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Culinary Herbs & Spices

By December 4, 2023No Comments

Culinary Herbs & Spices

Allspice: Dried berries of the allspice tree – not a combination of several spices, although it tastes like a mixture of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. Used with game, poultry stuffing, stews, sauces, gravies, pudding, cake, fruit desserts. A common seasoning used throughout the world.

Anise: Also called aniseed. Greenish brown seeds with a sweet, licorice flavor. Used in cookies, cake, bread, and dried figs, as well as savory dishes, including fish. Popular seasoning in European, Mediterranean, and Southeast Asian cooking.

Basil: Also called sweet basil. A savory herb with a pungent flavor, somewhat like a combination of licorice and cloves. Many varieties are available, offering a wide range of flavors, including lemon and cinnamon basil; the leaves can be green or purple. For best flavor, tear the leaves with your fingers instead of chopping them with a knife. Good with garlic, tomatoes, seafood (especially mullet), chicken, egg-plant, summer squash, zucchini, bell peppers, corn, and meat. Used in French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, and Portuguese cooking.

Bay leaf: Also called laurel leaf, bay laurel, sweet bay, or sweet laurel. Slender, aromatic leaves; usually sold whole. Imported bay leaves, especially those from Mexico, are milder than California bay leaves. Used to flavor marinade, soup, stew, vegetables, tomato-based spaghetti sauce, poultry, fish, and venison; remove before serving-do not eat bay leaves. Add to the cooking water for cooking pasta or poaching fish. Boil with milk to add flavor to rice pudding. Use sparingly; too much will cause bitterness. Bay leaves are natural insect repellents. Place one in a container of food that is attractive to insects, like flour or dried fruit. Store with rice to give it a pleasant flavor.

Capers: Dried and pickled immature flower buds of a Mediterranean shrub; they should be rinsed to remove salt before using. Extremely flavorful; lemony tang. Use in very small amounts. Size varies; the petite nonpareil capers from southern France are considered the best. Very good with fish. Use in sauces, condiments, or as a garnish.

Caraway: Dark seeds; pungent nutty, anise flavor. Used in bread, cabbage, sauerkraut, potatoes, pork, mustard greens, cakes. Widely used in German and Austrian cooking.

Cardamom: Related to ginger, Spicy-sweet; powerful aroma; orange-like flavor. Cardamom pods are the size of a cranberry and hold 17 to 20 tiny seeds. Dried seeds are sold whole or ground (ground cardamom loses its flavoring power very quickly). Cardamom is an expensive spice; low-priced brands probably are inferior substitutes for real cardamom. Used in curry, breads, pastries, cakes, sausage, desserts. Use one whole pod of cardamom seeds to flavor a pot of coffee. Lightly crush the shell of a pod and add it, with the seeds, to stew or curry; the shell will dissolve during cooking. Widely used in Scandinavian and northern European cakes and pastries. Popular in Arab, Indian, and Pakistani cooking.

Cayenne pepper: Also called red pepper. Hot and spicy powder ground from chili peppers.

Celery seed: Seeds of a plant called lovage, a wild celery. Tastes like strong celery; use in small amounts because it can be bitter. Good in salads, soups, stews.

Chervil: Related to parsley and tarragon. Delicate flavor; best fresh and uncooked. Add near the end of cooking; do not boil. Often used in combination with tarragon. Good with poultry, veal, shellfish, salmon, salad greens, vinaigrettes, soup.

Chili powder: A mixture of ground dried chili peppers, cumin, oregano, garlic; and other spices. Can range from mild to fiercely hot. Commercial blends vary from one manufacturer to another.

Chives: Fine, narrow, grasslike, hollow leaves. Mild onion flavor. Rinse lightly just before using. Add to foods just before serving or flavor will be harsh. Long, bright green stems can be used for decoration. Chive blossoms are used in salads or as a garnish. Good with eggs, tomatoes, potato salad, beets, shrimp, fish; add to biscuit dough or potato pancakes.

Cilantro: Also called Chinese parsley. The parsley-like leaves of the coriander plant. Strong flavor and fragrance; best fresh. Good with black bean or lentil soup, or rice and beans. Used in Asian cooking, Mexican salsa and other tomato dishes, and highly seasoned food.

Cinnamon: Dried inner bark of the cinnamon tree; sweet, warm flavor. Sold ground or in sticks. Ceylon cinnamon is yellowish-brown and has a mildly sweet flavor. A Ceylon cinnamon stick is formed into a single tight roll. Most cinnamon sold in America is actually from cassia trees, whose bark is similar to cinnamon but inferior; it is stronger and darker than Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia sticks are rolled from both edges, like a double scroll meeting in the middle. Ground cinnamon is used in apple and fruit desserts, sweets, cakes, cookies. Cinnamon sticks are used to flavor syrups, hot punch, or wine and removed before serving.

Cloves: Dried, unopened flower buds of the tropical clove tree; sold ground or whole (nail-shaped). Very pungent; hot, spicy flavor; use sparingly. Used in spice cakes, gingerbread, puddings, apples, pork, ham, curry.

Coriander: Seeds of the plant whose leaves are called cilantro. Mild, delicate fragrance and vague orange or citrus flavor, or a combination of lemon, sage, and caraway. Often used in cake, gingerbread, apple desserts, curry; common in hot dogs. Popular in Arab, Mexican, Indonesian, Chinese, and Japanese cooking.

Cumin: Seeds that look somewhat like caraway; sold ground or whole. Earthy, pronounced fragrance; nutty flavor; amber, white, black (more peppery than other colors). Use sparingly-can easily overpower. Add a little ground cumin to commercial no-salt-added catsup. Used in chili powder, curry, dried beans. Popular in Mexican, North African, Mid-Eastern, Far-Eastern, and Indian cooking.

Curry powder: A pulverized blend of any number of spices, including turmeric, coriander, black and red peppers, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, dried chili, cloves, cardamom, mace or nutmeg, mustard seed, poppy seeds. Can be mild to hot. Pre-mixed blends vary widely from one manufacturer to another-experiment with different brands to determine which one to use in a specific recipe. For the true flavors of Indian curry, roast, grind, and blend the spices at home. In India, commercial curry powder is seldom used; each home cook blends different proportions of freshly ground spices for different dishes.

Dill: Also called dillweed. Sold as fresh, feathery leaves, or as dried seeds or leaves. Add several sprigs of fresh dill to cooking water for shrimp or lobster. Remove fronds from stems and use fresh in potato salad, beets, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, spinach, mustard greens, salad dressing, green salads, macaroni or tuna salads, fish, yogurt-based sauces; add to horse-radish sauce and serve with cold salmon. Good flavor replacement when dill pickles are restricted. Popular in Scandinavia, Germany, Russia, Turkey, the Balkans, and Rumania.

Fennel: Anise or licorice-flavored seeds. The stalks and bulb of the plant are used as a vegetable or as a seasoning for fish, salad dressings, vinaigrettes, salads, and soups. Popular in Italian and Mediterranean French cooking.

Fines herbes: A mixture or three or more delicate herbs, usually parsley, tarragon, chervil, and chives. Most often used in omelettes. Popular in French cooking.

Ginger: The knobby root of the ginger plant. Pinkish brown skin; pale yellow flesh. Fresh ginger is zestier and more flavorful than ground ginger. Dried ground ginger is a poor, sometimes unacceptable substitute for fresh (when a substitution cannot be avoided, though, use 1/4 tsp ground ginger for each tablespoon of grated fresh ginger). Use chunks of fresh ginger to flavor soups, stews, curries, and cooking liquids; remove before serving. Good with onions and garlic. Dried ground ginger is used in muffins, gingerbread, spice cake, fruit desserts, and pumpkin pie. In European cooking, ginger is most often used in sweet foods; in Asian cooking, it is commonly used with meat, fish, and shellfish.

Horseradish: Slender root with brown skin. Very zesty; loses its pungency when cooked; best used raw. Store tightly wrapped in refrigerator for a month or more. Grated fresh horseradish can be refrigerated or frozen in airtight containers for several months. Mix grated horse-radish with vinegar and store in dark containers away from the light. Used with beets, chicken, fish or fish sauce, or salad dressing. Popular in England and northern Europe.

Lavender: Fresh, clean fragrance; pretty violet flowers. Closely related to rosemary. Used in beef stew, roast pork or lamb, roast chicken, salad dressings, fruit or vegetable salads, desserts; to add flavor to sugar, honey, vinegar, and wine; to make herb tea; and as a garnish for punch or salads. Lavender jelly is good with cold lamb.

Lemon balm: Leaves of a perennial plant native to southern Europe. Lemony fragrance; adds subtle lemon flavor. Use freshly chopped leaves in salads, fruit cups, cookies, pudding, sauerkraut, soup, or stew. Use whole leaves as a garnish for meat or vegetables or iced drinks (or frozen in ice cubes). Fresh or dried leaves can be steeped for tea.

Lemon grass: A tropical grass with aromatic oils that taste and smell strongly of lemon. The leaves are used to flavor soup or tea, and the stalks can be chopped for stir-fry dishes. When necessary, lemon peel or lemon verbena can be substituted for lemon grass. Widely used in dishes from Ceylon, Vietnam, and Southeast Asia.

Mace: The scarlet lacy hull that covers the nutmeg seed. Dried blades of mace look like yellow-brown seaweed. Flavor is very similar to nutmeg, but nutmeg is nuttier. Mace is much more expensive than nutmeg. Hard to grind; best to buy in ground form. Use anywhere nutmeg can be used: cakes, puddings, fish and shellfish, soups and stews, cauliflower, carrots.

Marjoram: Similar to oregano, but milder and sweeter. Add near end of cooking, or use in dishes that cook quickly. Especially good with lamb. Widely used in European cooking.

Mint: Sweet flavor, cool aftertaste. Hundreds of varieties available, with wide range of flavors, including spearmint, peppermint, orange, chocolate, and lavender. Add chopped fresh leaves to beets, carrots, cauliflower, peas, potatoes, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, egg-plant, zucchini, cole slaw, beans, lentils, melon, fruit salads, fruit drinks, salad dressings, marinades, cottage cheese, pie crust pastry.

Use sprigs to garnish fruit drinks, iced tea, or any dish, especially fish and lamb. Mint jelly or mint sauce is commonly served with lamb. Steep crushed stems in boiling water for tea. Chew fresh leaves to sweeten breath. Popular in England, Spain, Italy, the Mid-East, and India.

Nasturtium: Flowers, leaves, and seed pods are edible. Young leaves and stems have a subtle peppery, cress-like flavor. Use in salads, sandwiches, soups, and as a substitute for watercress. Flowers are used as a garnish or in salads. Seeds and immature flower buds can be pickled and used as an inexpensive substitute for capers.

Nutmeg: Large, hard seed; sold whole or ground. Best freshly grated as it quickly loses its best flavor when grated. Sweet flavor; delicate and aromatic. Used in desserts, cakes, and sweet dishes, or with beef, cheese, spinach, Brussels sprouts, turnips, winter squash, sweet potatoes, onion sauce.

Oregano: Robust, spicy herb. Good with tomatoes, cheese, beans, eggplant, zucchini, fish, meat. Generously used in Italian and Mexican cooking.

Paprika: Ground red pepper; mild sweet flavor. Hungarian paprika is hotter than American. Adds color and flavor. Widely used in Hungarian, French, and Spanish cooking.

Parsley: Best fresh. Curly parsley often used as a garnish. To some palates, flat-leaved parsley is more flavorful and preferred in cooking. The flavor is concentrated in the stems, which should be minced with the leaves or used to flavor soup stocks and sauces. Parsley combines well with most herbs. Add sprigs to mixed greens for salad. Chop a whole bunch of fresh parley and freeze for later use. Chew fresh parsley to freshen breath. Widely used in European cooking.

Peppercorns: Dried berries of the pepper vine Piper nigrum; sold whole, crushed, or ground (fine or coarse). Freshly ground peppercorns have the best flavor. Whole peppercorns can be stored for three to four years. Most widely used spice in the world.

Poppy seeds: Tiny black seeds of the opium poppy flower (the seeds do not have any narcotic properties). Nutty flavor. Used in cakes, muffins, bread, and curry. Used in European, Mid-Eastern, and Indian cooking.

Rosemary: Tastes like a blend of sage and lavender with a little ginger. Best fresh. Use large sprigs in cooking soup or stew and remove before serving. Dried rosemary can be brittle, like the pine needles on an old Christmas tree; they should be strained out before serving. Good with chicken, fish, lamb, game meat, potatoes, lima beans, Swiss chard, rice, sauces and salad dressings, cold drinks. Rosemary-flavored sugar is good in delicate ices and sherbets. Rosemary blossoms can be used to flavor honey, white wine, or vinegar.

Saffron: Dried stigmas of the crocus flower. Crimson-gold threads used to add color and flavor. Use sparingly—a little goes a long way. World’s most expensive spice —takes 75,000 hand-harvested stigma to produce one pound of saffron. Inexpensive brands may have been adulterated with safflower petals or other substitutes. Used in rice dishes, soup, fish stew, paella, sometimes baking. Popular in Italian, French, and Spanish cooking.

Sage: Pungent; use sparingly. Good in poultry stuffing, sausage, onions, cooked tomatoes, string beans, and other vegetables.

Sesame seeds: Also called benne. Small, flat, pale seeds of a tropical Asian plant; important source of oil. Sweet, nutty flavor. Scattered on bread before baking; good with rice, pasta dishes, seafood.

Sorrel: Refreshing sour-lemon flavor. Cook only briefly to preserve fresh flavor. Used in soup, turnip greens, spinach, tossed salads, hot potato salad, cornbread stuffing for fish, and sauces for fish; can be substituted for spinach. Good with nutmeg. Popular in French, English, and Dutch cooking.

Star anise: Star-shaped seed of an evergreen tree belonging to the magnolia family; sold dried. Strong licorice flavor; similar to anise but more bitter and pungent. Use whole as a garnish or crushed to flavor poultry and sauces. An expensive spice imported from China. Popular in Chinese recipes for pork and duck.

Tarragon: Light anise flavor; bittersweet. French tarragon is best. Mainly used in delicate dishes; good with sole, chicken, veal, eggs, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, salads, salad dressings, light soups, poultry stuffing. Add finely chopped tarragon to spicy brown mustard.

Thyme: Related to oregano and sweet marjoram. Many varieties available: outdoorsy, minty, caraway, lemon, orange, or clove-like flavor or aroma. Holds up well in long-cooking dishes like stocks and stews. Good with meat, seafood, pork, poultry, chowder, mushrooms, mashed potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, bread, salad dressing. Often used in European and Creole cooking.

Turmeric: Powdered rootstock of an Indian plant. Adds scarlet-orange color to foods (including hot dog mustard and piccalilli). Mild flavor; use in small quantities to avoid bitterness. Generally used in blends with other spices; good with cumin, dried mustard, coriander, cardamom, ginger, garlic. Widely used in India to add color to sweet dishes.

Vanilla bean: The cured pod of an orchid. Dark brown, tough, long and slender. Vanilla extract is made by soaking crushed pods in alcohol; imitation vanilla extract lacks the depth and flavor of pure vanilla extract.

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