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BHIA Herbs Articles

Herbs and Spices

Contemporary cooks perplexed by the choices of herbs and spices recommended for natural, healthy cooking sometimes surrender to their inexperience, but the results of perseverance are deliciously rewarding. Spices are the seeds, bark, roots, pods and flowers of plants grown in the tropics, like curry or nutmeg. Herbs are the leaves and seeds of succulent plants grown temperate climates, like basil, dill or mint. Herbs flavors tend to be subtler than spices, making them the perfect choice for experimentation.

Different cultures have selected different herbs to accent their cuisine. Certain flavors have come to exemplify the nationality of a dish – basil and oregano for Italian, ginger in oriental cooking, cumin and cilantro in Mexican dishes, garlic and tarragon for French fare. In the US, the scent of sage means Thanksgiving; mint calls for tall glasses of iced tea.

Herbs are readily available, flavorful alternatives for low salt, low fat or low sugar diets. For example, eggs sprinkled with chives, dill or terragon are delicious without salt. Prolonged cooking diminishes the flavor of most herbs, so they should be added during the last 20-30 minutes of cooking or, like chives, added just before serving.

Basil goes well with many foods like tomatoes, eggs, mushrooms and pasta.

Marjoram is good on meat, delicious when added to butter and served over hot vegetables and great with summer squash or potatoes.

Although rosemary is widely used with lamb, it also goes well with poultry and pork. Baking chicken or pork roast with sprigs of rosemary makes for a wonderful smelling kitchen.

A little thyme goes a long way, but it is good on peas or chicken and in clam chowder or soups.

Tarragon has a licorice flavor and can be added to oil and vinegar for dressing or to white wine with fish or with chicken. Like thyme, tarragon should be used sparingly; it can overwhelm other flavors.

Parsley will moderate the flavor of garlic and it’s mild taste can make a refreshing difference to soup, meat dishes, or dishes with eggs or cheese.

Try mint on new potatoes or carrots, peas or parsnips. Savory is a different, versatile herb from the mint family that can be used for beans, fish, poultry, pork and vegetables. It’s a great addition to stew.

Dill complements fish, alone or with butter or white wine. It’s tasty on carrots and potatoes. It can be added to breads, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, mustard or vinegar.

Try basil, oregano and parsley with tomatoes or vegetables. For green vegetables, including cabbage, marjoram is a nice change. Add cumin to chili or pinto beans for a richer flavor.

Generally, meats and poultry are enhanced by marjoram, tarragon, rosemary or thyme. One teaspoon each of sage, savory and parsley together is a perfect seasoning for chicken. Add a teaspoon each of marjoram and thyme to the sage, savory and parsley to season turkey or game fowl or to flavor stuffing. To season beef dishes, try a teaspoon of rosemary and one of dried parsley with one-fourth teaspoon of dried garlic. Flavor pork with one teaspoon each dried sage, dried basil and dried savory. Season everything to taste – the use of herbs does not preclude salt and pepper. It just expands the culinary horizon.