Tahlequah Daily Press

January 17, 2014

Variety in cooking: Herbs and spice are nice

Second in a two-part series on using herbs and spices

Special Writer

TAHLEQUAH — In the past, cooks guarded their recipes and use of seasonings. Spices and herbs were often rare and unique to their countries of origin.

Learning which seasoning goes with which food can seem confusing, but it can be mastered with a little effort. Using spices and herbs effectively will enhance any food, said Heather Winn, OSU Extension Service educator.

“A general guideline is to use three times as much fresh herbs as you would use of a dried herb,” said Winn.

When substituting, it’s easier to replace fresh herbs with dried herbs, rather than the other way around, she said.

“Consider potato salad with fresh versus dried parsley,” Winn said.

All of these herbs grow well in summer gardens and can be found at farmers’ markets and local stores. Almost every herb can be added to tomatoes.

“Basil goes well in tomatoes, and is terrific in fresh pesto as well as pasta sauce, peas and zucchini,” she said. “For dips, potatoes and tomatoes, use chives. Mexican, Asian and Caribbean cooking all use cilantro, as do salsas and tomatoes.”

Dill enhances everything from carrots to cottage cheese, fish, green beans, potatoes and tomatoes. Mint goes with fruit salads, carrots, parsley, peas, and tabouli.

“The curly-leaf parsley is the most common, but the flat-leaf or Italian parsley is more strongly flavored and often preferred for cooking, especially potato salad and tabouli,” said Winn

Meats such as chicken, fish, lamb and pork benefit from rosemary, as do roasted potatoes, soups, stews and tomatoes.

“Sage goes with poultry seasoning, stuffings and tarragon with chicken, eggs and fish,” said Winn.

Thyme is diverse, and used in eggs, lima beans, potatoes, poultry, summer squash and tomatoes. Winter savory is preferred for dried bean dishes and stew.

At Tahlequah City Hospital, gourmet meals are often served to patients. Chef Chuck Ray said he uses basic blends and provides the information to help educate employees about what they are doing.

These seasoning blends can also replace store-bought packaged mixes, said Ray, and are healthier alternatives without additives and salt.

“Ethnic seasonings fit into our work perfectly and go a long way in curing the salt craving that most Oklahomans have,” said Ray.

Ray blends spices to create ethnic flavor profiles. For Mexican foods, he combines cayenne pepper, chili powder, cilantro, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and jalapeños. Italian cuisine calls for a mix of basil, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, oregano, rosemary and sage. Thai food employs basil, cilantro, cinnamon, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, ground ginger, turmeric and whole red chilies.

“Be happy when spicing things up, but remember to taste as you go,” Ray said. “Add oil, acid and a little salt, and you have a marinade for these ethnic regions of the world.”