Sunday, November 21, 2010

Top 10 Herbs to Cook With

Putting a few new flavor enhancers on your spice shelf will make meats and greens taste better and bring some welcome aromas to your kitchen.  And if living on a budget at your house means more home cooked meals, you can make the most of that crock-pot roast or stir fried veggie dish by adding a generous helping of herbs and spices. In that line of thinking I realized a list of herbs to have on hand, might be a great piece of information to share.
Every now and then I stay up way too late for someone who gets up at 5 AM and watch David Letterman because I love the top ten list.  So as a tribute to this style of top ten here is a countdown of herbs to use in your everyday cooking.
10. Thyme. This little herb can add depth of flavor to meat, chicken and egg dishes. It’s also great fresh or dry. Add a pinch to stews and soups for a stronger and more complex stock.
9. Rosemary. A must for lamb, rosemary is also a tasty accompaniment to potato dishes and strongly flavored meats. If you want to wake up your grilling, add a little fresh rosemary to the heating coals or use rosemary stems as kabob skewers.
8. Pepper. Okay pepper is actually a spice, but you can get lots of different varieties of pepper (Piper nigrum), but white, green and even red types are really just different stages or parts of the same fruit. For the best flavor regardless of the color, grind your own whole peppercorns. Here’s a hint: white pepper is very mild and won’t add black specks to your light colored sauces.

7. Chives. A colorful and easy way to get a little garlicky and oniony goodness into salads, potato or egg dishes, chives are easy to grow or locate fresh in your produce department. Once you’ve tried them snipped fresh, you’ll never resort to tasteless dried chives again.
6. Tarragon. With just a hint of licorice flavor, tarragon can transform fowl into a feast. For the best results, use French tarragon. Make up a marinade of tarragon, Dijon mustard, white wine and pepper. It’ll enliven your
 chicken and wake up your taste buds.
5. Parsley. Don’t scoff. Just because parsley is used as a garnish doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great flavoring for food. The best stocks and sauces use many ingredients to create deep, mouthwatering flavor. Parsley is one herb that works great with basic stock ingredients, like onions, celery and carrots. Add a little parsley to your favorite stovetop meals just before serving and you’ll see and taste the garden fresh difference.  It is a natural flavor enhancer so adding it with other herbs with make everything taste better.
4. Sage. Most commonly used in holiday stuffing, sage is a tasty herb to take advantage of all year long. Great in egg, fowl and vegetable medleys, a little sage goes a long way, so use restraint.
3. Cilantro. A must have for Oriental and Tex Mex recipes, cilantro will give your tacos, salsa and burritos authentic south-of-the-border flavor and flair. (Oh, cilantro also goes by the name coriander.) While you’re adding some Mex to your cooking, consider including a little cumin too.
2. Paprika. You may know it for its cheerful red color, but paprika comes in lots of varieties that can add heat and/or sweet to your recipes. Try a sweet Hungarian paprika in your next fried chicken batter and see.
And… the number ONE herb for your kitchen…
1. Garlic. You can love it or hate it, but garlic is the undisputed king of herbs. From fresh bulbs to jarred garlic paste and everything in between, you can find a neat way to add garlic to your cooking that’s flavorful as well as convenient. Don’t rely solely on garlic salt. Try some fresh minced garlic and enjoy the sweet undertones that garlic can give your mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus.
All these single herbs are available from the Backyard Patch.  Remember when purchasing herbs for your kitchen use buy crumbled rather than ground herbs (the difference in shelf life is 9 months longer for dried versus ground).  Also store your herbs away from sunlight and heat from the oven (so take those jars down off the back of your stove top)!

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