How To Cook With Herbs And Spices

By Subodh / April 21, 2013

If you are a novice at cooking with herbs and spices, here is some advice that will help you get started:

General Information

Don’t overdo it!  In the excitement of experimenting with herbs and spices for the first time, people tend to start putting them in everything.  Be careful!  A little self-control can go a long way.  Especially limit the amount of herbs you use in your food.

Now, herbs and spices are excellent choices if you are starting a low sodium and salt diet, because they add flavor without the salt, making your meals tasty but healthy.

Or perhaps you’re on a low fat diet.  That doesn’t mean that you have to give up enjoying the taste of your food.  If you use herbs and spices in your food you can reduce your intake of fats, sugar and sodium, with fewer calories and still eat meals that are rich with flavor.

Conversion Rate For Dried to Fresh Herbs

Once it becomes a habit for you to cook with herbs, you’ll find that it’s extremely difficult to get the right mix between dried and fresh herbs.

So here is the general rule for converting from dried to fresh herbs:  1/3 teaspoon ground herbs = 1 teaspoon dried herb == 1 tablespoon fresh herb.

Cook With Herbs And Spices

Herb Basics

Fresh herbs are perfect for garnishes and they also give food a nice bold flavor.  They have great aromatic qualities and are excellent for roasting and sauteing, or chopping and mixing into foods such as mashed potatoes.

Dried herbs work best when used with oil (or butter, fat) or water — this way they infuse the oil or cooking liquid.  You should crush the herbs with your fingers or saute them a little to wake them up and get their full benefit.  You can also take a bunch of them and crush them in a mortar and pestle.

If you are using dried herbs, you’ll likely need to use more than when using fresh.  Most dried herbs lose a lot of their zest — especially basil, oregano and sage.  Although rosemary and thyme hold up better, they can be affected too.

Spice Basics

Spices are practically always used in dried form.  They can be found whole (peppercorn, nutmeg, strips of cinnamon bark, various seeds, roots) or ground.

Spices are a lot more varied in flavor than herbs their flavor is a lot stronger too.  Also, you should keep in mind that both herbs and spices are best when used with restraint.  This is one of those instances where more is not necessarily better!

A bit of advice about storing spices and herbs.  When storing them it is best to keep them away from air, heat and sunlight.  They’ll last longer that way.

Herbs You Might Want to Try

Bay leaves — Use in any meat dish and it will enhance the flavor nicely.  Also good in vegetable and meat soups and sauces.

Mint — Use fresh in salads, fruit beverages, jellies, iced tea, sauces for meats, and some people are know to like it minced with carrots and peas.

Parsley — Very popular commonly used herb, which has many uses.  As a garnish, or used in fruit and vegetable salads, in sandwiches, in all soups and gravies, in meat sauces, and minced and added to all vegetables.

Sage — Use either fresh or dried.  In all meat combinations, in poultry and meat stuffing, and in sausage.

Thyme — Use the leaves either green or dried in stuffing, sauces, soups and meat.

Spices You Might Want to Try

Cayenne Pepper — A dull red color.  Use in very small amounts in vegetables and some salad dressings and cheese dishes.  Take care when using this spice.  Also, paprika, a milder form of red pepper can be substituted for this.

Cloves — These should be dark brown in color.  Usually used in combination with other spices, which gives a better flavor than if it is used alone.  Too much will give an undesirable color as well as a bitter flavor to your food.

Curry Powder — This is actually several spices combined to give a distinct flavor to such dishes as meat, poultry, fish and vegetables.

Nutmeg — Used in a variety of dishes and gives a nice flavor to:  eggnog, apple pie, green beans, sweet potatoes and even stuffing.  Can also be used in fruit compote, custards and ice creams.

Paprika — A Hungarian sweet pepper.  Bright red in color.  Used in all meat and vegetable salads.  Also in soups, both cream and stock.  Makes good garnish for potatoes, cream cheese, fruit salads and eggs.

Pepper (Black) — Must be ground and sifted.  Used in all meat and vegetable dishes where the color does not affect the product.