Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Herbs & Spice Make Everything Nice!

No, really! They do! Could you imagine eating a gingerbread cookie without the ginger? Or spaghetti sauce without basil (ok some people can, but not me!) or pumpkin pie without nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice? Ew.

These two lovelies come in a few forms. Whole, ground (dry) and fresh. But when do you use fresh, as opposed to dried, or even whole!? It really depends on what you are cooking. Many Indian recipes call for whole spices to be cooked in with the sauce, with the intention of removing them at the end as to not take a bite into a crunchy cardamom pod, you still get the intense flavors. Most recipes call for dried ground herbs and spices, but when you are serving something fresh, like a salad, you wouldn’t want to serve it with dried herbs, now would you (say no)?

What is the difference anyways? An herb is a green plant, used dried or fresh as an accent…Basil, Parsley, Sage etc. I think of these as cool and refreshing (even when they are slightly spicy!), usually are green.

Spices…well I think of spices as being warm and welcoming. Spices come from seeds, tree bark, roots etc, I think of earthy tones like browns, reds, deep orange

Imagine a  beautiful mozzarella and tomato salad (or a fresh salsa even), now imagine it mixed in with fresh basil. It really brightens up the aesthetics of the salad! Now imagine that same salad, bright red tomatoes, snowy white mozzarella, sprinkled with dried basil. Well ok, it might look interesting and still taste ok, but you cannot beat fresh herbs in instances like this, especially when making a salsa.

Now, on the other hand lets say you are cooking a tomato sauce. You probably don’t want to use fresh herbs from the start. I always use dried herbs and spices in my sauce 1. Its easier 2. They are more intense when dried, and a little goes a long way in a large pot and 3. Cooked whole herbs are not pretty. Now, I am not saying tha you should’t add fresh chopped basil as a garnish, or even to the pot at the end, you totally should, but in this case..stick with dried.

Whole vs ground
Frontier Cloves Whole, Fancy Grade, 16 Ounce BagBoth are good, but if you buy whole then you can and should grind your own. The whole spices hold their flavors much longer than ground. Also, with many spices you can roast them first for a different, more intense flavor. Lets say you need a tablespoon of cumin seeds ground, that right there is one flavor, and then you need a tablespoon of cumin roasted in a dry skillet and ground. You get 2 totally different flavors from the same spice at your finger tips! This also saves you money in the long run.
In the winter time, I love to boil water with a stick or two of cinnamon, its easier, less messy (you get the powdery cinnamon water ugh) and smells amazing.

Also, never by shy to use powdered garlic and onion. I mean, you certainly don't want to use it in place of chopping onions for something where you need volume, but in a marinade or sauce, powdered works perfectly. The flavors seep into the sauce and stick to whatever you are marinating, allowing the flavors to completely coat the meat.

Whew! There is a lot of info here and sorry that I don't have any pics up yet. Maybe I will become inspired and take pics of some of my whole spices and herbs!


  1. Utterly useless to me since I don't cook. But I'll let Dave know.

    Big hugs,

  2. Vive le Garlic Salt! And and cinnamin...2 things are taste great on ANYTHING!

  3. I love experimenting with herbs and spices.

  4. Thanks for the comments peeps! Michele, I love you. That is all I can day.
    Krystin I agree! Some people might scoff at the use of dried garlic or onion. It is absolutely necessary in some dishes where whole pieces just won't work, like with marinades (where you could use both I guess).
    Crohn's Diary! Hi! I have a good recipe for a SCD pie crust, actually if you google my full name you can find it, I came up with it about 8 years ago or more. Its yummmmm. If I can remember I will post it here.