How to Cook with Herbs and Spices

I cook a lot and am always looking for ways to spice up the foods I make. Most recipes out there only ask for your generic salt and pepper and are just plain boring. So a lot of times I’ll take a recipe I find online and then put my own twist on it to make it even better. ūüôā

First of all your salt and pepper – depending on your tastes oftentimes recipes ask for 1/2 tsp a salt, I always up this to a tsp and I like to use Himalayan pink salt as it contains minerals your body needs. I’ve also noticed that pepper to me doesn’t have much flavor in your recipe unless you freshly ground it into the recipe with a pepper grinder.

Now let’s look at some of the herbs I use…

BASIL                                

This herb is a natural anti-inflammatory and is rich in magnesium. It has a floral-anise like flavor and pairs really well with Greek, Italian, or Mediterranean foods. I like to add this herb to tomato sauces or soups as well as sprinkling on meat or seafood. Just remember to add this in towards the end of the recipe as cooking will take away from its flavor. Just a tsp to sauces (or more depending on taste) should do the trick.

Note, there are many different varieties of Basil. I tend to lean towards the sweet and the holy basil. What is the difference between sweet and holy basil? Holy basil has more of a clove like flavor compared to the sweet. Sweet basil I use more in the tomato sauces and Italian foods I make whereas Holy Basil I like in Greek and Mediterranean dishes. I use this herb to spice up meat and seafood as well as sprinkle on other cooked vegetables. MINT is an excellent herb to pair with basil especially in stir fries. The two are really good together. Eaten raw, the herb has a spicy, peppery flavor so is great as an addition to salads. Fresh holy basil leaves can actually be used to make a nice tea as well. ūüôā

PARSLEY                        

This herb contains vitamins A, C, K, and folate which is good for your heart. I absolutely love this herb. Not only is this a diuretic (so helps with water retention), but the flavor of parsley is very palatable. I like to eat parsley raw or even dipped in salt water. It makes a great garnish to just about any dish and tastes great in salads as well. I add this to just about every dish I cook at the end as it seems to give that extra little flavor it needs. You can buy this fresh or dried. Fresh is always better, but dried parsley will still give your food a nice flavor. Parsley tastes mildly bitter, light, and peppery. It is great in Italian, Indian, Mediterranean, and Greek dishes. Parsley is good on fish, eggs, steak, chicken, potatoes, and in sauces and soups as well. It is a great herb to use for grilling. Remember to add it towards the end. Cooking this herb will ruin its flavor. Fresh parsley – I take a handful or bunch and use that in a recipe at a time. If the flavor is too strong for you, use half a bunch. If using dried parsley, 1 tsp should be good.

There are several different varieties of parsley. Oftentimes, your grocery store carries the curly parsley (which is shown in the picture above). This is great eaten by itself, in salads and soups, or as a garnish. To cook with, you should try and obtain the Italian or flat-leaf parsley as it is more versatile in recipes. A lot of times I can’t find these fresh in the grocery store unless I go to a specialty shop, but you should be able to obtain these herbs dried.

CILANTRO                     

This herb contains fiber, iron, and phytonutrients that fight disease. Similar to parsley, cilantro should be added last to recipes as cooking it will take away from its flavor. These two herbs even look very similar to each other, but cilantro has a much stronger flavor. Cilantro tastes like soap to some people, but others (such as myself) find this herb refreshing. To me it has almost a citrus taste to it. Part of the coriander family, cilantro is great in Mexican, Southwestern, and Indian foods. Where there is heat and spiciness in the food, cilantro seems to pair well. When I use cilantro, I will use a TBSP of lemon or lime juice (not from concentrate) as the two go really well together in flavor.  It is a great addition to fresh salsas, southwestern black bean salads, fish, chicken (grilled as well), tacos, guacamole, dishes that use pesto, coconut, curries, and spicy rice dishes. Because the flavor of cilantro is much stronger, it does not take much of it to give flavor to any dish Рhalf a bunch should do. If using dried cilantro, 1 tsp should be good.

ROSEMARY                  

This herb contains fiber, iron, and calcium. It increases circulation in the body and can improve digestion. Rosemary leaves can be used in a variety of ways Рfresh, dried, or powdered. The fresh and dried will by thorny like leaves vs. the powdered. Rosemary has a woodsy flavor, very aromatic and pungent. I use rosemary quite often when I roast food in the oven or when I grill. Grilling with rosemary actually reduces the carcinogens in your food so has added benefit there. Rosemary is great for roasting any kind of potatoes, vegetables, and meat. Fresh and dried is good for grilling and roasting meat, salmon, and vegetables. After applying Grapeseed oil (which has a higher smoke point),  I will sprinkle powdered rosemary on top prior to roasting meat and vegetables. When roasting whole chickens or grilling, I like to use the dried rosemary vs. the powdered. You may have to reapply if grilling. I prefer the powdered rosemary overall as the leaves can be tough to eat and can get stuck in your teeth. It pairs well with tomatoes, spinach, and mushrooms. Spices that pair well with rosemary are salt, pepper, thyme, garlic, and onion powder.

THYME                         

This herb contains vitamin K and protects your cell membranes. This herb is also useful as a tea for respiratory issues as it loosens up phlegm in the lungs so your body can expel it. 1-2 tsp dried thyme to a quart jar of boiling water or 1-1/2 tsp to a cup drank several times during the day will relieve chest congestion. This tea can be given to children as well in smaller amounts – 1/4 tsp dried thyme to a quart jar of boiling water. Make sure to cover while steeping so the volatile oils are not released. Thyme is my go-to when my children are sick and have non-productive coughs. It is a powerful detoxifying herb and thereby aids the liver in eliminating toxins from the body.

Similar to rosemary, thyme pairs well with any roasted meat and vegetable. It is good in soups as well. Fresh thyme can be used, but only use the leaves and not the stem as the stem does not cook well and it’s very woody. 1 tsp of dried or 1/2 a bunch fresh thyme should be good in any recipe. I don’t use thyme a whole lot to cook with, I mostly keep this on hand for tea, but when I do I like to sprinkle this on roasted chicken and vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, onions, zucchini, yellow squash, brussel sprouts, and asparagus. It is also good on eggs and lamb. This herb pairs nicely with rosemary and oregano.

OREGANO                  

This herb contains fiber, iron, magnesium, calcium, manganese, potassium, vitamins E, K, and antioxidants. The oil from oregano can be used to treat bacterial and viral infections and can be used to protect against cancer by slowing or preventing its progression. The carvacrol content in oregano oil is what gives it its potency. The higher the carvacrol, the more potent and better the oregano oil. The oil is typically mixed with a carrier such as olive oil. When buying oregano oil, you will want 80% or higher carvacrol. I keep this on hand at all times because it is highly effective in treating strep throat and other throat conditions. How to treat strep throat: 10 drops under the tongue, hold for 30 seconds, swallow down with water. Do this three times a day till relief is obtained. I buy Bio-Alternatives Oil of Oregano Special blend. It is wild harvested Mediterranean Oregano Oil carried in all natural grape seed oil and contains 85% carvacrol. This cannot be taken by children and is only for use by adults. For babies with viral colds or infections, apply this directly on the feet every night before bed. It definitely has saved a trip to the doctor a time or two!

Oregano has a very strong flavor so you will want to use this sparingly in your recipes. Oregano is a pungent, aromatic herb with a bitter taste. It is great in Italian, Mediterranean, and Greek dishes as well as some Mexican dishes. Most grocery stores do not carry fresh oregano, but you should be able to find it dried. When substituting dried oregano for fresh you will want to use about half (if not less) of what is asked for in the recipe because dried oregano has a stronger flavor to it. I typically only use 1/4 tsp of dried oregano in recipes that have tomato based sauces and in soups. Oregano pairs well with basil, thyme, and parsley. Marjoram can be used as a substitute if you don’t have oregano on hand. This is a great herb to use in Italian pasta dishes with freshly grated parmesan cheese. It also is good in Greek salads, marinades, herb bread rolls, in homemade vinegar and oil dressings, and meatloaf.

TURMERIC                     

This herb contains manganese, iron, and vitamin B6. This herb has been known to be anti-inflammatory and is good for arthritis and joint health. Turmeric can be brewed as a tea. 1 tsp to 1 cup of boiling water. Steep 10-15 minutes.

This herb comes in root or powdered form, is yellowish-orange, and has a pungent, sweet taste. The root definitely has more flavor than the powder, but both are good in recipes. This herb is great in Mediterranean and Indian dishes. It goes well with eggs (especially deviled eggs), curries, frittatas, tofu, in stir-fries, on roasted vegetables, in rice, salads, and soups. I’ve seen posts where people have even put turmeric into their lattes. I’ve never tried that so can’t say if that’s good or not, but it might be something worth trying! I like to add a bit of turmeric to casseroles and rice dishes. 1 tsp of turmeric root cut up into small pieces or 1 tsp of powdered turmeric is good in recipes. It does turn your food yellowish-orange so just a word of caution. ūüôā Turmeric pairs well with paprika, cayenne, and almost any Mediterranean spice.

CAYENNE                      

This herb contains antioxidants, fiber, protein, vitamin A, C, E, B6, K, manganese, potassium, riboflavin, and capsaicin. Capsaicin is what gives the pepper it’s medicinal abilities. It’s also why this herb is spicy! This heat increases your body heat making you burn more calories. And as with most hot or spicy peppers, it reduces your appetite so you don’t eat as much. According to BMJ Journals, animal studies showed that this herb may promote vascular and metabolic health including lowering blood pressure in those with high blood pressure. Studies also show that the capsaicin present in the pepper reduces stomach ulcers. It boosts the stomach’s defenses against infection and boosts digestion. When used in a skin cream the capsaicin alleviates joint and muscle pain, back pain, and pain from nerve conditions. The cream can help relieve itching, but should not be placed on broken or open wounds. Studies also show that capsaicin can reduce the growth of cancer cells and even kill cancer cells for most types of cancers.

Cayenne has a spicy, smokey flavor and is a great spice to cook with! The pepper and seeds are ground into a powder which is what you see in your local grocery store. You can use both fresh and dried peppers in your recipes or just the powder. Use as a garnish or chop up and add to dips, sauces, soups,¬† chilis, or casseroles. You can even add this to roasted nuts to give it a kick. Always wear gloves when handling fresh cayenne peppers! This herb is great in Mexican and Southwestern savory and sweet dishes. I’ve read online that some people even add this cayenne powder to their hot chocolate. Spices that pair well with cayenne include basil,¬†cardamom,¬†curry,¬†dill,¬†mace,marjoram,¬†mint,¬†oregano,¬†paprika,¬†rosemary,turmeric, allspice,¬†anise,¬†bay leaf, curry,¬†dill,¬†ginger, marjoram,¬†mustard,nutmeg,¬†paprika, parsley, sage,¬†savory,¬†tarragon, and thyme.

To Make a Tea for Ulcers:  Steep 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper in 1 cup of hot water.

Sore Throat Remedy
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 TBSP apple cider vinegar
2 TBSP water
1 TBSP honey

Can you eat pepper leaves? Yes and No. You definitely shouldn’t eat the leaves raw.¬† Cayenne pepper along with other chili pepper leaves are poisonous. If you are going to consume cayenne pepper leaves, the leaves must be boiled and cooked. The bigger the leaves, the more toxic so it’s best to pick smaller leaves. When boiled, the taste is similar to that of spinach. Pepper leaves are also high in nutrients and contain high levels of Vitamin A and C including antioxidants.

According to MadDog:

Pepper Leaves Safe To Eat

All Leaves of the Capsicum pepper family (below) are safe to eat if boiled or cooked.

  • Capsicum Frutescens

this includes the African Bird’s Eye pepper, Kambuzi pepper, Tabasco pepper, Malagueta pepper. The plants may also contain flowers which are not edible.

  • Capsicum Annum

this includes the banana pepper, cayenne pepper, and serrano chili peppers

Pepper Leaves Not Safe to Eat

Most leaves that come from the Solanaceous crops like bell peppers and also eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes.

Well there you have it! Some of the best herbs to cook with! I’m a big fan of paprika as well so may include that later.

I could go on and on with herbs to cook with as there are literally hundreds out there. My kitchen cabinets probably contain half that much! Here’s a few to get you started though. If I missed any you want me to touch on just drop me a line!

What are your experiences cooking with herbs? What are your favorite herbs to cook with?

 

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