Experimenting with herbs and spices is an easy way to turn a bland meal into a colorful and flavorful dish that is not only appealing to the taste, but also offers a meal that looks great and offers a hearty aroma.
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Herbs and spices are full of flavor, yet contain no calories and are often loaded with disease-fighting nutrients called phytochemicals. They certainly come in handy when you are on a therapeutic diet that calls for cutting the fat, sugar and sodium from your diet.
By adding different seasonings to food, people are often more likely to try new foods and might even increase their intake of healthful items such as fish, poultry and vegetables.
Pairing herbs and spices with food is not an exact science; try experimenting. If you want to stay on the safe side to start, try the following:
- Basil added to vegetables, Italian dishes and anything with tomatoes.
- Bay leaves can be added to soups and stews or anything that cooks for a long period of time.
- Cilantro adds zing to Mexican and Spanish cuisine.
- Fresh dill is a great compliment to seafood, chicken, yogurt, cucumbers and tomatoes.
- Sage and thyme are great to flavor poultry.
- Add tarragon to chicken, fish or eggs.
- Chives and parsley mix well with salads and cold dishes.
- If cooking chicken, fish, lamb, pork, potatoes or stew, try tossing in some rosemary.
- Add tumeric to Southeast Asian recipes such as curries, soups, rice and lentil dishes.
- Cinnamon is not only used for sweet dishes and fancy coffee drinks but also adds a different flavor to chicken, seafood and lamb.
- Try the following tips when experimenting with herbs and spices:
- Add fresh herbs at the end of the cooking process. They can also be added after savory foods are cooked, just before serving.
- When using fresh herbs, be sure to chop them very finely to maximize flavor potential.
- Add dried herbs in the beginning of the cooking process
The amount of herbs and spices a recipes calls for is referring to dried herbs/spices, unless otherwise specified. If you choose to use powdered or fresh herbs or spices, use the following rule of thumb: 1/4 teaspoon powder equals 3/4 teaspoon dried or 2 teaspoons fresh herbs or spices.
Avoid overwhelming a dish by combining too many strong flavored herbs and spices. Try combining one stronger flavored herb with one mildly flavored herb.
Fresh herbs should be stored in the refrigerator, in a glass of water as you would store fresh flowers
Dried herbs should be stored in a cool, dry and dark place. Although the most convenient place to store them, above a stove or oven is not the best location to preserve flavor and freshness.
Replace dried herbs after about a year. If you rub the herbs between your fingertips and cannot smell them, it is time to replace them. You may try dating them when you purchase to remind yourself to renew your supply.
Try using a small amount of herbs and spices with more lightly flavored foods such as seafood, eggs and white sauces. Heartier foods such as beef and pork usually require more herbs and spices, since they tend to be stronger in flavor.
Try combining your favorite herbs and spices and adding them to a bottle of olive oil to create a flavored oil.
Combine various herbs and spices to create all kinds of great rubs such as lemon peel with minced garlic and cracked pepper for a citrus rub or cumin, brown sugar, garlic powder and onion powder for a barbecue rub. You don't need a recipe, instead try combining flavors that compliment each other.
Melissa Tewes is the clinical nutrition manager at Meritus Medical Center. She has 16 years of experience as a registered dietitian and is also a certified personal trainer.
Spicing up the chops
For thousands of years, societies have traded, bartered, worshipped and even gone to war over spices.