Monday, September 12, 2011

Are you spicy or herbalicious?

As I type this the aroma of fresh thyme is making me feel all warm and fuzzy inside because I just put a stem in some tortellini soup.  FYI don’t waste time stripping thyme leaves, they are so tiny already.  Throw a sprig in your dish and they will all fall off and you can just fish the stem out before serving.  Yummy.

 Anyway, one of my sisters (for the record, I have 6 of those) recently told me, “I have no idea what spice your supposed to use with what or any of that stuff”.  I thought about it and decided that it’s very possible that a lot of people don’t know what spice your supposed to use on things.  Granted I use “supposed to” lightly.  You can use anything you want ON anything you want, but some classic pairings are certainly in place.  Its like wine…who cares what color you serve with what.  Drink wine, be happy! 

Ok, back to the subject at hand.

There is a difference between spices and herbs.  So lets clarify:

SPICES are aromatic seasonings that come from…bark (cinnamon), buds (cloves), fruit (paprika), roots (ginger), or seeds (nutmeg) of plants.  They should be tossed after 6 months as they lose their potency.  Keep in a cool dark place. 

HERBS are the leafy part of plants, like sage, basil, oregano, thyme, cilantro, parsley, etc.  They should be wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a Ziploc bag in the fridge.  Use as soon as possible, they will also lose flavor quicker after being harvested.  Fresh herbs should be added near the end of the cooking time to your dish of choice.  They tend to turn black or lose their flavor if cooked or simmered to long.  If your herbs are DRIED they can be added at the beginning of cooking.  Give them a little smoosh in the palm of your hand or with your fingers to get them revived just before adding to your dish! 

For those of you who have never meandered over to the produce aisle where the fresh herbs are kept.  DO IT NOW.  The difference between fresh and dried herbs is night and day.  Trust me its worth the extra minute you might spend washing and chopping them.  Some fresh herbs are very different from their flavor dried.  Fresh oregano, not my favorite, dried oregano…the bomb.  So you have to judge for yourself.  In order to do that you must get some dried herbs.  Grow them!  They are cheap and easy!  That didn’t really come out right, but you get my point.  Parsley for me, isn’t so much a flavor addition as a “brighten upper” for all dishes.  A bright fresh splash of color and a fresh flavor. 

My rule of thumb is whatever amount of fresh herbs you use, you use 1/3 the amount for the dried version.  1 tbsp of fresh thyme, 1 tsp dried.  Get it?  I am sure there are far more accurate gauges, probably even something scientific if you look hard enough but I think I am pretty close on this.  Its what I use and I am sticking to it. 

Now as far as “what goes with what“.  This is totally up to you but I will share some classic pairings for meat, poultry and fish.
Lamb-rosemary or thyme
Tomato dishes-basil
Chicken-rosemary, sage, thyme, dill, basil, cilantro, paprika, etc.
Beef-oregano, bay leaves, rosemary
Pork-sage, rosemary, thyme,

My favorite of all time….garlic.  Garlic goes with everything.  Garlic is everything in one.  Some consider it a spice and some consider it an herb.  I consider it perfection in a little package.  Raw, cooked, roasted or pickled.  Garlic is perfect in practically every way! (my next recipe is chicken with 40 cloves of garlic actually)

Make sure to remember that you not only can you season your food with spices and herbs but you can marinate your fish, poultry, meat AND veggies in them.  You can dry rub your protein with them as well.  Let it sit for an hour or so and prepare as planned. 

What I have offered is an example of everyday herbs you have heard of and likely use.  There are many specialty ones and most herbs are associated with certain cultures and flavors of various countries.  Basil, oregano, and garlic are usually associated with Italian food while cilantro and cumin are associated with Mexican cooking.  Curry, is associated with Indian cooking, etc.  Easy, typical examples.  Cilantro is the bane of my existence so I pretend it doesn’t have a place in the world.  I like it in small doses in salsa, otherwise, I pretend there is no such thing.  Coriander the seed of the cilantro plant, I love.  Very different flavor to me. 

So go crazy, try any herbs you like!  This is only a sample of what I believe is the most common herbs and the most readily available in your local food market.  

Do you have any favorites that you use regularly or in a unique way?  Share with us!  

Your spicy chefwannabe


  1. I have thyme in my garden and love it! Will be drying for the winter. Want some?

  2. I have thyme in my garden and love it. Will be drying for winter...want some?

  3. I have the thyme you gave me drying as we speak but would always take more! Thanks! I love thyme too!