Cooking with herbs & spices is sometimes considered to be extremely intimidating to many, especially when it comes to using (or growing!) fresh herbs instead of using the dried stuff. This needn’t be the case. The great thing about cooking with herbs and spices is that it’s a great way to add lots of flavor without adding a lot of fat.
In most recipes, it’s easy to see that the fat and sugar lend almost all of the flavor. If you’re looking to reduce fat, sugar, and calories, learning to prepare recipes that feature fresh herbs and interesting spices nicely satisfy even the most skeptical cook. Cooking with herbs & spices is easy to do; all you need is a little education.
Spices have been used in cooking and healthcare for thousands of years. They used to be traded as a commodity in the Middle Ages. The spice trade was a catalyst in the discovery of the New World (Columbuswas searching for the shortest route in order for Spain to gain control of the lucrative spice trade).
What You Need to Know About Herbs & Spices
Toasting Spices –
Some recipes will instruct you to “toast” your spices. This simply means to take the spices and warm them in a dry pan until the natural oils are released and the aroma starts to release. This is the same practice as toasting nuts. Spices that may call for “toasting” are fennel seeds, coriander, etc.
Dried spices –
When using dried spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg (we recommend using the fresh nutmeg and grating it yourself), chili powder, cayenne, etc., keep them in a cool, dry place, tightly covered, and store them for no longer than 6 months. The same would be the case for dried herbs (though we recommend using fresh almost exclusively).
I recommend buying the whole spices and then grinding them as you need them. I use a coffee grinder that is used only for the purpose of grinding spices.
There is more to salt than just the ubiquitous table salt (that caustic and aggressive stuff found on restaurant table tops everywhere). Salt has a rich and intriguing history. Roman soldiers used to receive salt as an allowance as part of their pay. Ancient Hebrews and Greeks valued salt throughout the Middle Ages and well into the 19th century. Back then, it was primarily used for preserving foods, not to enhance flavor.
Here are some of the types of salt you are probably familiar with:
Table Salt – a refined salt from mines. Used commonly in restaurant service.
Iodized Salt – table salt enhanced with Iodine.
Sea Salt - harvested from the sea (there are numerous different kinds of sea salt available on market shelves), this salt is the evaporated salt from sea water. Can be fine-grained or coarse.
Kosher Salt – additive-free, coarse-grained salt. Is used by some Jews in the preparation of Kosher meat.
Rock Salt – not as refined as other salts. Its color comes from the harmless impurities it possesses.
Seasoned Salt – everyone knows “Lawrey’s”. Seasoned salts are made by adding various seasonings to regular, refined salt.
At one point in history, peppercorns were used as currency. Today, they are so plentiful that we have little appreciation for their value. Peppercorns are used to enhance the flavor of both sweet and savory dishes. A climbing vine or plant, the pepper plant is native toIndia&Indonesia.
Black peppercorns –
The most common peppercorn of all is picked when the berry is not quite ripe. It is then dried, so it shrivels and the skin turns dark brown or black. Black peppercorns are the strongest flavored ones.
White peppercorns –
More subtle in flavor, white peppercorns are used commonly in sauces and soups that are white in color. The white peppercorn has been allowed to ripen, and the skin is then removed. After that, the berry is dried.
Green peppercorns –
Soft, under-ripe berry that is usually preserved in brine. It has a fresh flavor, less pungent than the others. Available in cans or jars.
Pink (or red) peppercorns –
Not really peppercorns at all. They are the berry of another plant altogether, the Baies rose plant. Cultivated inMadagascar, and important viaFrance, they are very expensive. Slightly sweet, these are colorful and flavorful additions to meat and fish dishes.
Fragrant leaves of annual and perennial plants.
Store fresh herbs in the refrigerator, wrapped lightly in damp paper towel and sealed airtight in a plastic bag for up to 5 days. If you need to keep them up to 10 days, store them in a tall glass and fill with cold water until the ends are covered by 1 inch. The water should be changed every 2 days.
Curried Turkey Burgers
3 lbs. ground turkey
2 Tb. curry powder
2 Tb. cumin
2 Tb. chili powder
1 Tb. honey
Clean, oil, and pre-heat a grill. While the grill is pre-heating, prepare the turkey mixture.
In a bowl, combine the ground turkey with the spices. Form into patties and grill until the turkey burgers are fully cooked (poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees – check with an instant-read thermometer). Serve on a whole grain bun with yogurt sauce (recipe follows).
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup chopped seeded English hothouse cucumber
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons chopped green onions
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir until thoroughly mixed. Chill until ready to serve