Let’s do some herb(s), man.

In General Information on October 22, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Two-state Solution: Oregano and Chives next to each other in peace.

Herbs and spices can be a daunting topic.


If herb and spice basics do not give you chilly bumps or make your heart pound, here is something for you:

Beyond its romantic value, I cannot make a good argument for growing your own herbs. Well, unless those herbs are going into a pesto, taboule, or other salad. Dried herbs from Penzeys are consistent in flavor and are so fresh that you will toss out the assortment of grocery store brands that have laid dormant on your shelf since the Carter administration.

Hello? Still here, eh?

Despite my early sentiments, I need to make a pitch for growing your own herbs.

It is easy. Most herbs grow well in temperate climates. In some parts of North America, you can grow herbs year round. An herb garden can fit on an apartment balcony or in a sunny window…even a “New Yawker” can be an urban farmer.

Rather than burdening you, fellow Phyne Dyners, with a litany of horticulture, I will direct you to our friend Web. Everything you want to know about growing herbs can be found on the Web.

Hello? Still here?

What is the primary rule for using herbs and spices?

Use enough of them.

Toss out those little shaker lids, grab a spoon, and put the stuff in the jar into the pot. It does not come any easier. If it is worth putting in food, it is worth tasting.

Here are some more rules for herbs and spices:

– Give that spice rack over the stove a quick death. Heat and moisture degrade the oils in herbs and spices. So why put them where you are sure to ruin them? Might as well try to keep fish fresh by stacking it in the cupboard.

– Try to add spices and delicate herbs toward the end of cooking. Again, heat and moisture degrade the oil. Add a little at the beginning (about 1/3 of the total amount); then add the rest when the food is cooked, but well before plating it.

– Herbs and spices are the soldiers of cooking. Do what every army does; keep your soldiers in the dark. I generally use mine so quickly that I can leave them in a dimly lit corner of my kitchen.

– Buy only enough of an herb or spice to last 2-4 months. Sure it is more expensive to buy small quantities. But it is also expensive when you need to add more of an old spice or herb because the oils in them have evaporated or gone rancid.

– This is Phyne Dyning, so experiment. Instead of cinnamon on squash, try cumin. Okay, you may want to inhibit your experimental nature if you are cooking a forty-dollar lamb roast. But try this: Cut off a bit of that expensive lamb roast, dab your experimental herbs and seasoning mixtures on it, and pop it into the microwave to fully cook it. Now, taste. Like it? Go for it on the roast.

– When adding herbs or spices, wait a few minutes; season with a bit of salt and pepper, and taste. Flavors do not fully develop for several minutes. Taste again and adjust before plating.

– Invest in a mortar and pestle. Play “Ye olde-tyme apothecary” and mix up some blends. You can stick with “Italian”, “Cajun”, and “Mexican” for a while. But do not be afraid to mix cultures. Beans are a big part of Middle Eastern cooking and beans are a big part of Mexican cooking. Try some Mexican epizote in your fava bean stew. (PHUN PHACT: Cumin originated in Egypt. The Moors took it to Spain. The Spaniards took it to the Aztecs. The Aztecs took it to Taco Johns.)

We will talk more herb-talk again soon. Shabbat is upon me and I need to get cooking.

Let’s eat!


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