Resources For Spicing Up Your Cuisine
Recently I was doing a cooking demonstration and one of the participants asked me if I knew about the new spice shop in town. No! I replied, in surprise and anticipation. She gave me a card that would give me a nice discount to go check the place out and try some of their herbs and spices.
Savory Spice Shop is a franchise that I knew nothing about, but am glad I found. My local coop has a very nice selection of the usual herbs, but here I had 10 different paprikas, all from different countries of the world. All I had to do was open the Spanish Paprika and it was love at first sniff. I spent at least an hour walking around reading ingredients in blends and opening and sniffing dozens of different herbs and spices.
Adding More Spice To My Life
I found two real winners that day. One was the Spanish paprika, which has a dark earthy smell and flavor to it. My homegrown paprika is light and fresh picked flavor so they really compliment each other. The other was a Mild Curry, that doesn’t have any of the hot pepper spice in it. Both I and my husband really, really like this, although to me it is not a traditional curry, it is even better!
What I found for myself, is that I will probably still continue to buy my regular, everyday spices at the co-op, because they are significantly cheaper. I’ll use the spice shop to purchase unusual, hard to find, or unique herbs and spices I can’t get elsewhere.
You might want to take a look and see if you have a spice shop of some sort in your area. Being stuck with just the spices available at a regular grocery store would be the pits as far as I’m concerned. If you don’t have a spice shop nearby Savory Spice Shop has an online store. The only problem there is you can’t smell them first and you have to buy the product in fixed sizes. At least I can buy as much or as little of something I want at both the spice shop and the co-op.
Share Your Favorite Spice With Us
What’s your all time favorite spice? Do you have a recipe to share that you like to use it in?
Harvesting Fresh Herbs
In preparation for moving my herb garden to a permanent location I’m harvesting some of the herbs. I try to grow as many of my herbs as possible, because they taste so much better than store bought herbs. Even the herbs I can buy in bulk are missing some key element that home grown and dried herbs have. There’s something that happens when they dry them at high temperatures that changes the flavor.
Today I harvested oregano and spearmint. I’ve been working in my office for several hours and came out to get a drink of water. I was greeted by the heavenly scent of oregano. It smelled like I was walking into a five-star Italian restaurant!
Home Processed Tastes Better
I use a temperature controlled dehydrator, set at 90 degrees (F), and let them dry for approximately 8 hours. If I can, I store my herbs whole. Otherwise I process them minimally. For the mint, I’ll put the whole leaves in an air tight container. The oregano will need to be stripped from the stems, but I do this trying to keep from breaking them up too much.
For each break there is in an herb leaf, the essential oils are released. I’ve never understood why anyone would by rubbed sage. It is so smashed that most of the essential oils have been released. If you rub the sage yourself, just before you use it, the taste will be totally different and be much more aromatic. Powdered herbs are an even more distasteful product. Once the herb has been powdered you need to use it within a few days, otherwise the taste will begin to deteriorate rapidly and you’ll just be left with tasteless green powder in a short time.
So, if you want herbs that will set your tongue to tingling and remain tingling for hours afterward (I can still taste the spearmint I put in my smoothie this morning), then use them fresh or dry them yourself. It will make an average dish taste gourmet just with this one small change.
Share Your Thoughts
What are your experiences with using home processed herbs? Have any interesting new ideas or stories to share?
Confused on how to say that, well I had to guess at how to spell it! It’s an expression I use all the time when I taste something delicious, and yesterday was one of those days. I was cleaning out all the winter weeds from the herb garden. In the process I had to dig up a few volunteers that had come up in the middle of other herbs, and managed to break a stem off the oregano.
While preparing a salad for lunch I pulled out all the fresh herbs I had just gathered from the garden and proceeded to add some to the salad. Yummo-schmumo. There is nothing that will perk up a salad like the addition of fresh herbs. I added just fennel, oregano, and parsley, but it made a taste sensation that is missing throughout the winter months.
During the winter I’m relegated to using dried herbs, but they just don’t carry the punch of fresh. No matter what way I dry my own surplus, when I get to use my first bit of fresh it’s like an explosion of flavor that I’ve not had for many months.
Herbs that are amazing additions to salads include – fennel, oregano, lemon thyme, tarragon, basil (all the different flavors), rosemary, parsley, salad burnett, and marjoram.
Share Your Favorite Salad Addition
I’m sure I’m missing a few great additions. What do you add to your salads to make them unique? Please share with us all in the comment box below.
Staying on the theme of apples, since the new crop is coming in now, I’d like to share with you an unusual, but very tasty apple snack. I was told about this idea by a lovely Indian woman when I was in the local international store picking up some spices. She was buying black salt. I had no idea what it was, but it looked interesting, and I like to try interesting things.
In its solid form it looks almost black in color, thus the name. When it is broken into smaller pieces it has a dark pink cast, and the ground salt is pale pink in color. Black salt has an interesting flavor, because of its sulfur content. The sulfur also contributes to its cooked egg smell.
Now, when you read this you may think it sounds disgusting, but surprisingly enough the combination of salt and egg are pretty good. It also has a slightly bitter flavor, too, which becomes pronounced if you use too much, so use it sparingly.
I was told that the lady’s son loved shredded apples with black salt sprinkled over them. He would come home from school and beg for her to fix him some. I thought this was really strange, since I had only ever smelled the salt and not tasted it.
I bought a small amount, took it home, and ground it into a powder in my blender. Take note, it is very hard and will make a huge racket and take some time to powder it. I then used the food processor to make up some shredded apples and sprinkled a tiny bit on one bite. It was fantastic. The combination of the sweet-tart apples I love and the salt, with its slightly sulfury-bitter taste, was an amazing taste.
Black salt is now a regular part of my spice rack. I’ve used it in many savory dishes, and every fall enjoy many bowls of apples and black salt.
You can get it at many international and Indian food stores. If it comes in powdered form I would purchase that, as the chunks are really hard on the blades of a blender and it is hard to get it evenly ground.
So, next time you’re looking for something unusual to snack on, pick up some black salt and your favorite apples, and give it a try.
Last post I promised that I would talk about the different types of basil and how to use them. Nowdays there are many more flavors of basil than just sweet. One of the most popular is lemon basil.
Lemon basil has a delicate flavor, distinctly lemon with a hint of basil spiciness. It is not as robust, nor does it grow as large or with as big of leaves as sweet basil. The essential oil that creates the lemony flavor is easily destroyed with high temperature cooking, so it is best to add lemon basil at the end of the cooking cycle, except in baking when it cannot be added at the end. Lemon basil is excellent in raw dishes, too, especially salads and in salad dressing.
Low temperature dehydrating is a must for this type of basil in order to retain its delicate lemony taste.
Next is licorice basil. It is distinctly licorice with a strong basil spiciness, too. It is a smaller plant and leaf, as well. It is delicious in both cooked and raw dishes. It’s flavor is robust and strong and not easily damaged with cooking. It is excellent on pizzas in place of or combination with sweet basil.
Dry it the same way you would sweet basil.
Cinnamon basil has a sweet cinnamony pungence with sweet basil overtones. It also is a smaller plant and leaf than sweet basil. It holds it flavor well in cooking and can be used in raw dishes as well.
Dry it like sweet basil.
Holy basil. This basil has a very distinct flavor. The plant is smaller with smaller leaves than sweet basil. The leaves and stems are slightly hairy. I’ve only used holy basil for tea, so don’t know if it works well in cooking or raw preparations.
It dries excellently and is a prolific self-seeder in this area (zone 7a).
All basils are best if cut and dried before flowers set, but that can be hard, especially with holy basil, which seems to blossom almost from day one.
More basils next time. (Yes there are even more to choose from.)