Herbs are the leaves and green parts of plants, while the seeds, bark, roots and other parts are spices. The sheer amount of herbs available to the full time chef or part time cook at home can be overwhelming. This guide will offer some ideas for a few commonly available herbs used in a variety of worldwide dishes.
Herbs for cooking may be purchased dried or fresh. While dried lasts longer on the shelf, fresh herbs generally have the best flavour and should be chopped before mixing into the dish being prepared. Dried or powdered herbs, however, are best mixed with butter, lard, oil or even water prior to being introduced into a recipe as they infuse the cooking liquid. Sauteing dried herbs before using them also helps bring out their natural flavours, as does crushing them with a mortar and pestle.
Today there are more than ten varieties of basil available around the world. Basil complements all white meat and roast beef. Raspberries, strawberries and even mild cheeses are easily enhanced by basil. Basil can be found in stir fry, tomato sauces, and pesto. It is also used as a garnish on tomato soup. Cooking oils that mix well with basil include grape seed, sesame, safflower, olive, canola and walnut. Basil is occasionally called sweet basil or tulsi and is found in many Italian dishes from Minestrone to Fettuccine.
Dill is also sometimes referred to as ‘dill weed.’ It is the thinner stems and the leaves of the plant that are used in cooking. This aromatic herb complements salmon, carrots, cucumbers, and even yoghurt. It is added to thick stews like borscht, cream cheese, cottage cheese and vegetable salads. Naturally, without dill there would be no kosher dill pickles. Dill is best infused in canola and safflower oil.
Mint complements white meat, fruit, and chocolate. It may be utilized in many recipes ranging from sweet baked goods to chutney in either its fresh or dried form. Herbs and spices that complement it in turn include cumin, cayenne pepper, chamomile and ginger. Mint may be infused in canola, safflower, coconut or walnut oil, especially in dressings.
Fresh oregano is a very strong, pungent herb that is found in many types of tomato based sauce, including pizza and pasta sauces. It adds to the flavour of beef, turkey, and fried fish. It is best infused in canola, safflower and avocado oils. A few other herbs and spices that pair well with oregano are chili, bay leaves and thyme.
Sage is often paired with cheese, sausage and pork. Sage mixed with butter and a hint of lemon makes an excellent rub for roasting a turkey. Dried sage must cook longer to bring out the same taste as fresh and at least half as much should be called for when using it in a dish.
Thyme is a bold herb. Its best natural flavour only comes about when allowed to cook slowly. It is infused in canola and safflower oils and may be added to eggs, lamb, fish and many soups and stews. Complemented by oregano and cilantro, Thyme is used in many French, Italian and Caribbean dishes such as Jerk Chicken.
Pasta dishes, soups, goulash and potatoes are all that much more flavourful for the parsley added to them. Fresh parsley is considered to be the best, often as a garnish. Parsley may be infused into canola or safflower oil or butter. This herb pairs well with other such as basil and chives whether in Middle Eastern or Brazilian dishes like Chiero Verde. Parsley is used in green salads and parsley sauce.