, and the like, rub between your fingers as you sprinkle into your culinary creation. This technique unleashes the essential oils with the heightened flavour. If the flavour is flat, time to discard. It depends on the environment and the spice as to how long the flavour will last. Dry dark environments are best.
When you are ready to give it a rub and go, just check through the suggestions to see if your choice maximizes the flavours of your dish.
We can discuss exotic spices in a subsequent post. For right now, if you have a hankering for more hands on social fun learning with the aficionado, sign up for The Spice Lady’s Creating Flavours workshop.
To help get you started, here are some basic spices. Hope they help motivate and excite you to sprinkle and spoon.
Spices for Your Favourite Proteins or Veg
Bay leaf, cayenne, any chili, curry, dill, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, mustard, paprika, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme.
Allspice, basil, cardamom, cloves, curry, ginger, marjoram, mustard, oregano, paprika, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme.
Basil, cardamom, cumin, curry, dill, mace, marjoram, mint, oregano, paprika, rosemary, turmeric.
Allspice, anise, bay leaf, cayenne, coriander, curry, dill, ginger, marjoram, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme.
Allspice, anise, basil, bay leaf, cayenne, chives, coriander, curry, dill, fennel, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, tarragon, thyme.
Allspice, anise (any kind), cinnamon, cloves, curry, ginger, mace, mint, nutmeg, pepper.
Dill, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano
Allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
Mustard, nutmeg, sage
Dill, nutmeg, parsley, rosemary, thyme
Basil, dill, parsley
Garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage
Chives, cumin, dill, fennel, garlic, mace, parsley, rosemary, smoky paprika (mild or hot), tarragon
cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg
Allspice, basil, cloves, cumin, fennel, garlic, marjoram, oregano, parsley
Chives, cumin, curry, nutmeg, parsley, rosemary, sage, saffron, thyme, turmeric.
Ideas for Herbal Combos
Herbs can be combined for specific foods. Forget the premixed kind sitting on the grocery shelves. Get creative and try your own combos. Here are some traditional spice blends. Wrap them up in a cheesecloth for a bouquet garni. Make sure to remove the spice packet before serving.
Here’s a great tip! For a more modern twist, I use a biodegradable tea filter with a cute drawstring. Just shove those little twigs and leaves in the bag, pull tight, and leave hanging on the side of the pot for easy retrieval.
The following are easy to find and more traditional pairing of spices and herbs. Use equal parts, unless otherwise noted. To give you a benchmark, about a tablespoon and a half of a combo works with a soup or stew serving four people.
Suggestions for Spice Blends
Basil, dill weed (leaves), chives, garlic, parsley.
Basil, bay leaf (crumbled), French tarragon, lemon thyme, parsley (options: fennel, sage, savory).
2 parts oregano, 3 parts sage or rosemary.
Basil, parsley, French tarragon.
2 parts basil, bay leaf, marjoram, oregano, parsley (options: celery leaves, cloves).
Basil, parsley, savory.
Basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Coriander, Cumin, garlic, hot pepper like cayenne, oregano, smoky paprika.
Parsley, chervil, chives, French tarragon (sometimes contains a small amount of basil, fennel, oregano, sage or saffron).
Bay leaf, 2 parts parsley, thyme. The herbs may be wrapped in cheesecloth or the parsley wrapped around the thyme and bay leaf. Or place in a biodegradable tea bag.
Compound Herb Butter
One stick unsalted butter or vegan shortening of your choice
1 to 3 tablespoons dried or 2 to 6 tablespoons fresh herbs (any herb or spice may be used)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper or chili for heat.
Combine ingredients and mix until fluffy.
Mound on a piece of plastic wrap, roll and twist into a 1 inch diameter log.
Twist the ends to close.
Place in the fridge for an hour or in the freezer for future use. This helps to develop the flavours.
Heat 1 quart vinegar in a non corrodible pan or glass container. Do not let the vinegar boil. Any type of vinegar may be used, depending on personal preference.
Pour it into a vinegar bottle, and add one or several herbs (4 oz. fresh marjoram, sage, tarragon or thyme).
Refrigerate for two weeks before using.