Some consider herbs and spices as being the lifeblood of cooking. They give some famous dishes their unique taste and lead to an infinite world of possibilities for personalising and tweaking your personal favourites. In these health-conscious times, they confer the added benefit of boosting the flavour of any dish without the medical considerations associated with salt and oils. There are a shining star of the cooking world and something every aspiring cook should get acquainted with. In this feature, we cover turning herbs and spices into an everyday item and a potent tool in the kitchen.
1. Get Fresh
We would imagine that everyone reading this feature will have at least some kind of stock of dried herbs and spices languishing in the kitchen cupboard. These powdery varieties have their place and are more than capable of adding a fantastic kick to any meal, but if you really want to impress yourself and others with your newfound knowledge, fresh products are the way to go.
2. Plan your Meals
Check any of those dried herbs and spices in the cupboard, and the chances are that you will have had them for months or even years. With the fresh variety, you do not have that kind of long-term freedom and will need a good idea of what will be used, and when while doing the grocery shopping. Fresh herbs do not need to be used on the same day as they were purchased by any means, but you will hopefully want to avoid waste and have a goal in mind for every bunch you buy.
3. Take the Time to Store Well
If you are planning to introduce fresh herbs and spices to your cooking in the long-term, it is worth building the habit of storing them well early on. Simply tossing them in the fridge is rarely a good idea and you can prolong their active life with a few simple additions. Wrap the stems of each herb in a wet paper towel and store them in a zip lock bag to maintain shop-bought freshness until you need them.
4. Keep Part-Used Bunches at the Front of the Fridge
The biggest cause of waste with fresh herbs and spices is people simply forgetting that they are there. Depending on where you shop, the chances are that you will purchase more than you need for a specific recipe. When cooking is complete, the herbs return to the fridge, never to be seen again until it is too late. Prioritise finishing off herbs and spices either within your meal plan or as added extras as they do not last long.
5. Chop and Freeze Unused Fresh Produce
We consider freezing as a last resort regarding herbs and spices, but it is an option, nonetheless. If you cannot fit leftovers into a recipe in the same week, then there is merit to cutting them up and putting them in the freezer. The cooking process will take care of thawing in the future, and while the herbs will not be quite as impactful as when they were fresh, they can still do a job.
6. Dried Herbs Still Have a Place
While we love fresh herbs and spices and consider them vastly superior to their dried counterparts, those jars still have a place. There will be recipes that require so little of a herb that buying a fresh bunch is far from cost-effective, and anything that you know will only be used on occasion is better-served in a jar than the freezer.
7. Don’t Neglect Dried Herb Storage
Of all the cupboard items in the kitchen, people believe that herbs are virtually invincible. They have already been dried out, so it is easy to assume that they do not have much to lose after that. They last well – up to a year in ideal conditions – but it is important to keep them away from heat, moisture or direct sunlight. Your spice rack should therefore not be erected above the oven, opposite a window or under a sink. These herbs do not require much looking after, so it is only fair to meet their limited requirements.
8. Innovate New Spice and Herb Mixes
Some of the most enjoyable parts of introducing more herbs and spices into the kitchen involve trying something new. Some famously go well together, like basil and oregano or garlic and coriander, but with hundreds out there at every decently sized supermarket, the combinations are limited only by your imagination. If you find yourself with leftovers that are not worth storing, this could be the perfect opportunity to try them together to see how they marry.
9. Keep an Eye on the International Aisle and Shops
Different herbs and spices carry varying weight in various food cultures, and the pursuit of a unique blend of them will see many shoppers heading down the foreign food aisle or to dedicated stores. If you are looking to improve your use of these ingredients, then you probably have a passion for culinary learning in general. As well as finding new ingredients and combinations, you might well discover new recipes or food combinations that you may never have previously considered.
10. Modify Recipes and Make Substitutions
While we can get very excited about herbs and spices in cooking, we will not pretend that among the hundreds available in stores, many are interchangeable. If a recipe calls for a certain ingredient and you have neither the fresh nor dried variety, it might be time to try an alternative from your existing stock. Even when not pushed to change the recipe out of necessity, putting your own spin on a meal with intentional substitutions can lead to unique experiences and a great sense of self-satisfaction.