Herbs are, by definition, the leaf part of plants used in cooking, in order to add flavor to a large variety of meals, sweet or savory. Their usefulness has traveled through time, being used as medicinal cures and as preservatives, apart from their culinary use, that is, to add taste and savor to food. To enhance the flavor palate of a dish, fresh herbs are added in the last minutes of cooking.
Spices, on the other hand, represent any other part of plants that can be used for cooking. They are usually dried before use. And, as with any powerful ingredient, adding too little will not affect the taste of a dish, whereas too many spices can overpower the other ingredients and throw the dish off balance. This is where the art of cooking with spices and herbs begins!
Herbs are quite easy to grow, even if you don’t have the luxury of a home garden; a bucket or a window-box will do just fine to ensure a continuous supply of tastiness to your meals. Even though fresh herbs are the best, oftentimes you may need to preserve them for later use:
- if the herb is woody, quite tough, like rosemary or thyme, the easiest way to preserve them is to tie them up in bundles and dry them upside down, hanging in a dry warm place (do not shake them too much after they are dry, as the leaves will fall off easily);
- softer herbs (basil, coriander, parsley) are best preserved in the freezer. After picking and washing the leaves, they should be finely chopped and dried on a towel. Finally, the softer herbs should be stored in vacuumed freezer bags; they last for several months and can be used directly from the freezer.
- herbal oils are an excellent homemade present, easy to prepare and extremely flavorsome. In an extra-virgin olive oil bottle, simply add the fresh herbs.
- herbal salts are also easy to prepare: dehydrate the herbs at low heat in the oven, on a baking tray, and crush them into your cooking salt.
Raw in salads or cooked in your meals, herbs and spices will definitely bring excitement and a depth of flavor to your dish: stew or sauce, salad dressing or vinnaigrette, soup, broth or marinade, even desserts and drinks. They may not even need to be added during the cooking itself; simply adding fresh leaves on the serving plate can enhance the smell and the appeal of the dish (pizza or pasta).
When cooking with herbs, remember that whole herbs, with leaves attached to the stalk, are more flavored than leaves alone and that dry herbs are much more flavored than fresh herbs. However, long-term storage of dried herbs is not recommended: avoid consuming them after 12 months. Woody herbs, such as rosemary or thyme, are quite sturdy and can be added at the beginning of your cooking; they will not lose their flavor. Also, some herbs are only used to enhance the flavor of a dish, but they must not be eaten (e.g. bay leaves).
In order to become a regular herbal user, you can prepare a “bouquet garni” following the traditional French mix (parsley, thyme, bay leaf) or you can prepare your own mix; tie the herbs with string and keep them in cotton bags. Add them to your cooking, but remove before serving. Traditional herb combinations are listed below, for your inspiration:
o basil, oregano, garlic
o bay leaf, parsley, thyme, oregano
o chilli, garlic, ginger, lemongrass
o dill, chives, parsley, tarragon
o sage, rosemary
Feel free to unleash your creativity, as new ingredients from previously unknown markets become more and more popular. Asian foods (Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Indian etc) have been gaining traction in the Western cuisine and the combinations are unlimited, while also the enjoying the health benefits of these herbs.
No posts found