If you’re not used to cooking with herbs and spices, knowing what to pull from your cabinet full of bottles and jars may seem daunting (if you don’t have a recipe directing you, that is). But, it doesn’t have to be: “Food always tastes better when properly seasoned, and you’ll enjoy cooking a lot more once you’ve mastered the basics,” says former Canyon Ranch Corporate Chef Scott Uehlein. With a dash here and a sprinkle there, you can confidently make healthy dishes that are rich in multi-dimensional flavor. Spice things up with Chef Scott’s top tips for using (and storing) herbs and spices.
- Choose wisely. Every herb and spice brings its own unique flavor. When deciding what to add, consider the flavor quality of each and how it might match with what you’re preparing. For example, curry, parsley and garlic tend to go well with vegetables. Oregano, fennel seed and basil are nice enhancements for meat. You may want to start with traditional pairings, but feel free to get creative and trust your own taste buds. (There’s no shame in using a prepared spice blend if that makes you more comfortable.)
- Don’t go overboard. Under-seasoning can make a dish a bit flat, but being too heavy-handed can make each bite overpowering. It’s OK to use more or less spice than a recipe calls for, but start with a sprinkle and work up from there.
- Make smart substitutions. If you need or want to use dried herbs instead of fresh, know that the former are far more potent—just ¼ to ⅓ of a teaspoon will do the trick.
- Time it right. As a general rule of thumb, whole dried spices and herbs release their flavors slower than ground ones, so add them toward the beginning of the cooking process. Fresh herbs are best added near the end or just before serving to retain their flavor and aroma.
- Store them wisely… Preserve freshness and nutritive value by storing dried herbs and spices in tightly closed containers kept in a cool, dry place. Straight-from-the-garden choices should be treated like a bouquet of flowers: Snip the stems, stand the herbs in a glass of water and refrigerate.
- …but use fresh herbs fast. While dried picks can keep for about a year, plan to use fresh choices fairly soon after purchasing. In general, most are good for a week to 10 days if stored properly. You can also dry them to extend their usability: Tie a string around the bottom stems and hang them upside down for a week or so.
- Think outside the pot. Herbs and spices aren’t just for what you can serve on a plate. They can easily be used to make delicious drinks. For a relaxing tea (that also helps calm the digestive system), steep peppermint or chamomile leaves in hot water using a tea strainer for 5 to 10 minutes. To make a smoothie even healthier, try adding turmeric or finely grated ginger and benefit from their amazing anti-inflammatory properties.