Experimenting with Herbs, Spices and Such
An excellent way to enhance the flavors of foods when you are cutting back on salt and fat is to use herbs, spices, and other seasonings creatively. But often before you start to experiment, a lot of questions arise—what is the difference between an herb and a spice? Dried or fresh? Which seasoning enhances what food? What about flavor acceptability? How do I buy and store?
There are many types of seasonings available. Spices refer to bark, roots, fruits, and berries of perennial plants. Herbs come from the leaves of shrubs or trees. Aromatic seeds are yet another seasoning that come from certain plants. Vegetable spices and adjuncts are also used to flavor foods and include garlic, onions, horseradish, mushrooms, chives, parsley, mint, lemon, or orange peel. Blends are mixtures such as poultry, seafood, lamb, Italian, salad, pickling, chill, curry, and apple spice. Flavor enhancers do not contribute to a food but bring out the flavor already present. An example is MSG.
Fresh herbs and spices are becoming more widely available all the time; they often can be found in the produce department of the grocery store of you can grow your own. Fresh herbs can be stored for short periods of time in the refrigerator. Wrap them in damp paper towels, place in plastic bags, and refrigerate. If using fresh herbs or spices in cooking, add them toward the end of the cooking time so tat the delicate flavors are not lost. Use approximately 1 ½ teaspoons freshly minced for 4 servings. Dried spices and herbs should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place to conserve their flavors and aromas. Most lose their bouquet after one year of storage. Dried can stand up to heat longer so should be added during cooking so that their flavors may be extracted and blended. Use ¼ teaspoon of dried for 4 servings.
Flavor acceptability varies from person to person. Get an idea in your mind of what the food you should smell and taste like. Open various jars of seasonings and select those that fit your expectations. It will take a while to get the correct amounts of seasonings, but your nose can get you on the right track.
Some foods and seasoning suggestions are:
Beef: Basil, bay leaf, celery, curry, dill weed, dry mustard, marjoram, onion, oregano, nutmeg, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme.
Poultry: Cranberries, paprika, parsley, poultry seasoning, sage, thyme, bay leaf, celery, chervil, curry, dill seed.
Fish: Basil, bay leaf, curry, cumin, dry mustard, fennel, garlic, green pepper, lemon juice, mace, marjoram, paprika, parsley, onion, pepper, tumeric, sesame seed
Pork, fresh: Allspice, apples, basil, applesauce, mint, vinegar, caraway, chili powder, chives, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, garlic, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage
Potatoes: Green pepper, basil, onion, mace, parsley, pepper, vinegar
Tomatoes: Basil, celery, marjoram, onion, pepper, cilantro
Squash: Ginger, mace, nutmeg, onion, pepper