Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are a food-lovers dream! They can liven up a dish like nothing else. And what’s even better is that they are packed with vitamins and minerals; therefore adding herbs to your meal is one of the easiest ways to naturally get the nutrients you need. To add to that, herbs contain no calories or fat!
We use different parts of the herb plants depending on the result we want. Leaves, flowers, stems and seeds are often used depending on the plant and the use. If you are growing your own herbs, the best time to harvest your herbs is in the morning, just after the dew has evaporated and before the sun has warmed their leaves. However, the flavor of herbs starts deteriorating quickly after picking, so it is best to harvest right before you cook your meal. If you need to harvest earlier, you can store your herbs in a plastic bag with breathing holes and place them in the refrigerator for a few hours.
Many people freeze their fresh herbs in order to store them for longer periods of time. To do this, remove the leaves from the stems and gently dry off any moisture. You might choose to freeze them whole or chop them up. You can store them in freezer bags or airtight containers before placing in the freezer. A great tip is to place chopped herbs into an ice tray and cover them with water. They will freeze like ice cubes and then you can easily remove one cube at a time to add to your dishes as you are cooking!
Preparing Your Herbs For Cooking
Following is a video from one of my favorite chefs (Jamie Oliver) about cooking with herbs. He has so many useful tips and makes it all very easy to follow (plus, he’s got a great accent that is just fun to listen to!).
In that video, Jamie demonstrates how to prepare woody herbs, including thyme, rosemary and sage. He suggests first running them under hot water for 7 seconds to loosen up the natural oil in the herbs, which will bring out the flavor.
With herbs like thyme and rosemary, you can simply grab the end of the stem and run your thumb and fingers along the stem to remove the skinny leaves. For sage, he suggest simply snapping the leaves off the stem. Then he uses what he calls, “the cigar method,” to roll up the herbs into a compacted form, which allows you to easily slice or chop them up.
Then he moved onto the soft herbs, like parsley, mint and basil. For parsley, he suggests using the entire top, leafy part of the plant all the way down to about 1″ below the last leaf sprouts. Then he saves the stalks below that point to use in soups.
For mint and basil, he first removes the small leaves and places them in a cup of water. Then he uses them as a garnish on top of his finished meals to add even more beauty to the dish. He then slices up the big leaves using the cigar method.
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Tips For Cooking With Herbs
Here are some tips to help you use your herbs and spices easily in your cooking:
- Fresh herbs loose their flavor the longer they are cooked, so add them within the last 15-20 minutes of cooking, or even right at the end.
- Dried herbs are best when added at the beginning as you are cooking.
- Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh herbs, so you need less. You can substitute one teaspoon of dried herbs for one tablespoon of fresh herbs.
- With fresh herbs, the finer you chop the leaves, the more flavor will be released.
- Experiment and have fun with adding herbs and spices to your meals. A simple guideline to follow is not to mix two strong herbs together in the same dish. It is better to use one strong herb, and then add other milder herbs that will compliment the stronger herb.
- Try adding herbs to oils, vinegars, butter, beverages, meal dishes, chicken and fish dishes, soups, breads, eggs, cheese sauces, dressings and desserts. Use your imagination!
Using a Pestle and Mortar
Here is another one of Jamie’s video, where he shows us how to properly use a pestle and mortar.
I loved that video and I love using my pestle and mortar! Jamie shows you how to use what is the oldest kitchen gadget in the world the right way, and by using this device, you will add mega flavor to your dishes.
There are 2 methods for using your pestle and mortar. The first is bashing and the second is muddling, Jamie usually starts out with muddling, gently crushing the herbs in a circular motion without lifting the pestle. Then he adds in some bashing. With this method, you are the judge of how course you want the grind to be depending on what you are preparing.
Jamie shows us how to make 3 wonderful herb additions using the pestle and mortar:
- Flavored oil – You can start with whole basil leaves and bash them into a paste. To make a flavored oil, add olive oil.
- Dressing – Start with the steps above for the flavored oil and add balsamic vinegar to create a mouth-watering salad dressing. Or, instead of balsamic, you could add lemon juice for a wonderful grilled fish dressing.
- Marinade – To create a mouthwatering marinade, you want to add 4 main ingredients: acid, oil, herb and garlic. Start with 2 or 3 peels of lemon skin, some rosemary and a couple garlic cloves (not even peeled). Then add olive oil and even lemon juice at the end.