Cooking With Herbs - Getting Started

(Excerpted from Herbs Every Day, by Mona Lundstrom, )

Cooking with herbs is not a mystifying art. If you cook, you already are using herbs in many of your recipes. The same principles that apply to using parsley, onion, and poultry seasoning apply to many other herbs as well. To go beyond the basic, all that is needed is the herb, and an adventurous spirit.
Most herbs, not only delight the taste buds, but also aid the digestive process. They also aid the cook, which is what this section is about. Cooking with herbs allows you to create endless variations of the same foods. A sprinkle of this or that can turn the simplest of foods into gourmet cuisine. At the end of this section is a description of easily obtainable herbs and food with which they go, some herbal blends, and a few basic recipes and tips that can be easily incorporated into your current cooking repertoire.
Here are some guidelines for expanding your herbal horizons:
  • Keep in mind that seasoning and flavoring with herbs is a matter of personal taste. There is no right or wrong. If it tastes good to you, it is right.

  • Use herbs sparingly when you begin. A little goes a long way. As you gain experience, you may wish to add more, particularly of the potherbs. Potherbs are those that may also be cooked and served as a vegetable such as borage, chervil, lovage, and chicory.

  • Be selective, use taste and smell to guide you in choosing harmonious flavors.

  • When using an herb for the first time, use it alone. Chicken is a good food for herb testing because of its versatility. Poach the chicken, using a poaching liquid of white wine or chicken broth with a little of the herb added.

  • When identifying the herbs, mentally classify them into groups, much like a mixed bouquet. Some provide background, some are filler, some work best when in combination with others, some are the star, and some prefer to work alone.

  • Keep these adjectives in mind when identifying herbs: aromatic, sweet, pungent, bitter delicate, cooling, warming.

  • One or two dominant-herb dishes or sauces is enough if the balance of dishes supplies background for companion flavors. Too great a variety will overwhelm your palate.
    Remember that not everyone like the same herbs. There are cultural as well as personal favorites.

  • Use approximately /2 teaspoon of dried herbs as the equivalent of one tablespoon of fresh herbs. This will depend on the age of the dried herbs. As the essential oils in dried herbs slowly dissipate, the flavor diminishes.

  • Crushing the herbs either with your fingers or with a mortar and pestle will release more of the herb's flavor.

  • Some herbs can withstand long cooking while others either lose their flavor or become bitter with cooking. These are best added at the last minute.

  • Dried herbs work better if they are allows to "sit a spell" in either the cooking stock or other liquid before being added to the dish. Wine or cooking oil works great for freshening dried herbs.

Bristen no longer offers seasonings. May we suggest you try
for a great selection of freshly dried herbs and herb blends. They sell by the ounce, are reasonably priced and provide good descriptions.

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