Using Herbs and Spices (Part 2)
Do you tend to get lost in a wall of little jars of spices at the grocery store, trying your best to figure out what might be useful to you? Did you buy a bunch of dried herbs three semesters ago then leave them in a drawer, never again to see the light of day? Do you want that to change? Oh SNAP! Is here to help you improve your quarantine cooking!
In case you’re curious, the difference between herbs and spices is the part of the plant they come from. Herbs are exclusively the leaves of certain plants, while spice is a catch-all term for a food additive that comes from any other part of the plant. Today we will be focusing on a small assortment of herbs. There will be more in the coming weeks!
Having nothing to do with curry powder, curry leaves are a bitter herb coming from the curry tree (Murraya koenigii). They are also often called sweet neem leaves. Curry leaves tend to be used in soup, stew, and rice dishes of Southeast Asian origin. They should be cooked in oil before being added to your dish and are best when fresh.
Dill is a very flavorful, pungent, sweet, and sour herb that is typically very easy to grow yourself. It goes well with many fish dishes or with root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Try to add it towards the end of the cooking process to avoid too much loss of flavor. Dill is especially useful when pickling vegetables, something you might enjoy learning during quarantine!
There are two main kinds of mint used in cooking: spearmint and peppermint. Typically, it does not matter which you use; both do well with lamb, roasted vegetables, watermelon, and desserts. The difference is in the menthol content of peppermint, menthol being the chemical that makes your mouth feel much colder than it is. Try making a peppermint based drink to go with a spicy meal!
A bitter herb, parsley is considered rather versatile. It is used with soups, salads, sauces (especially chimichurri sauce), eggs, fish, pasta, and vegetables. Its flavor isn’t as powerful as other herbs, but fresh parsley has a good, earthy flavor that can really enhance your cooking. Like dill, it should be added towards the end of cooking.
Sage is a sweet and bitter herb that is closely related to mint and shares that sharp aroma. It most frequently is used in meat based dishes, things like chicken, pork, sausage, and stuffings. Sage is common in northern Italian cuisine. Be sure not to confuse it with white sage, which is native to the Southwestern United States.
Do keep in mind that, while these herbs are popular in European cuisine, many originated from the Middle East, India, the New World, and countless other places that use these herbs in numerous other ways. There is no need to limit their use to what European chefs say they are for. Research, experiment, and explore!