Herbs and Spices Dictionary for Cooking

Herbs consist of fresh leaves and stems or crumbled or powdered dried leaves. Spices consist of many other parts of the plants—seeds, stems, roots, and berries, which have been dried—and can be whole, ground or powdered.

Dried herbs should be purchased only in the amount that can be used within two or three months, and should be stored away from heat. Herbs that have a musty or “flat” aroma should be discarded. For best results in your cooking, always try to find fresh leaves.

Whole spices retain their flavor longer than ground, although both will retain their potency for about six months if they are properly stored. They should be kept in sealed containers in a cool, dry spot, away from extreme heat and direct light. For optimum flavor, purchase whole spices and grind them as close as possible to the time you will be using them. Dry-cooking for 2-3 minutes will heighten their flavor. Put seeds in a wok or sauté pan and toss vigorously over high heat. You do not need to add any oil.

Allspice– comes from the ground berries of a tree which grows in Jamaica and belongs to the Myrtaceae family. It has the aroma of a blend of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. It is sold both whole and ground. Whole is mainly used in pickling, meats, fish and gravies. Ground is used in baked goods, relishes, puddings, and fruit preserves.

Anise – originated in the Middle East, where it is grown today as a commercial crop. Small white flowers bloom in mid-summer, followed by tiny licorice-flavored fruits called aniseed. Aniseed adds rich flavor to cookies, cakes, candies, bread, and applesauce. It is widely used in Indian curries and stews. Use fresh leaves in salad.

Basil – Sweet basil, to Italians, is a symbol of love. What most of us love is basil’s pungent, spicy-clove flavor and aroma. No other herb stands out quite like basil for its aroma. Shred its leaves and the pungent smell fills the air, and it has a flavor to match.

There are many basils: sweet basil with its large green leaves; the tiny leaved Greco-Roman bush basil; purple-leaved Thai basil; lemon basil with its strong lemon scent is popular in salads, marinades and desserts; opal basil with its iridescent purple leaves and more pungent spicy-ginger taste; cinnamon basil; and some 150 other varieties not commonly used in the United States.

It is perennial in its native tropics and grows as an annual in temperate climates. Although it does not like cold or wind, it grows readily in a pot placed in a sheltered corner or on a windowsill.

The leaves have a warm mint and clove flavor with citrus and anise. Leaves will blacken soon after chopping, so chop at the last minute. Use generously, adding toward the end of cooking or add fresh just before serving.

It is a versatile herb with a special affinity to tomatoes, fresh or cooked. Puree with olive oil, garlic, Parmesan, and pine nuts to make Italian pesto

Pair with Mediterranean (especially Italian) and Asian ingredients. Chop or tear and add to vegetable soups, butter sauces for poached white fish, and tossed salads. Steep whole leaves in cream to spice up whipped cream for summer fruits. Use in tomato soup, sauces, salads, omelets, and with meat, poultry, and fish.

Bay – These are the leaves of the laurel tree of ancient Greece, not the native American mountain laurel whose leaves are toxic. It is a powerful seasoning, with the deeply savory essence of nutmeg and warm spices. It is possible to grow quite a large plant in a small pot, and it will thrive for years without repotting.

Bruise 1 to 2 whole leaves lightly to add at beginning of cooking. Use leaves whole in stews, casseroles, or meat sauces. Be sure to remove before serving. The leaf edges can be sharp. Use bay leaves to create a savory flavor foundation for soups, stews, ragouts, and braises.

Include in a bouquet garni, along with parsley and thyme, for flavoring stocks and poaching liquids. Steep in milk or cream so its warm spice notes can perfume dessert custards. Also, put leaves in stored grain or flour to repel insects.

Capers – The flower buds of a small bush found in Mediterranean countries. To make capers, the buds are dried and then pickled in vinegar with some salt. To reduce saltiness, rinse before using. The piquant taste of capers permeates any sauce quickly, and just a few supply a big flavor boost.

Caraway – Finely cut leaves and flat, greenish-white flower heads resemble those of carrots. Seeds have been reputed to aid digestion, strengthen vision, improve memory, cure baldness, stop a lover’s fickleness, and prevent theft of any objects containing them.

Seeds add tangy flavor to baked goods. Sprinkle caraway seeds over port, lamb, or veal before roasting, and on baked apples. Add to cheese dishes, applesauce, and apple pie.

To reduce cooking odor of cabbage, place a few seed in a bag, tie and add to cooking water. Use young leaves in salads and soups. Cook old leaves like spinach.

Cardamom – is a member of the ginger or Zingiberaceae family, and is one of the most expensive of spices. It comes from southeast India and is used not only in Thai cuisine, but also many Scandinavian dishes.

Cardamom can be sold as pods, seed, or powder. The pods are white, green, or black and contain only a few seeds, each which, once ground, barely fill an eighth of a teaspoon. Keep cardamom away from the light and it will keep fresh for a surprisingly long time. Keep in mind a little bit goes a long way.

Chervil– Also known as French parsley, is one of the components of the four fines herbes. It has a delicate licorice flavor with the mild pepperiness of parsley. It is a fleeting flavor. Cooking and drying destroys the subtle flavor, so use large quantities of fresh leaves, toward the end of cooking.

Chervil is used to prepare fish and shellfish sauces and in salads. Chop with equal parts chives, parsley, and tarragon for omelets, soups and tartar sauce. Shred fresh leaves into potatoes, tuna, or green salads; add to poultry, egg, cheese, and fish dishes. Serve as a garnish with red meat and oysters. Include dried leaves in stuffings.

Chervil brings out the flavor of some other herbs very well.

Chives – One of the most popular of culinary herbs, the leaves of this plant can be used in a variety of ways. The flowers are also edible, and can be used to garnish salads and other cold dishes. Chives are readily grown indoors or outside. They have thin, tubular, grass like foliage and clover like lavender flower heads that bloom in mid to late summer. Leaves have a mild onion flavor. Chives will turn drab green when heated.

Finely chop, snip, or when available, separate flower buds, and add just before serving. Chives are a pleasantly mild alternative to raw onion. Sprinkle florets or cut leaves on salads, in sandwiches, and soups. Chop them and add to egg and cheese dishes, cream cheese, mashed potatoes, hamburgers, sandwich spreads, and sauces. Smear into softened butter for corn on the cob.

Cilantro – Thin, rounded, toothed bright green leaves resembling flat-leaf parsley. Also called fresh coriander or Chinese parsley. It is tangy with citrus notes.

Cilantro likes full sun, but when it is grown outdoors, its finely cut foliage means that it looks best planted in abundance. Although it can be grown indoors, many people find the smell unpleasant.

Chop roughly or use whole sprigs and add just before serving. Use whole stems to flavor stocks. Use cilantro as a cooling, zesty counterpoint to the spice in Asian, Latin American, and Indian dishes. It’s great with chili and lime. Adds brightness to fresh fruit or tomato salsas. Puree with garlic and oil, like a pesto, to serve with grilled shrimp or flank steak.

Cinnamon – is available powdered or in sticks. It is a member of the laurel or Lauraceae family and grows on the island of Sri Lanka and along the southwestern coast of India. The inner bark or the tree yields the “bark cinnamon” sold in scroll-like sticks. Break these scrolls inn as small pieces as possible and then grind them in a spice mill or cleaned coffee mill.

Cloves– are the unopened flower bud of a tree that grows in many of the warmer regions of the world such as Madagascar, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sumatra, and Brazil. Cloves can be purchased both whole and ground. Cloves have a most pleasant aroma, but they are so strong that a tiny bit will be sufficient to flavor a great deal of prepared food. Be careful!

Coriande – An ancient spice whose seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs and were used in Rome to preserve meat. Grind dry seeds to powder, and dust over veal, pork, or ham before cooking. Sprinkle on cakes, pastries, cookies, or sweet dishes. Use in ground meat, sausage, and stews.

Young leaves taste like dried orange peel and are rich in vitamins A and B1, calcium, riboflavin, and niacin. Use in salads and soups and serve chopped with avocado pears.

Dill – One of the oldest herbs; is a native of southern Europe and western Asia. It has tender, feathery, blue-green fronds branching off a central stem. Both seeds and leaves have a sharp, slightly bitter taste.

Dill has many medicinal benefits. Its common name comes from the Saxon word dilla, meaning “to lull,” and the seeds have gentle tranquilizing properties. The ancient Greeks found that dill cured hiccups, and the tradition of using it in preparations for infant colic has been passed down through the ages. Dill leaves contain magnesium, iron, calcium, and vitamin C, so it is beneficial to use them in salads, soups, and grilled meats.

Used dried or fresh leaves, known as dill weed, to flavor fish, soups, salads, meat, poultry, omelets, and potatoes. Pick off whole fronds or roughly chop to add at the end of cooking or to use in cold dishes.

Dill is most closely associated with Scandinavian and Eastern European cooking. Add to cold potato salads, cucumbers, and deviled eggs as well as hot potato soups, steamed beets or beet soups, omelets, and dishes enriched with sour cream. Pair with delicate meats like veal or chicken, and mil-flavored fish.

Use in baked goods, including breads and biscuits.

Fennel – Leaves, stems, roots, seeds, and oil are all parts of the fennel plant used in various ways. Leaves have a sweetish flavor, particularly good in sauces for fish; also useful with pork or veal, in soups and in salads. Seeds have a sharper taste. Use fennel sparingly in sauerkraut, spaghetti sauce, chili, hearty soups, and as condiment on baked goods.

Florence fennel, also known as sweet fennel or finocchio, is a staple of Italian cuisine. The roots are used in many recipes and impart a wonderful undertone of anise to the dish.

Garlic – This member of the onion family has a long history and was regarded as a sacred herb by the Ancient Egyptians. Garlic is one of about 700 species of Allium, or onion, grown all over the world for their culinary and medicinal value. Garlic’s distinctive, pungent aroma and flavor have made it one of the most popular herbs.

It is widely used in oriental and Mediterranean-style dishes. It is used raw in salads and dressings, and cooked in casseroles, stews, and roast joints of meat and poultry.

Garlic adds a classic touch to all kinds of foods—vegetables, meat and fish—and is used widely in dips, sauces, and salad dressings, such as the traditional Mediterranean aioli (garlic mayonnaise).

When cooking with garlic, use bulbs that are firm and unsprouted. Old, sprouting garlic—cloves with green shoots growing in their center—can be sharp and bitter. Heads should be hard with no give when pressed and with no trace of mold or sprouting.

Ginger – is a warming herb with a pungent aroma and flavor. It enhances all kinds of foods—from confectionery and cakes to savory dishes. It is widely used in the cuisines of the Far East, especially in curries and stir-fries. The roots can be purchased fresh and kept frozen for an extended period of time.

When fresh ginger is required in a recipe, simply slice off the desired amount from the frozen root and return the rest to the freezer.

Dried, ground ginger is used in cakes, biscuits and various sauces, and commercially in sweets, soft drinks and condiments. The roots appear in all kinds of meat and vegetable dishes, including curries, marinades and chutneys. Pickled, ginger appears in Japanese cuisine.

Lavender– is used most often in desserts and teas, but also lends its smoky, floral flavor to meats, fish, seafood, and roasted vegetables. Lavender honey is a gourmet treat, and vinegar infused with lavender will add mystery to salad greens.

Lemon Balm – A fragrant garden plant that releases its scent when brushed against. It should be a first choice for the herb garden as it is both decorative and useful.

Its pleasant, lemon-scented leaves should be placed where they can be brushed against. Lemon balm has long been established as one of the most effective herbs in banishing depression. An infusion of lemon balm is excellent for calming nerves, and a cup of the tea taken at bedtime will aid sleep.

Chop the leaves into salad. Add to fruit salads, jelly, ice cream and custard. Add to blended vinegars. Try serving as an iced tea. The leaves can be crystallized and added to cold puddings and cakes. Lemon balm is also good added to game and fish.

Lemongrass – This fragrant herb is a versatile one. It is widely used as a flavoring ingredient is Southeast Asian dishes. There are more than 50 species in this genus of scented grasses. Plants can be grown outdoors in warmer areas and will happily survive the warmer months outside in cool areas, as long as they are brought indoors when the temperature falls below 45 degrees. The leaves, stem, and oil are the valuable parts of the plant. Only the lower 4″ of the leaves are suitable for use—fresh or dried in teas and Oriental or Asian dishes.

Lemon Verbena – The leaves are picked in summer and used fresh in herbal teas and in syrups, salads, or stuffing for meat and poultry. They can also be chopped and sprinkled over drinks and fruit puddings.

Mace and Nutmeg– Nutmeg is the fruit of Myristica fragrans, a tree sixty feet high that is native to the Moluccas. The fruit is a false fruit, or drupe—like cherries or apricots—the flesh of which is used as food. Below the flesh is a seed which consists of two parts, the crimson-colored aril, or outer membrane, which is flattened, dried, and slowly roasted to become mace.

Freed from the mace, the seeds, still surrounded by their seed coat, are then sun dried and turned twice daily. After the nutmeg has shrunk away from the seed coat, the latter is broken open and the brownish nutmegs are picked, cleaned, and processed for sale.

Good nutmeg is always better when used whole and grated. Both nutmeg and mace contain an essential oil, which can bind with the fat of melted butter or of neutral-tasting oils if you want to produce your own oil of nutmeg or oil of mace

Marjoram(Sweet)– Soft, small, oval dusty green leaves arrayed along a tender stem. It has a bold, floral perfume with mint and pepper. The flavor can be potent so use carefully. Pick whole leaves, chop roughly or finely to add toward end of cooking. Marjoram is not often used raw in cold dishes. Sprinkle chopped leaves fresh or dried over lamb, pork, and veal before roasting.

Use to flavor soups, stews, stuffings, egg and cheese dishes, and fish sauces. A favorite in Italian cuisine, sweetly perfuming roasted meats, braises, and tomato sauces. Deepens flavors of beans, cooked mushrooms, and spinach.

Mint– It is said that mint is the most popular flavoring in the world, appearing in so many foodstuffs and medicines that it is often barely given a second thought.

It is recognizable by its oval, toothed and wrinkled bright green leaves. The most popular mints are apple mint, spearmint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, and peppermint. The flavor is vibrant, cooling and sweet. Use liberally.

Chop roughly or finely, or cut into thin ribbons and add toward the
end of cooking or use raw. Add to an array of savory dishes, from pasta to chutney. Use to give a Mideastern or Indian accent.

Mint is traditionally used with lamb and will highlight fresh peas, new potatoes, and fruit salads. Infuse whole leaves in cream or milk for crème anglaise and chocolates. Brew leaves into tea, or use to garnish cold drinks. Spearmint is generally used to make mint sauce or jelly. Use sprigs as decoration on dessert plates.

Oregano – Also called wild marjoram. The plant is similar to sweet marjoram but shrubbier and more spreading. Oregano is very assertive and peppery with hints of pine. Chop the leaves roughly or finely and add early in cooking. Oregano is best known as the “pizza herb”. Pair it with lemon and garlic to create Greek flavors.

Use oregano to accent red meats, roasted chicken, or hearty dishes like moussaka and ratatouille. Use it in zesty marinades and dressings for bold salads. Dried leaves are frequently used in Italian, Spanish, and Mexican cooking—especially in meat and tomato sauces, where they blend well with garlic and hot spices. It can also be used in salads, stews, stuffing, egg and cheese dishes, and with fish.

Parsley– Vivid green-toothed leaf clusters branching off a fibrous stem. Most common varieties: the curly leaves of curly parsley, and the broad flat leaves of Italian parsley. The flavor is subtle, fresh celery and mild pepper and can be used generously.

Chop leaves roughly or finely and add toward the end of cooking or use uncooked. Save stems for stock. Parsley keeps its color well so it can be chopped ahead. It is a centerpiece of Middle Eastern tabbouleh, French persillade, and Italian gremolata.

Use it as an all-purpose herb to add vibrancy to soups, sautéed vegetables, meats, and seafood. Use stems in bouquet garni for stocks, poaching liquids, and braises. Add leaves whole to salads or chopped as a fresh garnish to many dishes.

Pepper – Pepper is the most popular spice in the world. It is sold in both black and white varieties and for the most part is imported from India, Indonesia, and Borneo. It is sold in whole or ground varieties, and is used in almost every dish imaginable.

Black peppercorns – Available as whole berries, cracked, or ground. The Telicherry peppercorn is one of the most prized. Mignonette or shot pepper is a combination of coarsely ground or crushed black and white peppercorns.

White peppercorns – Black peppercorns are allowed to ripen and then husks are removed. May be preferred for pale or lightly colored sauces. Available as whole berries, cracked, or ground.

Green peppercorns – Unripe peppercorns that are packed in vinegar or brine. They are also available freeze-dried.

Cayenne – A special type of chili, originally grown in Cayenne in French Guiana. The chili is dried and ground into a fine powder. The same chili is used to make hot pepper sauces.

Chili flakes – Dried, whole red chili peppers that are crushed or coarsely ground.

Paprika – A powder made from dried sweet peppers (pimentos). Available as mild, sweet, or hot. Hungarian paprikas are considered superior in flavor.

Tellicherry Peppercorns – Peppercorns come from the plant Piper Nigrum. These particularly reverred members of the berry family come from the Malabar Costal area of the South India Pennensula, and are typically larger and more flavorful than those grown in Indonesia and South America.

This superiority, from our research, is due to a longer growing season, fueled by Tellicherry, Malaber’s scorching summers and the torential downpours that usually follow it. The unique and princely-rich soil of Tellicherry, India teams with this long, ideal growing season to produce berries of surperior quality.

Thus so, tellicherry’s are also Princely in price in comparison to your average grocery store line of products. To Dave and Aletha, the quality and taste are worth the occasional indulgence.

Rosemary – Glossy, needlelike leaves with a lemon and piney scent. The flavor can dominate and taste bitter so use sparingly. Insert a sprig or two into lamb, pork, veal, or poultry before roasting. Toss some onto charcoal over which beef, chicken or ribs are cooking. Sprinkle chopped leaves over beef or fish before broiling.

Use in soups, stews, sauces, and vegetables. Team up with olive oil and garlic for marinades or toppings for pizza and flatbreads. Add whole sprigs to give piney potency to stews, roast chicken, or caramelized onions. Chop finely for use in stuffing, breads, and even desserts, such as shortbread. Add to boiling water when cooking rice. Brew into a tasty tea.

Saffron– Saffron belongs to the Iridaceae family, which includes irises and crocuses. Saffron consists of the deep orange-colored stamens of the crocus. It takes approximately 35,000 flowers to produce a pound of saffron. The price of that pound of dried threads fluctuates between $4,250.00 and $4,500.00.

Saffron cannot be boiled or reduced in sauces or another liquid without losing a large percentage of its fragrance. To develop the flavor, soak the threads or powder in a small amount of warm broth or a few minutes and just before serving add the mixture to the prepared dish.

Sage– An intensely fragrant herb with soft, oblong, silvery green leaves. Most common cooking variety: garden sage. Other varieties include purple sage and pineapple sage. Sage has a potent, savory and earthy flavor. It can dominate and taste medicinal so use judiciously.

It combines well with rich and fatty foods, breaking them down as an aid to digestion.

Chop roughly or cut into fine ribbons and add at beginning of cooking. The flavor of sage is most closely associated with holiday stuffings. Pair it with pork or veal for classic flavor combinations; or use it to add an earthy quality to onions, winter squash, white beans, and root-vegetable stews. Fry whole leaves in oil or butter to use as a tasty garnish. Use also with lamb, pork, sausage, and in cheese dishes and omelets.

Poppy seeds – Poppy seeds have a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and are used in baking and in Indian dishes; as a garnish for salads, noodles, and vegetables.

Salt – Salt is essential to good cooking, for it brings out the flavors of foods. Just a pinch boosts the flavor of almost everything, from simple, sliced tomatoes to complex sauces, soups, stews, and even sweets. Various salts have very different flavors:

Kosher salt – is a refined salt that is more coarsely ground than table salt. Its texture is essential for certain cooking processes, especially for curing and in dry rubs.

Table salt – is mined from rock salt deposits of ancient sea beds and is highly processed with additives, such as anticaking agents,
whiteners, and iodine.

Because it is so finely ground, it is about one third saltier than kosher salt.

Sea salt – made from evaporating seawater in protected bays, has the purest, freshest flavor and can be almost twice as intense as kosher salt.

Rock salt – is an unrefined, coarse salt not added directly to foods but is used in some ice cream machines.

Curing Salt – A blend of 94 percent salt and 6 percent sodium nitrite. Used in a variety of charcuterie items, especially those to be cold-smoked. Usually dyed pink to differentiate it from other salts.

Sorrel– In the past, this plant was used medicinally, but nowadays, it is mainly used for its tangy flavor in salads and soups or cooked with other leafy vegetables.

Add fresh leaves to salads, soups, and sauces and some egg dishes. Chopped or pureed leaves may be mixed in with soft cheese or mayonnaise.

Tarragon– Large, shiny, toothed dark green leaves resembling its daisy relative. Most common variety is French Tarragon. Its flavor is sweet and spicy licorice. The flavor can dominate so use with care. Chop roughly or finely and add toward the end of cooking.

Tarragon is popular as an herbal vinegar for marinades and vinaigrettes. Use it in French dishes such as béarnaise sauce and chicken with tarragon, but it is also a great partner for lobster, eggs, and spring vegetables.

Chop the anise-flavored leaves for use in soups, salads, egg dishes, stews, and soft cheeses. It is excellent with lamb and very compatible with asparagus. Use tarragon to season strong flavored fish, liver, and roast duck. Serve in melted butter with fish, steak, or vegetables or use in tartar sauce and many chutneys.

Thyme – Clusters of tiny green leaves on a thin, woody stem. Most common variety for cooking is English thyme. Other varieties include lemon thyme and caraway thyme. It has a subtle pine and lemon and spice flavor. It is versatile and widely complementary, but can overwhelm delicate foods. Use liberally but carefully.

Add whole sprigs or chopped leaves at any stage of cooking. Thyme is a uniquely adaptable herb for meats, seafood, and summer and winter vegetables. Use springs in bouquet garni to fully flavor stocks, sauces and soups.

Add sprigs to slow-roasted tomatoes, braises, and pasta sauces to add depth. Infuse sprigs in poaching liquids for fruit desserts and in cream for caramel sauce. Rub chopped leaves (fresh or dried) into beef, lamb, veal, or pork before roasting. Sprinkle over eggs, cheese dishes, vegetables, fish, or poultry. Add to soups, stews, stuffings, and rice. Brew into tea with a little rosemary and mint.

Lemon thyme can be used in cooking in much the same way as common thyme. The flavor is less pungent and distinctly lemony. It is particularly tasty in stuffing for veal and poultry. Mix chopped leaves into custards, puddings, and whipped-cream toppings. Sprinkle lightly over fresh strawberries and other acidic fruits.

Tumeric – Has a musky, peppery flavor. Used mainly in ground form to color foods yellow, especially Indian curries and bean dishes. Use sparingly as an alternative to saffron.

Herb Combinations
Fines Herbes – The four fines herbes are chives, tarragon, chervil, and parsley. Equal parts are chopped together until the board on which you are working starts to barely turn green.

Herbes de Provence– or Provencal herbs is a mixture of rosemary, thyme, and savory, with the four fines herbes, plus mint and whatever else catches the fancy of the cook.

Bouquet Garni – A bunch of herbs tied together, usually including bay leaf, fresh or dried thyme, and fresh parsley stems. It flavors all stock, and some sauces and gravies. All herbs are tied together to allow easy removal from the pot at the end of cooking. Let the bouquet garni float freely in the pot to allow the release of all the flavors.

Spice Mixtures
Chili Powder – is a combination of ground spices and dried herbs. It can contain all or only some of the following and in varying ratios.

Allspice Black Pepper Cayenne Pepper Ground Coriander Ground Cloves Dried Chilies Ground Cumin Dried Oregano Paprika Garlic Powder Ground Mustard Seeds Tumeric

Chinese 5-Spice Powder –contains cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, cloves, and Szechuan peppercorns. When purchasing, choose the most finely ground and the one palest in color.

Curry Powder – usually cumin seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, dried red chilies, cinnamon, turmeric, and ground ginger. May also have paprika, cloves, saffron, fenugreek, cardamom, or fresh curry leaves.

Garam Masala – comes from north India where it is home-ground from three to eight of the spices known as “warm” spices in the Ayur Veda book of medicine. These are dried chiles, black peppercorns, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, cloves, coriander seeds and cumin seeds.

Pie spice – A traditional mixture of ground sweet spices, usually allspice, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, mace, and nutmeg.

Quatre Epices – Peppercorns, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, whole cloves, and ginger.

Curry Powders or Pastes – The English word curry comes from the Tamil work kari which means sauce, because curry powers flavor mostly sauces. In India the curries, once powdered, belong to the general category of “masalas” or spice blends, which are prepared from ground ingredients indigenous to the diverse regions of the country.

Where in India curries always contain a certain amount of sweet spices, in Thailand, only the Muslim curry contains some of those, in addition to a relatively lare amount of hot chiles and strong spices.

In Thailand the mixture of curry spices is always combined with some liquid to become a paste before being added to a food preparation. When you purchase curry powder, choose one imported from India.

As curry powders contain all kinds of starchy and ligneous material, it is essential to cook them gently in oil or clarified butter to tame the raw taste of some of them. Never add curry powder to any dish without precooking it in a fat or making a paste of it with water or broth.

Ras el hanout – is used primarily in Morocco and all over the Maghreb (the north coast of Africa). It is a wonderfully fragrant powder with out which the traditional couscous has no soul. Depending on which country (morocco, Algeria, or Tunisia), the ras el hanout will vary in composition, from twelve spices in Algeria to twenty to twenty-four spices in Morocco. In Tunisia the spices are fewer but one adds dried pulverized rosebuds.

Cooking Tips
Wash, dry and chop herbs just before use. They’ll stay fresher and more potent that way.

When substituting fresh herbs for dried, use two to three times more fresh than the amount of dried called for. For bay leaf, use an equal or slightly smaller amount of fresh for dried.

The amount of herbs to use depends on quality and your own taste, but don’t be shy about quantities, especially when infusing whole sprigs in a stew or soup. You don’t want an herb to overwhelm a dish, but you do want it to add its character. Taste often and adjust amounts as you cook.

In the kitchen, herbs can be classified into two categories: hardy, which are tougher with an assertive and often resinous flavor; and tender, which are generally lighter and have more delicate leaves. Hardy herbs include bay, marjoram, oregano, sage, savory, rosemary, and thyme. Tender herbs include basis, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, parsley, and tarragon.

As a rule, the hardy herbs are best when they have time to cook. Add whole sprigs, such as rosemary and thyme, early in cooking for soups, stews, and braises to add a bass note of herbal flavor. Remove them before serving. For easy retrieval, tie the sprigs with kitchen twine.

Most tender herbs should be added toward the end of cooking, and very delicate herbs, like cilantro and chervil, are better added off the heat so their flavors don’t dissipate. The stems of cilantro and parsley, however, release wonderful flavors during simmering in a stock, sauce, or stew.

When you don’t have fresh herbs called for in a recipe, use basis, parsley, or thyme. These versatile herbs complement a wide range of foods.

Handling Fresh Herbs
Buying – Herbs are generally sold in bunches or in plastic containers. Look for herbs that are bright, crisp, and aromatic. Avoid those that are wilted or yellowing. Give them a sniff—there should be no moldy odor.

Storing – Take the herbs out of the plastic and shake off any excess moisture. Remove wire twists or rubber bands and pull off wilted or slimy leaves. Dampen a length of paper towel, wring it out well, and loosely wrap up the herbs.

Put the wrapped herbs in a plastic bas, press out any air, and close tightly, or put the wrapped herbs in a plastic food storage box. Change the paper towels every few days. Try to store herbs in a warmer part of the refrigerator, as very cold temperatures can blacken them.

Most fresh herbs will last up to a week, with exception of chervil, which will last only a few days. Bay, thyme, and rosemary can last for ten days or more.

Washing – When ready to use, fill a bowl with cool water and gently swish the herbs to rinse off any grit. Lift them out and dry
thoroughly in a salad spinner or blot between dish towels.

Cutting Herbs
There are a couple of ways to properly cut fresh herbs so you don’t bruise them or extract their juices and flavor. One is to use a chef’s knife that is large enough to chop the amount of herbs you need.

The knife should be very sharp so that it cuts the herbs cleanly rather than crushing or bruising them. Chop as efficiently as
possible.

Another way is to snip herbs with kitchen scissors. Place the herbs in a glass and snip them off in the size pieces you need. This takes more time but does prevent bruising.

Chopping
A sharp chef’s knife is best for chopping herbs; a dull knife will bruise tender herbs.

To step bunches of herbs, such as parsley and cilantro, hold the stems in one hand and cut off the leaves. Pick out any large stems from among the leaves.

To strip the leaves off of sprigs, like thyme, grasp one end with your fingers and pull in the opposite direction from which the leaves grow. Any tender stems that come off can be chopped up with the leaves.

A rough chop is best for maintaining the flavor of herbs in most dishes. Over chopping will bruise the herbs and muddy the flavor. Finely chop herbs only when you want them to blend in, such as for a fine garnish or sauce.

Large-leaf herbs, like basil and mint, can be cut into strips, called a chiffonade. Stack a few leaves, roll tightly, and cut across the strips.

Herbal Infusions
When herbs are steeped in a hot liquid, they release their flavors. This technique, like making tea, is useful when you want to capture the essence of herbs without any of the greenery. Infusing rosemary, sage, or thyme into olive oil makes a fragrant condiment for drizzling on pizzas or for dunking bread. Infused cream or milk adds a subtle flavor to winter squash soup or mashed potatoes.

For desserts, mint, bay, or basil are infused into cream for making chocolate truffles, whipped cream, or ice cream, and into sugar syrup for poached pears or sorbet.

Savory or sweet, the method is the same: heat the oil, cream, milk, or sugar syrup to a simmer. Add whole sprigs or leaves. Cover, remove from the heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Drain.

Preserving Herbs
Drying – Bay, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme retain much of their aromatic quality when dried. Chives will not retain their flavor particularly well. Chervil may be dried but is much better used fresh. You can dry your own store-bought or garden-grown herbs in a dry, well-ventilated space away from direct sunlight or a heat source.

The best method is to dry the leaves on a screen, but herb bundles can also be wrapped in a paper bag and hung until brittle. This will take about three to five days (or longer), depending upon the weather and humidity. Stem the dried leaves and store them in covered glass jars for up to a year.

Freezing – More tender herbs, including basil, chives, cilantro, dill, parsley, and tarragon are best preserved by freezing. Some, like basil, will turn black, and all will lose their texture, but frozen herbs keep their fresh flavor for using in cooked dishes. They will last for up to six months using any of these three techniques:

Whole herbs: Pack sprigs of clean, dry herbs in airtight containers or food storage bags and freeze. Run basil leaves with olive oil before freezing.

Chopped herbs: Roughly chop the herbs, pack them into ice cube trays, fill the trays with water, and freeze. When frozen, put the cubes into food storage bags and label with date and contents.

Herb puree: Puree herbs in a blender or food processor with just enough vegetable or olive oil to make a thick paste. Freeze in ice-cube trays or in small portions in food storage bags. When frozen, put the cubes into food storage bags and label with date and contents.

Herb Butter – Frozen herb butters will keep for up to three months so you can slice off a piece to top a pan-seared fish fillet or a steak, finish a butter sauce, or bring it to room temperature to spread on bread.

Mix one stick softened unsalted butter with ¼ cup packed coarsely chopped herbs or more to taste. Roll into a cylinder, wrap in plastic, and freeze.

Herb Vinegar – Herb vinegars have a long shelf life. Tarragon is the standard, but basil, chive, and chive blossoms, dill, or rosemary infuse their flavors into milk white vinegar. Use herb vinegars in vinaigrettes and marinades or to add zest to cooked vegetables.

Fill a glass jar with washed leaves or whole sprigs. Pour in white-wine, rice-wine, or Champagne vinegar to cover. Set the jar in the sun for a week or until fully flavored. Strain into a clean bottle and seal. It will keep indefinitely.

Herb Gardens
Growing herbs is a practical pleasure – they are handsome and fragrant in the garden, indispensable in the kitchen, easy to grow, and fascinating to study. Most garden stores stock a wide range of plants, and you can grow herbs from seed, seedlings, or cuttings.

The growing of herbs is as old as civilization. The earliest known writings of nearly every culture include references to herbs used for preparing and preserving food, scenting the air, or treating wounds and illness.

The roots of modern medicine can be traced back to the herb gardens of medicine men, witches, and sorcerers, and were nurtured through the ages by the systematic studies of herbalists.

Most herbs are tough, wild plants that have changed little despite centuries of cultivation. Almost all of them do best in sunny locations and fertile, well-drained soil, but some will survive in partial shade and poor soil. Herbs fall into one of four main plant categories that may need slightly different treatments in their planting and positioning.

Plant Types
Woody Trees or Shrubs – Taller plants, such as bay and rosemary, form the backbone of a bed or border. Since these are the most permanent plants in the scheme, it is important that they are positioned in the right place where they will look effective as they grow and not crowd other plants.

Perennials – These die down in the fall or winter, but grow again every year in the spring. They include chives, fennel, marjoram, mint, and tarragon. They can be used to bulk out beds and borders, and provide seasonal interest with flowers and foliage.

Annual and Biennials – These grow and die off within one or two years, and should be dug up as they die off at the end of their growing season. They include herbs such as basil and parsley.

Sub shrubs – These are low plants, shrubby in growth and appearance, such as common thyme, lavender, and sage. They make excellent edgings for borders, but they are not always long-lived and are best renewed every few years by taking cuttings in summer, which can be planted the following year when they have formed new rooted plants.

A Hanging Herb Basket Hanging baskets can be more than just a decorative item filled with flowers if you include a selection of herbs in the planting. They also extend the season as you can start them in a sheltered area in early spring and then move them outdoors in the warmer weather.

Herbs such as basil, chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, and sage are all suitable for hanging baskets. If using basil, don’t be in a hurry to take it outside as it is less hardy than most. You can also include arugula, cilantro, dill, lemon scented thyme, and flowering plants such as lobelia and nasturtium to add color.

Herbs need plenty of light, so choose a sunny area to hang the basket if you are starting it indoors. If the light is directional, turn the basket regularly to prevent the plants from growing unevenly.

Harden the plants off by hanging the basket outside during the day and bringing it indoors at night. Once the risk of frost is over, you can hang the basket outside permanently.

You can start by propagating seeds in small pots or trays and then transplant to the basket. Cuttings will quickly establish themselves in the basket to fill out the gaps between plants.

Soilless compost is ideal for a hanging basket as it is very light, but it does not retain moisture well and will need to be watered regularly. Water-retentive compost with peat or coir, or compost specifically formulated for a hanging basket is preferable.

Sphagnum moss is used to line the basket—a piece of plastic inside the moss will help to retain moisture. Other lining materials include compressed paper, plastic and sponge. Make a few holes in the plastic for draining.

Using a moisture-retentive compost, half-fill the basket. Select trailing plants to place below the rim. Make holes through the plastic and push the roots through into the basket. Rolling a piece of lightweight cardboard around the roots will make this easier.

Add more compost to the basket and plant the top, placing upright plants in the center and surrounding them with creeping plants. Water well and leave to drain before hanging the basket.

In summer, a hanging basket may need watering two to three times a day. Use either a watering can with a long neck or a hose.

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