I hope you are having a beautiful day, whether you happen to celebrate Christmas or not. I thought it would be fun to talk about something around cooking and food today, which may be a big part of your holiday festivities :).
As flavor creators and enhancers, herbs are the one thing that can change a “blah” plate of food into a sumptuous culinary masterpiece- without having to add fat, salt or sugar. It is with our choice of herbs that we can take a simple main ingredient and transform it into an exotic Indian delight, a sassy Latin treat, or an earthy Italian indulgence.
Unique tastes and heady aromas are not the only qualities that we prize in our herbs.
Many of us forget that they also contain powerful anti-oxidants, essential oils, important vitamins, and phyto-nutrients, which help our bodies fight disease and bolster our immune systems, so liberal use of them is a healthy indulgence indeed.
Dried vs Fresh?
This is a really common question. While a portion of the nutritional value of many herbs may be lost in drying, there are some, like cinnamon, which are loaded with health benefits, and are always dried prior to use.
Over the summer, I was lucky enough to visit Sri Lanka, where I toured the spice gardens and learned so much about cinnamon, clove, pepper and many other spices, including their cultivation and harvest. This trip gave me an even deeper appreciation of our amazing planet and her limitless bounty.
Fresh, organic herbs are certainly preferable, when possible, but there are always going to be times when they are simply not available. It is times like these that dried herbs can come in quite handy.
Just remember, dried herbs generally have a stronger, more concentrated flavor, so make adjustments to your use accordingly. The typical ratio is three times the amount of fresh herbs as dry. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, you need only 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary, since 3 teaspoons equal 1 tablespoon.
I find that there are some recipes, like soups, stews, and roasts that require a combination of herbs and spices.
We are all short on time so when I want to add a pop of flavor, I will make a quick little bundle of herbs which is easily removed after cooking. This saves you from having to fish out herb “floaties”, which might be time consuming, or result in an unwanted clump of some of your beautiful herbs that is overwhelming if you or a guest gets an unfortunate and unplanned mouthful in their serving. 😯
Typically referred to as Bouquet Garni (sounds fancy right?!), this gives my dish all of that great herbal flavor with way less preparation time. I can also get the flavor out of parts of my herbs that I would not typically mince up, like parsley stalks. Parsley stalks can be pretty tough and chewy, but they have a great concentration of flavor, so I hate for them to go to waste.
You can make these herb bundles in a number of ways. If I am using fresh herbs, like thyme, rosemary and parsley, I just measure out my desired amount of each one, bind them together with dental floss and toss it into the pot (I know twine might be the obvious option, but sometimes I even get a little wary that there is something in it I don’t want going in my food!! If you feel comfortable with a twine you find, you can of course use that also). It’s super easy to make, and super easy to fish out when you are ready to serve!
For those times when I am using dried herbs, or a combination of fresh and dried herbs, I will make a little pouch out of cheesecloth and tie it with (you guessed it!) dental floss (avoid mint varieties!) and pop it in.
Although the traditional Bouquet Garni is a combination of parsley, rosemary, and bay leaf, conveniently, I have used it successfully with any number of different herbs.
Feel free to get creative with it and you may surprise yourself!
Let me know: what is your favorite herb to use in the kitchen? Do you use fresh or dried typically?