10 Simple Cooking Tips to Use With Herbs and Spices
For centuries, cultures have been adding spices and herbs to enhance the flavors in their foods. Each herb and spice has its own unique characteristics, and it can be overwhelming to know when and how to use each one. So, where do you begin when it comes to adding savory spices and herbs to your culinary dishes?
Here are 10 tips and tricks to consider as you proudly stir the pot and channel the inner chef within you.
1. Get to Know the Basics
One simple tip is to become familiar with basic herbs and spices that can significantly impact the widest range of recipes. In addition to household staples like salt and pepper, using garlic, for instance, pares exceptionally well with almost any savory dish. Some of the most common spices are garlic powder, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and turmeric. Additionally, herbs such as oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, and cilantro make great staples in any kitchen. They are relatively forgiving, so it is safe to begin experimenting with each of them one by one. When uncertain, smelling them is an excellent way to determine which dishes you'd feel comfortable adding them to.
2. Start Small, Then Add More
When it comes to adding spices and herbs, one rule of thumb is to start small. You can always add more of each to your sauces, stews, soups, and stir-fries, but you cannot remove them.
3. Less is More
The common phrase, "less is more," certainly plays a role when cooking with herbs and spices. When herbs and spices are chopped and ground finely, adding a little pinch here or there goes a long way to boost the flavors of any dish.
4. Toasting Brings Out the Flavor
We recommend toasting your whole spices. In fact, using this technique allows the heat to bring out their flavor, helping them to taste even better. Start by heating up a pan or skillet and adding your spices. Gently move them around the pan until they become lightly brown. Then, turn off and remove them from the heat. Enjoy their unique aroma as they cool off enough to add them to your dish.
5. Use the Blooming Technique
Blooming spices is a powerful cooking technique often excluded from many recipes. It's simple and genuinely enables spices to release their full flavor. To do this process, add your spices to hot oil. Not only does it toast your spices, but it infuses their flavor into the oil. This allows for the flavor to disperse throughout the entire dish. One caution to note is to do this for 30-60 seconds to prevent them from burning.
6. Give them Time
Herbs, in particular, require time to release their flavor. This is why most recipes recommend adding them to your soups, stews, and sauces early in the cooking process. If you have a dish that does not require a lengthy cooking time, you can rub your herbs between your fingers and shorten the necessary time to release their flavor.
7. Start Grinding
Open up the flavor of whole spices by grinding them. Peppercorns, for example, are soft spices that can easily be ground in a classic handheld grinder or by using a rolling pin to crack them open. When you do, their flavors will be released so you can enjoy them throughout your dish.
8. Use the Smell Test
"The nose knows," is a popular saying, and we couldn't agree more! We suggest smelling your spices straight from the jar if you are concerned about making your dish too spicy or flavorful. This is a great tip to use when it comes to knowing which peppers are hot and which ones have a more mild flavor. When you sniff a jar, those spicy spices make you feel the urge to sneeze. You can always add more, but gradually adding the spice prevents you from putting in too much. If you come across spices (and herbs) that are more mild, consider adding a lot more.
9. Store in a Cool Environment
Herbs and spices are undoubtedly susceptible to moisture and heat. When storing them, keep in mind they do best when they stay cool. Therefore, storing them in the cabinet above your store is not a great idea. For example, they will be most vulnerable trapped in a cabinet above when heat rises from an oven or stove. Additionally, steam creates moisture, which may cause certain spices to stick and clump together.
10. Double-Check Their Expiration Date
As mentioned earlier, a few spices and herbs can go a long way. Therefore, your little jar or pouch can last a really long time. Although herbs and spices don't typically go bad, they lose their flavor over time. Be sure to check their expiration date from time to time to ensure that you're receiving the maximum flavor possible.
Now go put on your "chef's hat" and just have fun. As you become more and more familiar with the different characteristics of each herb and spice, you'll feel more confident to grow your collection on your spice rack. In fact, you may even find yourself creating your own blends and experimenting a bit too.