I like to think of cooking as painting with flavor. Herbs and spices are part of those hues (that if used properly), can accentuate and elevate a simple recipe from ordinary to sublime. Here are a few of my tips on how to use them in collaboration to create your own Warhol-Basquiat of a meal based upon queries from my daughter, and other Personal Chef Approach members mentioned in the past.
1).Tatjana has been known to admonish me with “MOM, all the herbs and spices your recipes call for are too expensive for my budget!” Here’s my usual response:
- I usually prefer fresh herbs, so I write many of my recipes with fresh. However, you can always substitute dried herbs for fresh. Dried herbs are not inexpensive, but they have a much longer shelf life, so they are much more economical in the long run. Look at stocking your pantry with them as an investment, because you will use them again and again.
- Remember that dried herbs have a higher concentration of flavor, so a general rule of thumb I use is a ratio of 1 measure dried /3 measures fresh. For example, my Turkey Bolognese recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh basil, so you would substitute 1 teaspoon (1/3 of a tablespoon) of dried basil for the fresh.
- A recipe will not be ruined if an accent ingredient (obviously not the chicken or lemon if the recipe is for Lemon Chicken) such as an herb is ommitted – the recipe will just lose a tiny bit of dimension – so don’t stress over forgetting or not wanting to stretch your budget over it.
- The best way to save (if you happen to have a green thumb) is to grow your own fresh herbs.
- If not, this is one of my favorite money-savers on fresh herbs: If your menu plan requires fresh thyme, Rosemary, and/or Sage (not necessarily in the same recipe, but for this particular cook date), buy the poultry herbs containing all three instead of 3 individual packages.
2). Less is more: Unless you are an extremely experienced cook, I recommend following the suggested amounts on recipes unless otherwise noted specifically to taste. Many herbs and spices can overwhelm a dish. You want depth of flavor through subtle layering of flavor (think mixing your paints to achieve the perfect blue), to help the title ingredient shine.
3). Another member asked a great question in the forum this week – she wanted to know how you know which herbs and spices go well together? I think in terms of regions and cuisines and the ingredients normally associated with them. For example cilantro, cumin, oregano, and chiles are commonly found in Mexican food, while Italian recipes tend to use a lot of Rosemary, thyme, basil, and sage. There are plenty of herbs and spices that overlap between cuisines, and once you feel comfortable – by all means start experimenting on your own – thats how great new recipes come into being. My Jewels Turkey-Jasmine Burgers were a fusion of cuisine flavors. Like most skills, mastering them comes through experience.
For those of you on a tight budget, here are my top 12 herbs and spices that I use most often in my pantry (apart from salt and pepper which I consider mandatory). Remember, you don’t have to buy everything at once, you can build your pantry inventory over time. You will use them repeatedly for a very long time.
Granulated garlic cumin oregano basil
Ground Ginger cinnamon curry powder blend
Paprika Rosemary thyme parsley red pepper flakes
Be sure to keep your herbs and spices in a dry place, out of direct sunlight to preserve their integrity. Most dried herbs and spices do not generally “go off”, they just tend to lose some of their potency, so you can use most of them beyond their sell by date. You really are making an investment in your future culinary masterpieces when you purchase these ingredients.
Did you know that as a PCA member you have direct access to me, and an entire community for support in our forum? This the only food related website I know of where – you can actually ask the chef who wrote the recipe, how to make it! Click on this video for more about how the PCA works, and join today! What are your favorite go to herbs and spices? Please share them with all of us in the comment section below.