A long-overdue overview of herbs and spices. This will be far from all-inclusive. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.
With the prices climbing drastically, I have been buying herbs and spices in bulk, and grabbing them on sale. Several teachings which came into vogue a few years back are false and most people pay them no heed now. One is that dried herbs are wrong to use. That is ridiculous. Fresh herbs have their place in some presentations and recipes, but for the most part, dried herbs are on easily kept hand and give you a great deal of flavor for the amount used. Too many fresh herbs ruin the texture of many dishes.
Another useless idea was that you should change out your dried herbs and spices every six-months-to-a-year. Harvesting for most is done once a year, so six months is foolish. Since the harvesting, drying, processing, packaging, shipping, warehousing, stocking and the like take many months, one year is also unreasonable. Kept in cool, dry places, most herbs and spices last for a number of years. And even if they degrade a bit after a while, you can use a bit more.
Avoid “dollar” any kind of herbs and spices in stores; they are the poorest quality. You can do better online and in bulk, or in smaller amounts from specialty shops.
Keeping herbs and spices cool and dry when buying them in bulk can be a challenge. Save large and small jars for these, use vacuum sealers, and/or share with family and friends to keep your supply usable. Some specialty stores, (ethnic or health food), sell repackaged herbs spices which they buy in bulk. Some have containers where you package your own in plastic or paper bags; discard any flimsy packaging these come in and repackage them yourself. Some stores sell in larger bags. Once opened, repackage and keep them closed.
I have purchased many herbs and spices online and for the most part, have been very pleased. Read the reviews, don’t just look at the number of stars. Many people have no idea how to rate items; great products can get one star from some people, some poor items get four-to-five stars. Read why the people gave the ratings to the items. You can save a lot, but if you get the poorest quality, you are wasting your money.
Price does not always reflect quality. Online prices for the same brand can differ greatly between companies and differ from store prices.
The only bulk problems I have had is with onion and tomato powders; they want to clump. I have some in vacuum sealed bags and some in jars on my kitchen shelves to use regularly. I have to use fork tines scrape enough to use the tomato powder, but the quality is still good. I have rectified the onion powder problem by never sprinkling it over cooking food to avoid steam entering the bottle and always using a dry spoon to carry it to the food.
A little onion powder does wonders for boiled/steamed vegetables, rice, grains and many foods, especially if you wish to avoid or cut back on salt. Sprinkle a small amount in the water of any that you boil or during cooking. A tiny amount in mashed potatoes is wonderful.
There is also another good reason for buying and mixing your own herb blends: you can adjust them to fit your own tastes, the needs of your family and to change things around a bit.
If you do not know a “Mrs. Dash”-type seasoning blend, they started out for low-salt/salt-free diets, however, I love it for many uses.
I use it on simple canned, frozen or freshly cooked vegetables. It does wonders for a side of green beans, peas, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, (together or separately), and good over any roasted vegetables, including potatoes. It is good in or on any type of potato dish and over grains,(rice, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, any and all).
It can be used on simple pieces of fried meat, (especially chicken or pork), fish, (baked or fried), and is great on quorn, fried tofu, tempeh, seitan or many plain, plant-based entrees.
It adds a nice element in tuna, chicken or potato salads.
I love it sprinkled on lite cream cheese or vegan substitute on a bagel, toast or an English muffin. Mix it with cream cheese, sour cream or vegan equivalents for easy dips and spreads. Try sprinkling it on garlic or cheese bread warmed in the oven. It makes cheese sauce a little more special.
Here is a good, basic recipe for a nice herb blend. If and when you are more comfortable with flavors, you subtract some herbs and add others:
BASIC NO-SALT HERB BLEND
2 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp. each:
¼ – ½ tsp Cayenne Pepper
1-2 tsp. Black Pepper
2 tsp dried Lemon Zest
2 tsp Savory
1 tsp Celery flakes or Celery Salt
Dehydrated Vegetables, [SEE BELOW]
Bend all well. If you have a small processor or grinder, (even a cleaned coffee grinder), use these, or you can place the mix in a plastic bag and pulverize it with a rolling pin, a heavy round bottle or a meat tenderizing mallet. Place is a sealed bottle.
Lemon zest is a nice addition to this. It is a good help when you don’t use salt and it is also very good sprinkled on fish before cooking, in or on muffins and cupcakes and in vegetable dishes. Consider having it on hand.
Savory can be hard to find. In fact, I could not find it anywhere locally or even in our next big city. I had not thought to check at the Penzey’s Spices store,(although it would have cost the amount of gas money to get back home. Again, I mail-ordered it.)
You can make your own Latin blends, too.
Basic Chili Powder Mix
2 Tbsp. ‘sweet’ paprika
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. oregano
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 ½ Tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp salt-(Optional)
1 ½ tsp tomato powder (Optional)
½ tsp Cilantro (Optional)
Mix well. Keep closed tightly.
Options: Add flakes or powder of Ancho, Chipotle, or Mesquite. (It’s better not to mix these since they have good, distinct flavors.) Any one of these is particularly good as a rub for meat or vegetable-based protein with olive oil and then slow-cook them to be made into dishes, such as Cantina Bowls .(Recipes in upcoming posts.) These are also good on roasted corn, mixed with cheeses or sour cream, silken tofu, or any type of yogurt for dressings and sauces for rice, meat and vegetables.
Basic Italian Herb Blend
1 Tbsp. Parsley
1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp. Marjoram
1 Tbsp. Basil
½-1 tsp Ground Rosemary
1 tsp. Oregano
½ tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
(Grind or pulverize and store as above.)
Oregano is a Greek spice. It is used more in Southern Italian cooking than in Northern Italian dishes. It does have its place in Italian cuisine, but can be overused, as can Rosemary, which is also quite strong. Play around with the flavors for different applications. Add more Rosemary to chicken or beef. Add more Oregano to fish or vegetables.
Try different combinations with basic meatless tomato-based sauces, (what is commonly, though erroneously, called “marinara” sauce.)
I hope that you look into bulk herbs and spices. Dehydrated vegetables are also available and can be ground to add to your own blends. I keep green pepper, celery and carrot on hand to add to some of the herb mixes. There are mixes of flaked vegetables on the market, as well. Use these as toppers for potatoes and other vegetables, or to stews for extra flavor without added salt.
I hope that you try to keep herbs and spices on hand, and make combinations. They pack a great deal of flavor and if you have them ready, you can make great food in a short amount of time.