Getting Adventurous Using Herbs and Spices—Part 2

Ready to start using herbs and spices more adventurously, or just at all? The first post in this series talked about how this isn’t hard or difficult. Mostly, it just takes a little courage and gumption. Start by finding a spark of herb and spice inspiration. Once you’ve settled on a couple herbs or spices, find a recipe or two and you’re off and running. The second post shared Six Tricks and Tips for a Successful Spice Adventure. Now, here are:

Seven More Rules of the Road for a Successful Spice Adventure

1. Maximize Flavor Over time (i.e., six months to a year), herbs and spices lose their vim and vigor. So if you’ve been wanting to try a curry dish, don’t use the powder bought last year in a fit of inspiration. Find a recipe first, then go buy a fresh batch of flavorful, fresh curry powder. That way you get a taste that’s the truest and best.

2. Buy Wise Buy herbs and spices from the bulk bins at a health foods store with a good turnover. Not only are they cheaper ounce per ounce, you can buy just what you need. To begin with, buy a very small amount, enough for a few recipes. Once you’ve made friends with an herb or spice, buy larger amounts, but not more than about a quarter cup at a time, so you won’t be tempted to use them past their prime.

3. Smell Before You Buy Most herbs and spices have a comforting and inviting smell. However, if you find a smell repulsive, maybe that particular flavoring is not for you. For sanitation purposes, sniff from a safe distance or, better yet, sprinkle a little in your hand and get a good whiff.

4. Don’t Give Up Too Soon If it’s not love at first sight when you try an herb or spice, be open and give it at least another couple tries. Likely as not, your taste buds are simply surprised, especially since the typical western diet is so sadly limited and bland. Be considerate and give the buds a little time to adjust. Try the herb or spice with different foods and over several weeks. With so much potential pleasure at stake, that much effort is definitely warranted.

5. Get Fresh Don’t forget about trying fresh herbs and spices. In my opinion, fresh are better and brighter tasting, and add a real special-ness to a dish. I’ve found this to be especially true for garlic, ginger, tarragon, cilantro, dill, parsley, mint, and rosemary.

6. The Exchange Rate With fresh herbs so widely available in grocery stores, many recipes now call for them to begin with. If a dried version is called for, simply substitute one tablespoon fresh for each teaspoon of dried. Generally speaking the reverse is not true. If a recipe calls for a fresh herb, using dried will likely result in a less than satisfying dish.

Coach on Call: My coach on call service is perfect for times when you’re in a bind abut substituting herbs and spices or just have other questions about using them.

7. Do Wait Until the Last Minute–Sometimes  Remember the earlier rule about letting herbs and spices cook a bit? It doesn’t apply to some of the more delicate fresh herbs like basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, marjoram and mint. They should only be added during the last minute of two of the cooking time.

Tomorrow:  Using Herbs and Spices–Continue the Adventure


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