There’s no denying that eating healthy food is much easier and more enticing when you feel confident cooking it. Before I got more confident in the kitchen, cooking simply meant making food hot, and our healthy meals often consisted of dry bland chicken with dry bland vegetables. No wonder it was more enticing to buy ready-made meals, processed sauces, and packaged foods that were artificially-flavored to be nice and tasty.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a great cook to make healthy dishes taste great.
All you need are nature’s flavours – herbs and spices! Not only do herbs and spices add wonderful aroma and flavour, they also are full of immune-boosting nutrients. It can take a while to get confident with using various flavours in your cooking, so here is a cheat sheet to start you off.
|Beef||Thyme, Rosemary, Parsley, Coriander (cilantro), Tarragon, Bay Leaf, Garlic, Ginger, Lemongrass, Cumin, Fennel Seed, Chilli, Peppercorns, Paprika, Cayenne, Mustard|
|Lamb||Thyme, Rosemary, Parsely, Coriander (cilantro), Mint, Curry Leaf, Garlic, Cumin, Star Anise, Cloves, Cinnamon, Chilli, Fennel Seed, Turmeric, Peppercorns, Lemon, Paprika, Cayenne, Oregano|
|Pork||Thyme, Rosemary, Parsley, Coriander (cilantro), Bay Leaf, Sage, Dill, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Garlic, Ginger, Lemongrass, Cumin, Chilli, Paprika, Fennel Seed, Star Anise, Cloves, Peppercorns, Cayenne, Lime, Orange, Honey, Apple|
|Chicken||Thyme, Rosemary, Parsley, Coriander (cilantro), Bay Leaf, Basil, Sage, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Oregano, Garlic, Ginger, Lemongrass, Cumin, Fennel Seed, Paprika, Cayenne, Chilli, Turmeric, Lime, Lemon, Orange, Honey|
|Fish||Thyme, Rosemary, Parsley, Coriander (cilantro), Tarragon, Bay Leaf, Basil, Sage, Dill, Garlic, Ginger, Chilli, Pepper, Paprika, Fennel Seed, Curry, Allspice, Chervil, Mustard, Nutmeg, Lime, Lemon|
You will notice that several herbs work well for all the meats, so those herbs and spices are the ones you’ll want to keep on hand all the time. You will also soon discover your own personal tastes, and so you may just want to use your favourite flavours as often as possible.
To know how much to add, it’s best to start with recipes, or use a recipe as a guide, until you become more familiar with appropriate amounts for each type of herb and spice. When no recipe is available, try starting with 1/4 teaspoon for about 4 servings; half that for cayenne.
Tips for cooking with herbs and spices:
– Dried herbs are best added early in the cooking process (especially good for longer cooking times), while fresh herbs have best flavour when added at the end of, or after cooking. Bay leaf and whole spices like cloves are best for dishes with long cooking times.
– For cold food like salad dressings, add spices and herbs several hours before serving (when possible) to allow flavors to blend or “marry” well.
– Dried herbs and spices are stronger than fresh. Use this guide when following a recipe: ¼ teaspoon powder = ¾ teaspoon dried = 2 teaspoons fresh.
– Crush dried and fresh leaf herbs, like oregano, thyme or basil, in your hand before use for a more immediate release of flavor.
– A mortar and pestle is handy for pounding herbs and spices to release the aromas and flavours before rubbing on meat or adding to dishes.
– If doubling a recipe, you may not need to double the herbs. Use just 50% more.
Tips for storing herbs and spices:
– Dried herbs and spices should be kept in a cool, dry, and dark place (like a cupboard not directly near the stove) in airtight containers to retain flavour and nutrients.
– Try to use dried herbs and spices within one year. If you can’t smell the aroma of a herb when you rub it between your fingers, it’s too old.
– Treat fresh herbs like a bouquet of flowers: Snip the stems, stand the herbs in a glass of water, and refrigerate. OR put them in a plastic bag in your crisper drawer, leaving some air in the bag so the herbs can get oxygen.
– Fresh herbs only last about a week at the very most, so to keep them for longer, you can freeze them. Simply wash and pat dry, pick the leaves off the stems and store the leaves in a freezer bag.
Which herbs and spices go well together?
Herb and spice mixtures in the store are often full of salt, additives and MSG, so it’s best to buy your herbs and spices individually and learn which go well together. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, so just be sure to read the ingredients to ensure that all your mixture contains are the actual herbs and spices. Moroccan spice mixes and Italian herb mixes, for example, are easy and delicious and you can learn from reading the ingredients how to make those mixtures yourself. Reading recipes is also a great place to learn combinations. Here are a few mixture recipes you can use often. Just put in a jar and shake well!
Italian Dried Herb Mix: 1 tsp of each: basil, sage, oregano, rosemary, thyme
Middle Eastern Mix: 4 tsp black pepper, 3 tsp coriander seeds, 3 tsp cinnamon, 3 tsp cloves, 4 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp cardamom pods, 3 tsp nutmeg, 6 tsp paprika
Moroccan Seasoning: 5 tsp ground nutmeg, 5 tsp ground cumin, 5 tsp ground coriander, 2 1/2 tsp allspice, 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon.
Bouquet Garni (classic mix for stews/soups): 1/4 cup dried parsley, 2 Tbsp dried thyme, 2 Tbsp dried bay leaf + Optional: 2 Tbsp dried rosemary. Fresh version: 3 sprigs of parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme and 1 bay leaf tied together with kitchen string and left in the stew while cooking.
Chicken Seasoning Blend: 1 tsp dried sage, 1 tsp dried thyme, 1 Tbsp sea salt, 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper + Optional: 1tsp garlic powder, 1tsp onion powder (if not using fresh garlic and onion in the dish)
Mexican Mixture: 1 Tbsp chili powder, 1/4 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp sea salt, 1 tsp pepper + Optional: 1tsp garlic powder, 1tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp chili / red pepper flakes (or you can use fresh garlic, onion and chili in the dish). Great on mince (ground beef).
Do you use lots of herbs and spices in your cooking? What are your favourite flavours or flavour combinations?