Do you wonder which herbs complement each other and which ones have no business being in the same meal? Is your idea of seasoning a meal, adding salt and pepper only because everything else seems too complicated?
If you look at a spice rack and see nothing more than an array of different colored dried weeds and seeds, you aren’t alone. Spices can be terrifying to someone that doesn’t know what to use when, and how much is enough but won’t make the taste too overpowering.
Once you go over this easy-to-use guide, you will change all that. Print it out and keep it by your side when you’re cooking if you have to. You’ll see that expanding your culinary knowledge will take your meals from bland to mouth-watering and blah to magnificent!
When you use herbs and spices to make your dishes taste better, you are often able to get greater taste with less fat. You can bypass the high calorie oils, butters and spreads because you will achieve higher levels of taste with the natural flavors of the spices and herbs.
Also, they’re a great substitution for salt type seasonings. This is especially important if you’re watching your blood pressure as you should be watching your sodium consumption.
In addition to taste, many herbs and seasonings have added health benefits. Some help your immune system while others improve your circulation. So, by adding these tasty plants and seeds to your meal, you are helping your body stay healthy at the same time.
Here are some of most common herbs and spices, why you should use them and what foods they are best used in conjunction with:
• Cayenne Pepper
Benefits: Relieves pain and helps lower cholesterol.
Uses: Add it to vinegar sauces and marinades for any type of meat. Great with Mexican food.
Benefits: High fiber content helps with cholesterol and has anti-bacterial properties.
Uses: Put it in Mexican or Italian dishes, or add it to chili, soup and spaghetti sauce.
Benefits: Provides vitamin C and other antioxidants. May regulate blood pressure and help with circulation.
Uses: Great with chicken breasts, steak or pork chops. Top deviled eggs with it or add it to tomato sauce.
Benefits: Loaded with vitamin K.
Uses: Season lamb, steak or pork chops with it. Add it to egg based meals or vegetables dishes.
Benefits: Anti-inflammatory and helps your body fight bacteria.
Uses: Put it in tomato based products, in pesto, on poultry, in stir-fries or mix it with fresh berries.
Benefits: Gives your body iron and calcium.
Uses: Top salmon with it, add it to stews or put it on cooked veggies.
Benefits: Helps your blood flow and aids in digestion.
Uses: Add it to lamb, chicken, pork or salmon. It also mixes well with tomatoes and spinach.
Benefits: Lowers cholesterol, relieves arthritis and helps with E. coli bacteria.
Uses: Serve with cooked carrots; add it to tea or top fresh fruit with it.
Benefits: Improves memory and has beneficial antioxidants.
Uses: Season chicken or sausage with it, add it to squash based dishes or mix it with cheeses.
Benefits: Contains multiple vitamins such as A, K and folate.
Uses: Works well with cooked carrots or potatoes, with pasta and on fish or chicken.
Benefits: Good source of fiber and iron.
Uses: Add to salsa and guacamole to give it a citrusy taste.
• Coriander Seeds
Benefits: Helps with cholesterol and blood sugar stabilization.
Uses: Use with fish, turkey and in soups.
Benefits: Has numerous vitamins and helpful to those who suffer from arthritis.
Uses: Add it to your stir-fry or rice dishes; predominantly used in curry.
Of course, you’re not stuck using just one spice per food either. You can mix and match them in whatever taste is suitable to your palate. For example, you may decide to use both thyme and paprika on your steak or rosemary and sage on your chicken breast.
A lot of people purchase their herbs and spices from grocery stores or health food stores. Some offer dried and fresh options. These are great for people like me with two brown thumbs.
However, if you like to grow your own herbs and find it easy to keep plants and vegetation alive, you may decide to grow your own. Some places sell seeds where you can start your own garden from scratch and others sell the plants already started.
The benefit of buying them already grown is obviously that it is easier. You can get a mixture of different herbs and spices without worrying about whether you’ve given them too much water or not enough. You simply purchase them, take them home and cook your meal.
However, if you prefer to pick your herbs so they are as fresh as possible and use them quite often when you cook, you may find more benefit in growing your own. You will always have them at your disposal and they will have the highest quality taste and freshness you can get.
Now that you know which spices you need, you also have to know how best to keep them so they retain their freshness and taste. Because spices are affected by both light and heat, you’ll want to keep them someplace dark and relatively cool, like a kitchen cabinet. Throw out any unused spices after six to twelve months and replace them because they lose their potency.
Herbs are a little different because they are fresher. They should be wrapped in a damp cloth and kept in the fridge in a sealed plastic bag.
If you are cooking, fresh herbs should be added to your dish either at the end of the cooking process or just prior to serving the meal as they easily overcook and lose their taste. However, if you’re making a dish that doesn’t require cooking, you can add the herbs at the beginning and let them set for a fuller taste.
Spices, on the other hand, are usually dried so they should be put in your dish when you begin cooking. This allows the cooking process to release their fragrance, taste and oils.
You can use seasonings as dry rubs on your meats of choice for added taste. Just mix them together and rub them on whichever protein you’ll be cooking for some additional flavor.
Or, if you prefer to use marinades, just add a touch of water, heart healthy olive oil and/or vinegar to the seasonings and let your foods bask in them to fully absorb the flavors. Soak them for ten to fifteen minutes for a light seasoning or leave them in the fridge overnight to truly pack them with flavor.
Cooking with spices doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it should be fun. Now that you know what spices go with which foods, it’s time to being preparing your next culinary masterpiece!
Changing careers mid-life from law enforcement to writing, Christina spends her days helping others enrich their businesses and personal lives one word at a time.
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