Using Herbs and Spices (Part 1)
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!
Basil is an aromatic relative of mint often found in Italian dishes. Most dishes that focus on tomato will do really well with an addition of basil. Pasta dishes and pesto are where basil shines.
Bay leaf is used in dishes that take a long time to cook, such as soups, sauces, and stews, but all it takes is some liquid and heat to extract that woody, bitter flavor. Do you remember Twitter users complaining to Chipotle about leaves that had “gotten into their food” a few years ago? Those are bay leaves. The flavor does leach out, leaving the leaf stiff, rigid, and mostly flavorless, so they’re typically removed before a dish is served.
Assuming you’re lucky enough to lack the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap (or if you enjoy the taste of soap, I guess), you can add cilantro to a wide variety of Latin American, Vietnamese, and Italian dishes. Try it with salsas, sour cream, or fish to add a citrusy flavor to your meal.
Often confused with green onion, chives are their own herb (but they are both Alliums and one can typically substitute for the other). Chives are used to add a grassy, fresh onion taste to dishes like baked potatoes, fish, eggs, salads, and bagels with cream cheese.
The two types of oregano you are likely to come across are Mediterranean oregano and Mexican oregano. While both add warmth and sweetness to a meal, Mediterranean oregano is considered to be the more mild of the two. This herb is popular on pizzas and pastas, but it also goes well with poultry, fish, chili, stuffing, and vegetables.
Rosemary is a strong smelling herb with a pine-like flavor that is often used fresh. Common in Italian dishes, rosemary is useful when cooking chicken, pork chops, grilled fish, and potatoes. Try slicing some of those small, multicolored potatoes in half, adding rosemary, salt, and olive oil, then roasting them in the oven.
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!