Cooking with Herbs

Written by The Peaceful Cottage on . Posted in Cooking, Kitchen Tips

“All wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the … use of man.” (D&C 89:10)

(Image from frugalhomesteads.blogspot.com)

As I have learned to cook, I have been amazed at the impact a few carefully chosen herbs can do to finish off a dish. Herbs come from plants that have aromatic oils in their leaves, seeds and stems. Fresh herbs will provide the most robust flavor to your dishes. However, I have found that I appreciate the convenience of keeping a well stocked cupboard of dried herbs and spices.

Some tips for cooking with herbs:

  • A good rule of thumb for substituting seasonings is: 1 Tablespoon of Fresh Herbs = 1 teaspoon of Dried Herbs = ¼ teaspoon of Ground Herbs.
  • For enhanced flavor grind dried herbs just prior to use.
  • When mixing flavors try complimenting a strong flavor with more mild flavors.
  • The more mild the dish the less herbs are needed to round out the flavors.
  • When chopping fresh herbs the leaves should be cut very fine to release more aromatic oils and flavor.
  • Extended cooking time reduces the flavor of cooking. Fresh herbs should be added during the final 5 – 10 minutes of preparation, while dried herbs should be added 20-45 minutes before the dish will be served.
  • Fresh herbs should be harvested in the mid-morning to early afternoon. Wash in cool water and dry in a towel.
  • You can dry herbs by placing them on a cookie sheet, place in a 125 degree oven for a few minutes.

Common Cooking Herbs

Basil has a strong, pungent, and mildly sweet flavor. It comes in a variety of types: Sweet Basil (used for Italian cooking), Thai Basil and Lemon Basil (both used in Asian foods). It is excellent when used fresh, but can also be used when dried. It is used in a wide variety of foods including: Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Traditional American dishes. Some great combinations include tomato dishes, soups, salads, pizza, salad dressings, chicken dishes, egg dishes, salmon, tuna, spaghetti, meatloaf, dips, herb sandwiches, and many cooked vegetables.

Bay Leaves have a distinct flavor. It is best used when dried. Often found in slow cooked meals, such as roasts, stews and soups. The leaves are typically removed prior to serving a meal.

Celery Seed can be substituted for celery – generally 1/8 teaspoon per stock of celery. It has a warm, slightly bitter flavor.

Chili Powder is a hot spice commonly used in Mexican, Indian and Southwestern Cuisine.

Cilantro comes from the coriander plant. The leaves and stems are used for cooking. It has a very distinct flavor, with slightly citrus overtones, but it is also often described as “soapy.” It is extremely popular in “California-Style Cuisine” (such as California Pizza Kitchen). It may be used in salad, guacamole, pizza, salsas, Mexican, Indian and Tex-Mex cuisines.

Cinnamon has a distinct flavor. It is often used in desserts, breakfast meals, cereals, breads, as a seasoning in drinks and on fruit.

Cumin is the second most popular spice in the world (following black pepper). It has a distinct warm, earthy and somewhat spicy flavor. It is used in Indian dishes, Tex-Mex, Mexican Cuisine, Cuban, Mediterranean, Spanish, Italian and Middle-Eastern Cuisine.

Coriander Seed has a warm, nutty, spicy-flavor. Often it is combined with cumin to create curries for Indian dishes. Curry is used as a thickener. It may also be used for pickling vegetables, in sausages, rye breads and other European cuisines.

Dill Weed is best when used fresh. It is often used in borscht, on fish, in soups, stews, breads, with beans, in coleslaw and on egg dishes. It is often used for pickling and may be used to flavor butter, cheese, vinegars and oils.

Garlic Powder can be a quick substitute for cloves of garlic – about 1/8 teaspoon to every clove.

Oregano has a warm aromatic flavor. It comes in a variety of cultivars which each have a distinct flavor. It is commonly used in tomato sauces, on meat, breads, casseroles, soups, pizzas and on vegetables. It is found in Italian, Greek, Spanish, Latin American, and Turkish cuisines. It combines very well with basil and works well with spicy flavors.

Paprika is a spice made from grinding dried bell peppers and chili peppers. It can range from sweet to very spicy. It is often used to add color (such as on deviled eggs). Paprika can be used to season and add color to meats, soups, stew and rice dishes.

Parsley comes in two varieties: curly leaf and Italian. Curly leaf parsley is typically used as a garnish. Parsley has a mild flavor and is often used in combination with other herbs and spices. It is very common in a variety of dishes including potato dishes, rice, meat, soups, and sauces.

Black Pepper is the most commonly used spice in the world. It best when freshly ground from whole peppercorns.

Rosemary has a very distinct flavor and smell. It is used often in Mediterranean cuisine, in fish dishes and for barbequed meals.

Saffron is consistently the most expensive herb. It has a bitter taste and will give dishes a warm-golden color. It is often used in confections, as well as, Middle Eastern, Asian and European cuisines. Some common substitutes for saffron are safflower and tumeric.

Sage has a mild peppery flavor. It is often used in marinades for meats. It combines well with onions and may be incorporated into sauces and stuffings. It is very common in European, Italian and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Salt

  • Table salt is a fine grained salt with a very strong flavor. It is used in baking, for adding flavor in cooking. It should be used in small quantities as it has the saltiest flavor.
  • Sea Salt has had very little or no processing and therefore maintains a unique flavor and coloring. It is often used with chocolates. Typically sea salt is the most expensive. Sea salt will not retain its unique flavor when it is cooked or dissolved.
  • Kosher salt contains no preservatives. It is excellent for adding flavor to meats, it may also be used to brine and preserve food.

Sweet Marjoram is very similar to oregano in flavor and can be used a substitute in many dishes.

Tarragon is considered one of the four Fines Herbes of French cooking (the other three are parsley, chives and chervil). It can be used in chicken, fish and egg dishes. It may also be used in some Italian dishes and is one of the main ingredients in a Béarnaise sauce. It also may be used to flavor creams, oils, vinegars and butters. It combines very well with vegetables such as green beans and cauliflower.

Thyme is widely used through out the world. Thyme adds a lot of flavor, but also blends very well with a variety of herbs and spices. It is used to flavor meats, soups, stews, lamb dishes, marinades, tomatoes and eggs. It may be used to flavor cottage cheese, butters, vinegars and oils. Fresh thyme will typically last about a week, so often dried thyme is preferred for convenience.