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Useful tips on how to use herbs and spices

22 March 2017

By Jo Campos

There are hundreds of different herbs and spices that are used to add that distinct flavor to every dish we cook. If you’re the type who uses them a lot when cooking, you are best advised to grow them yourself. This ensures that you have a ready supply, and that your herbs are always fresh.
One of the easiest herbs to grow, even right on the window sills of your kitchen, are sweet basil and mint. Rosemary is also sturdy, and could last for a long time if properly sowed. There are a number of other herbs that you can grow just as easily, such as thyme, oregano, marjoram and Thai Basil.
This way, all you need to do is to snip a few sprigs of fresh basil each time you cook a pasta dish, or rosemary for an aromatic roast chicken or lamb chops.
However, it is sometimes confusing which herb or spice is the perfect blend for what you are cooking.
Let me try to address this problem in this article.

ANISE or ANISEED is an aromatic spice that imparts a distinct flavor of licorice to food and is commonly used to make the liqueurs ouzo, anisette and pernod. Anise is used in cookies and cakes, and a sprinkling of the seeds adds an unusual twist to fruit salads, particularly those utilizing citrus fruits. Try adding anise to fruit pies, relishes and chutneys, as well as dark breads. In Indian cuisine, anise is occasionally used in pilafs and braised dishes. In Chinese/Cantonese cuisine, star anise is used in braised beef brisket or “ngau lam” and is perfect as a topping for noodles or steamed rice.

BASIL or sweet basil is commonly used to make pesto, a perfect pasta sauce made from pine nuts, basil and extra virgin olive oil. Thai basil is different from sweet basil in texture and aroma, thus, be careful not to switch the two or use one as a substitute for the other as they have different tastes and flavor. Thai basil is used for Asian cuisine and sweet basil is best used for salads, sauces and other savory dishes.

CINNAMON is derived from the dried inner bark of the cassia tree, a small evergreen. One of the earliest spices recorded, cinnamon is also one of the most familiar and commonly used. It is a sweet, aromatic spice which is often used as a component of curry blends, or in many baked goods, including custards, puddings, cakes, cookies, and fruit pies. Squash, pumpkin and sweet potatoes, whether in pies or as side dishes, always benefit from a sprinkling of cinnamon. Whole cinnamon sticks are nice to add to stewing fruits and simmering beverages, such as hot mulled cider.

DILL WEED and DILL SEED are both products of a tall, feathery annual plant that is a favorite kitchen-garden herb. The seeds, less commonly used than the leaves, are used in pickling and may also be used as a milder substitute for caraway seeds in breads or as a topping for potato, cabbage, and casseroles. Fresh dill is available for a few months out of the year, but may be hard to come by during the colder months. Dried dill is a fairly good standby for fresh when necessary. Fresh or dried, dill has a special affinity with tomatoes and cucumbers. Few summer salads are simpler or more refreshing than sliced cucumbers with coconut yogurt and chopped dill. Fresh or dried, dill is an excellent herb in hot and cold soups and is an offbeat addition to omelets. Use dill in spinach pies and herb breads as well.
More tips and recipes using herbs and spices in the next issues, so keep posted!

1) When buying herbs and spices by weight, buy only what will fit into an average-size spice jar. In other words, don’t stock up. Most go a very long way and are at their optimal flavor for up to a year, after which they begin losing their potency.
2) Keep dried herbs and spices in a place in your kitchen that is away from heat and moisture.
3) When substituting fresh herbs for dry, use about three times the amount of fresh herb as the dry.
4) Introduce dried herbs and spices into your recipe as early in the cooking process as possible, so that they have a chance to develop flavor. Add fresh herbs toward the middle or even the end of the cooking if you’d like to retain their flavor.
Sharing a quick and easy Pasta Pesto recipe here from Jamie Oliver:

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