Herbs and spices are some of the essential parts of recipes that we can control. What we add to our recipes, whether they are age-old family recipes or one you just discovered, depends on our taste buds and what we're looking for in the recipe.
We use certain herbs and spices for taste, health, and other reasons, but it's always our choice.
Granted, some recipes call for particular spices or herbs like turmeric when making curry. But, after a bit of research today, I found that you could use saffron instead of turmeric if you want. We learn new things every day.
Yesterday I made a video for News Break that you can check out at this link (Spices and herbs from local sources and store-bought used in my recipes. Part 1) where I talk about the spices and herbs I use the most. Part 2 is coming in a few days, where I'll talk more about other spices and how they all work together in a recipe for me.
The most important thing about the spices and herbs you use is not only how you use them or the amount you use, but what you're looking for from them in your recipe.
You can be a heavy-handed spice /herb applier or a lightweight when shaking or grinding the spice sand herbs you're using—either way, it determines your results.
Grinding and shaking becomes an art when cooking, but what of the pinch of something? I'm sure you know what I'm talking about?
Every grandmother, grandfather, mother, or father makes that famous statement, "I use a pinch of salt."
I remember thinking years ago, what the heck is a pinch of salt?
When I asked my grandmother, who taught me the most about cooking, what a pinch of salt was, she showed me. It didn't help since my pinch was smaller than hers when I was a kid.
As I got older, my pinch of salt was bigger than hers, which led to some overly salty recipes. It took time and patience to learn what pinch worked for me and my tastebuds.
Using spices and herbs is a trial in errors. I've made a ton of mistakes, and each time I've learned something not to do the next time I make that dish.
There's nothing wrong with making mistakes. Tony Bourdain, who worked for my uncle in Provincetown on Cape Cod, who later became famous, would always tell younger cooks to experiment. "Don't just go with the one teaspoon or quarter of a teaspoon and think it's right," he would often say. "You need to test as you go and make it your own."
What's funny is, and I didn't find this out until later, my grandmother would say the same thing to all the chefs she taught for my uncle's restaurants, and Tony was one of those chefs.
There is no definitive list of spices and herbs you should use, but there are some that, for me, make it into every recipe I make.
Here's a list of some of the most usual suspects I use when cooking or coming up with a new recipe to try on the family.
This herb is my all-around favorite. Not just for the taste and smell, but for what it brings to a recipe that I want to change a little.
It adds that humble taste that we all can tell when it's added but never takes away from the dish unless you get heavy-handed, which I've done a couple of times.
Whether you use green or purple basil, they add that freshness to a dish no matter what type it is.
What type you have, fresh or dried, changes everything in a dish. Dried basil can be more pungent than fresh basil, and you need to think of that when deciding how you want your recipe to taste.
In my opinion, using fresh basil most of the time is better than dried, but some recipes call for dried basil. So be ready either way.
This isn't the only herb that changes the taste of a recipe when used dry or fresh.
Here's an herb to reckon with when cooking. This is one herb that can be used dry all the time, and it will never fail. But, knowing how to make it recognized in your dish is vital.
Dried oregano, if just thrown into your recipe, will work, but the flavor won't be as strong as if you do this one thing before you toss it in. rub it between your palms to get the oil aroused, and then toss it in.
The difference will be astounding if you've never done this, and your dish will stand out, especially if you want that oregano flavor to stand out. This works excellent ins clams oreganata.
Here again, this isn't the only herb that works well dried and fresh. Rosemary and thyme both work well, fresh or dried. Likewise, when you use these dried herbs, make sure to rub them between your palms to arouse the oils and get that flavor in your dish.
Salt & Pepper
This should be an easy one, but not all salt or pepper is created equal. There are so many varieties of salt and pepper these days you could fill a pantry just with the different ones.
Between pink salt, sea salt, Mediterranean salt, Sicilian salt, and kosher salt, do I need to go on?
Then we have the different peppers, such as lemon pepper, garlic and pepper, white pepper, black pepper, and crushed red pepper for starters. I'm sure there are others I don't even know.
You could make a Fresno chili pepper or Anaheim chili pepper if you dried the seeds out and then crushed them a little and sprinkled them on your dish.
Or you can make your own Italian crushed red pepper as I do to enjoy the taste of homemade crushed red pepper flakes.
It does make a difference in taste; believe me on this.
I tend to use sea salt and kosher salt in my recipes. The amount I use is always based on the people eating and what I'm looking for in flavor. I consider that others in the household, like Patti, aren't keen on salty food, so I tailor my pinch when cooking dishes. Although there are times when I kick it up a notch and warn her that it may be salt, but that's what the dish needs.
I know we covered almost all of the Italian seasonings used in Italian and other dishes, but there is the bottle you'll find in stores that are labeled Italian Seasoning.
That's right, everything in one bottle ready for you to use. Is there something wrong with using one of these bottles? No!
I use it to add to my already use of herbs and spices generally used in an Italian or another dish I'm cooking. I find that it usually enhances what I've done and helps if I forget something I generally use.
It's All About Taste
Don't be afraid to use ethnic spices all ready dried and in a jar or grinder. You'll most likely never go wrong with a mix like that, and usually, it will enhance your meal and its flavor.
It's time to experiment with spices and herbs. Take a recipe and make it yours. Change the flavor or enhance the flavor through the spices and herbs you use and be excited about the outcome.
If you have family members that are sensitive to certain spices and herbs, it's always a good idea to warn them in advance of what you've added to your dish.
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