Chef Christy’s Favorite Herbs in Cooking
Now that we’ve covered several wonderful ways to incorporate herbs into your menus in Herbs in Cooking parts 1 and 2, I thought I would see what my favorites were.
I went to my spice shelves and took a quick inventory. Here’s what I found when surveyed my most-used (dried) seasonings. I have lots more, but these are the ones that I run out of and replace.
Links to Parts 1 and 2 are at the bottom of this post!
Basil – great for pesto, fresh salads, tomato sauces.
Bay leaf – stocks, sauces. Fresh ones are much more aromatic, good with breads and starches.
Cilantro – Especially aromatic flat-leafed herb, looks similar to flat-leaf parsley. Used in Mexican, Italian, and Chinese foods, wonderful in salsa, soup, beans, and salads. Dried seeds become Coriander.
Dill – vegetables, dips, fish (especially salmon), pickles, salads.
Marjoram – used with thyme or by itself, traditional in Italian dishes, vinaigrettes, and soup. I think it has a slightly more floral scent than oregano and thyme, making it good in blends with them.
Parsley – used for color and a cleansing flavor. Fresh is best, fresh-dried should still be bright green. The sprig on your plate is there as a breath freshener after dinner!
Rosemary – a must with pork, lamb, and chicken, vegetables. Grind or mince small, the stems can be like pine needles if they are very dry, and tend to get stuck in the teeth.
Saffron – the stamens of the saffron crocus, one of the most expensive herbs on the planet. Great in rice, clear soups, with chicken, and in sweets.
Sage – traditional flavor for turkey stuffing, great with all poultry.
Caraway Seed – a natural with cabbage and pork dishes, found in pickling spices and rye bread.
Celery Seed – adds a taste of celery when no fresh stalks are available. Good with chicken salad, tomato juice, and dips.
Cinnamon – Great in sweets and baked goods, it can add an interesting element to meats and savory sauces.
Cloves – dried flower buds that are good in baked goods and drinks.
Coriander – used in Mediterranean dishes, meat, vegetables, beans.
Cumin – the predominant flavor of taco seasoning and many Mexican foods, along with Mediterranean and Chinese foods. Often combined with Coriander.
Ginger – Can add heat when used in quantity, especially when fresh. Brightens flavors of sauces, meats, and drinks.
Mustard – Seeds can be added to pickles, corned beef, soups, or used to make homemade mustard. Ground or prepared can be made into mustard sauce, sprinkled on meat, stirred into sauces. Also good in vinaigrettes.
Nutmeg – Added to baked goods and drinks, also good with green vegetables.
Peppercorns – Black, white, green, pink, etc. Traditional accompaniment to salt in every savory dish, pepper can be wonderful on fresh fruit, especially melon.
Herb and Spice Blends
Chili Powder – a blend of chili pepper, garlic, salt, and pepper, not too hot, useful for seasoning Mexican foods and meat marinades.
Chinese 5 Spice – I have tried many manufactured blends and they can vary greatly. For a commercial product, I like McCormick’s. I make this blend frequently in classes though, so I usually have a home-made batch on hand. Great in stir-fry, meat dumplings, even sweets. Generally ginger, cinnamon, anise, cloves, and one other, maybe star anise, pepper, mustard, nutmeg, garlic, even dried tangerine peels!
Curry Powder – I like mine on the sweet-not-hot side, but they vary greatly. Typical ingredients are coriander, fennel, cumin, pepper, ginger, tumeric, fenugreek, cayenne or red chili pepper. Meat, rice and fruit are all good curried.
Old Bay – No table in Maryland is complete without a bright yellow can of Old Bay Seasoning. It can be considered a true American seasoning blend, and is a must for most seafood dishes. Celery salt, mustard, red pepper, black pepper, bay leaf, cloves, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon, paprika.
Powder Douce – Harkening back to my roots in medieval and Renaissance cooking, I keep a sweet blend on hand that would have been called “Powder Douce” or Sweet Powder in those time periods, and you would have bought them from a spice merchant as a blend. My favorite includes cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, spice, lemon peel and fenugreek.
Spike Seasoning – available in several flavor blends, all with no salt.
Chilis – green, red, brown, dried, sauced, pickled, flaked, powdered, blended.
Garlic – dried granulated (not garlic salt), chopped in oil, fresh in heads
Leeks – dried for addition to starches, vegetables, soups and sauces
Onion – dried in flakes for breads, starches, etc. Onion powder for marinades and sauces.
Paprika – good Hungarian variety. Should have flavor, not just color. Used as a garnish, but also as a flavoring in Hungarian-style stews and meat dishes.
Shallot – fresh bulbs. Used as a base for most sauces and soups. Milder than garlic, more flavorful than onions.
Read Part 1 here: Herbs in Cooking
Read Part 2 here: Herbs in Cooking part 2